Olentangy Schools officials' support of hybrid start unwavering

JIM FISCHER
editorial@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

Olentangy Schools leaders said last week they remained committed to opening the school year in the hybrid model for students who opted for in-person learning.

Superintendent Mark Raiff confirmed the decision at the Aug. 13 school board meeting, saying the model "increases our chances of being successful long-term."

In the hybrid model, half of the district's students would learn at the schools and half would learn at home each day. The student population would be divided alphabetically, A-K and L-Z, with allowances for households with different last names to be kept together.

Teachers returned to school buildings Aug. 17 to prepare for the start of the school year Aug. 31. Teachers have been preparing classrooms and modules for students to complete during their "off" days and working on professional development, Raiff told board members.

In addition, the district has been designing an instruction plan for the 5,000 students who selected the Committed Distance Learning model, in which they'll learn from home for at least the first semester of the school year.

"We are not prioritizing one model over another. Our schools and our CDL will be staffed appropriately," said Jack Fette, the district's chief academic officer.

Staffing has been a focus since the Aug. 2 deadline for families to opt for Committed Distance Learning. The district had surveyed its teachers to solicit specific interest in teaching in either model.

"Once we closed CDL enrollment, we began breaking down the number of students by school and grade level," said chief operations officer Todd Meyer. "We started at the elementary level first, doing our best to match up students with teachers from their school and at their grade level. We weren't able to do this 100%, but we did it where we could."

Meyer said the process continued in a similar fashion at the middle school and high school levels, with the added criterion of appropriate licensure in subject areas. He said that, initially, there were more students in Committed Distance Learning than there were staff members to accommodate them, and an additional request was made for additional teachers to volunteer to teach in the CDL model.

Fette said student-teacher ratios will remain compliant with the district's contract with its teachers. He said Committed Distance Learning teachers "are able to serve a few more kids," but that ratios are a districtwide average and will remain consistent.

With about 5,000 students in Committed Distance Learning, that leaves around 17,000 students in the in-person model, Fette said.

As the in-person model shifts from hybrid to five-day in-school or fully virtual modes, as health conditions allow, students who are part of in-person learning will remain with their teacher assignments, Fette said.

Fette said at-home days in the hybrid model will be "largely independent," with students not online with teachers but completing work through Schoology.

For Committed Distance Learning, Fette said, there will be times when the teachers are live online with classes and other times when students will be expected to work independently.

He said the district still is working to offer as many arts and elective classes for CDL students but said some -- Fette mentioned a high school jewelry-making class as an example -- that will not be feasible in the model.

Meyer said that, when students are in school, social distancing at 6 feet will be employed "where possible," and that the district has added custodial staff members to help with increased sanitation procedures.

Raiff said the district would not commit to a specific timetable for how long the district would stay in the hybrid model.

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