WATERTOWN — In the face of widespread school closures, the Watertown City School District has been working to continue to provide students with instruction to the best of its ability.
To that end, the district sent out a “COVID-19 Educational Plan” Tuesday night outlining the steps being taken and the plan to move forward.
The district is working to post resources and instructional routines for distance learning on its website, including ways to connect students to their teachers online, but with over 4,000 students in the district, providing the same educational opportunities to all students is not without its challenges.
“This is evolving as we go day by day, but I am so proud of the work that our teachers and our staff are doing getting all of the instructional materials posted online,” said WCSD Superintendent Patricia LaBarr. “I think that our website itself is an incredible resource for the community to look at if they haven’t had that opportunity.”
Moving forward, the school district has placed an order for additional Chromebooks for students as well as an order for hot spots to provide access to families without any — approximately 10 percent of Watertown families do not currently have internet access. Also in development is a plan to distribute Chromebooks to all students in grades 2-6, once the district has them and is able to distribute them.
At this time, the district is not grading work or accepting hard copies of any work. Virtual work will receive feedback from teachers so students can see where they need to improve, but no grades. According to the educational plan, a tentative plan is in place to adjust the marking periods upon returning to school to allow all students to complete work and have an equitable chance at passing courses.
With circumstances and executive orders constantly changing in a time where there seem to be more questions than answers, the district is working to adapt plans as needed and will do its best to keep parents and students updated once more information is available.
“It’s like a work in progress because this is something that we never planned for or had anticipated,” she said. “So, as we go through this journey together with our community, the one thing that I have found out is that we live in an amazing community where everyone is all now working together.”
Ms. LaBarr has seen this firsthand from working nearly nonstop with other school officials to try to figure out how to keep up with every little thing and every little task that needs to be done. She said she has also seen the entire staff working together as a school community, from the assistant superintendents to the instructional coaches to the classroom teachers.
According to Ms. LaBarr, the district will celebrate the Class of 2020 in some way at the end of the school year, though it’s not clear at this point whether that celebration will be an in-person commencement ceremony or a virtual ceremony of some sort.
“We’re waiting for a lot of guidance from the state, there’s a lot of questions that the community and the teachers are wondering about,” Ms. LaBarr said. “We’ve posted all of the questions that people have been asking of us and if we have the answer we’ve certainly been willing to post it, but we still have a lot more to do to move forward.”
According to Ms. LaBarr, as the district gets things up and running again, administrators will sit down and figure out what kids missed and what re-entry to school will look like. For example, students currently in fifth grade moving into sixth will have the material and standards they missed addressed first once they move up to the next grade in order to be on track for success in the sixth grade.
“We don’t have the crystal ball, we don’t know how things are going, but we are constantly just kind of forecasting the what if’s and how to really plan,” Ms. LaBarr said. “It’s frustrating because we’re not getting the answers today for what we need to do tomorrow, but I think the important thing for everyone to understand is that we’re in it together.”
Those wishing to see the full educational plan can do so by visiting the district’s website at https://www.watertowncsd.org/.