Teachers and students weigh in on Vernon schools’ next phase

Vernon. Teachers worry about the health effects of combining cohorts and the stress of resuming a full-day schedule. Board members and families worry that virtual learning isn’t enough.

| 27 Oct 2020 | 01:30

The Vernon Township school board heard from teachers and students as the district prepares for its next phase of re-opening, when student cohorts will combine and full-day instruction resumes.

Teachers told the school board at a recent meeting that they are concerned how cohorts combining will affect their health. And if the district goes to a full-day schedule, they ask, when would they have time to prepare lessons for the virtual students?

“I have talked with teachers about lessons, and when I talk about Schoology, they break down and cry,” district Technology Integration Specialist Janet DeSenzo said. “It shouldn’t be that way.

Liz Cleary, former president of the VTEA who retired in 2018, said she talked with a “gold standard superstar teacher” who is sick of the proposed changes and ready to quit. “You’re going to lose a superstar and I thought you should know that,” she said. “This teacher needs your support.”

Martin O’Donnell brought his daughter, who gets easily distracted on her own and benefits from in-class interaction with the teacher. “Some kids like to learn on their own,” she said, “but I’m not one of them.”

Several board of education members – Theresa Scura Coughlin and Jennifer Pellet – say students who have opted for all-virtual learning are not getting the instruction they need.

Superintendent Karen D’Avino said virtual instruction wasn’t meant for full-period teaching. “It’s not sitting at the computer all day long,” D’Avino said. “I’ve said that over and over again. I’ve said it at the curriculum meeting. I said it at the work session. It is 10 to 15 minutes of direct instruction of synchronous time so the teacher can model whatever the problem is and for children to ask questions, and then for children to work independently.”

School board member Joe Sweeney said this isn’t the right time to bring the cohorts together. “It seems like we’re doing things backwards,” he said over Zoom. “We’re bringing everybody back together when it’s getting colder and we’re warming up the building. I’m not a doctor, but it seems like we’re filling up the building when there are going to be more germs.”

Board president Justin Annunziata said he doesn’t know if the district should be going to those next phases any time soon.

“If you’re advocating for more in-person instruction, you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face because what could end up happening is you have more COVID and the district ends up being virtual again because of that,” he said.

Vernon is running compressed schedules without lunch. The full-day schedules would include lunch, where Vernon Township High School only has one lunch period.

“We can only have 500 people outside at a football game but we’re going to bring 800 people inside in the dead of winter?” high school Vernon Township Education Association high school representative Kristy Riegler said. “No one wants to do that lunch duty.”

The next phase
Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay, along with Director of Math and Science Russ Rogers and Director of Humanities Vincent Gagliostro, announced a plan that would combine the Blue and Gold cohorts and use Wednesday as a synchronous day of virtual learning, combining the cohorts and virtual students.
Additionally, in a Oct. 12 letter to parents, Superintendent Karen D’Avino announced the plan to implement full-day scheduling for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, beginning Monday, Dec. 7.
The full-day schedules would reinstate lunch, where Vernon Township High School only has one lunch period.