Lesley Schuster

Peoples Academy science teacher Lesley Schuster, working from her home, offers a photo that “summarizes my new reality as a teacher.”

School may be “out” for summer break in about a month and a half, but there are no guarantees that, come Labor Day, things will be back to normal.

Teachers who had to adjust their methods on the fly after Vermont schools closed March 18 will likely be honing their remote teaching skills for the next school year, according to Tracy Wrend, superintendent of the Lamoille South school district.

“We are doing well right now, all things considered, but not as well as we can do for long-term long-distance learning,” Wrend said Monday in a school board meeting conducted via Zoom. “It is unlikely we will be able to have all students in the building at the same time in the same configuration.”

Some students and their families have been able to do remote learning very well, she said, while some haven’t — whether it’s special education, emotional and behavioral supports, or just quality internet and other learning tools.

The district is taking a “do no harm” approach; you don’t want to hold a fourth-grader back for lack of internet, Wrend said. That philosophy applies to end-of-year grades, too, making sure they are accurate, even though kids haven’t set foot in a classroom for 50 days and counting.

“The toughest work in the crisis is still ahead of us,” Wrend said.

Some yearly traditions have been canceled, like prom and the entire spring sports season. Others, like graduation, are still being pondered.

Just Monday, school board chair David Bickford noted, Memorial Day observances in Stowe and Morristown are canceled — no bands, no kids participating in the annual unofficial kickoff to summer.

Outside eyes

Also Monday, the board discussed an “integrated field review” conducted last Oct. 22 by visiting educators from four nearby school districts — Lamoille North, Mount Mansfield, Orleans Southwest and Washington Central — and the Agency of Education.

The visiting team sat in classrooms and talked with a wide variety of people — students and parents, teachers, support staff, and principals, as well as Wrend and her team at the central office.

Anyone who’s been following Lamoille South since Morristown, Elmore and Stowe merged into one district last July will find some familiar things in the visiting team’s report.

“There were no surprises,” Wrend said.

The team observed some cases of inequity across the board, perhaps the overriding issue the board identified at the beginning of this school year: things like differences in course offerings between the schools, and “funding inequity” in arts, field trips and sports, Some parents had issues with the differences in sports funding between boys and girls teams.

Parents and students also raised issues about proficiency-based learning — the new system that is less a grading system and more a measure of individual student progress.

That has been a familiar refrain from parents in recent years, how it differs from class to class and how it might affect transcripts for college admissions. A year of turmoil within the district — a forced merger among the towns, a wrongful termination lawsuit against the superintendent and, now, a global pandemic — has stymied the school board’s efforts to really tackle the topic.

“I want to see it on an agenda soon,” said Stowe board member Erica Loomis, who said the board has been talking about it for the six months she’s been a member, and even longer, when she was a regular in the audience.

The visiting team reported positives, too. Teachers are “spot-on” when it comes to bringing a consistency across students’ courses; there is a wide variety of courses available and students feel their voices matter; and leadership is strong, creating “a welcoming, warm and supportive environment.”

Other news

• The school board approved a new policy that spells out how employees are paid during the school closure caused by COVID-19. The policy states all employees will be paid under the terms of their individual contracts, “irrespective of the number of hours worked due to COVID-19 remote learning circumstances.”

Those paid with federal funds and multiple funding sources will continue to be paid from the same sources. And any reduction of hours due to the remote learning situation will be paid using prorated funds.

The policy remains in effect as long as Lamoille South schools are closed.

• The district awarded a lawn care contract to Lawn Rangers Inc. The Waterbury Center-based landscaper bid $40,183 for the contract; the district had $50,000 budgeted.

There were two lower bids — $14,760 from Potter Property Services and $19,220 from H.C. Property Management — but only Lawn Rangers offered fertilizing and weed control.

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