ELLSWORTH — The Ellsworth School Department held a virtual workshop Monday in advance of next week’s formal vote on a curriculum model for the 2020-21 school year.
Superintendent Dan Higgins said the district is considering two forms of hybrid models that would incorporate both remote learning and traditional classroom learning. The proposals would divide students into two alternating groups to account for reduced building capacity while incorporating much of the virtual curriculums used this past spring.
Under the first proposed model, students in Ellsworth schools would alternate days in class with one group receiving in-class instruction three days per week and the other being present for the remaining two days. The groups would then switch off on a weekly basis with the cycle repeating itself throughout the school year.
In the second model, all students in the school district would receive virtual instruction on Mondays. The groups would then switch off for the remainder of the week to provide students two days of in-class learning and three days of remote learning per week.
“This is the model our group is looking at having, and that is a hybrid model based on an alternative schedule,” Higgins told School Board members and Zoom viewers at the beginning of the meeting. “We have these two variations, and that is what our group is looking to evaluate and determine which is the best model over the course of the balance of this week.”
Last Friday, the Maine Department of Education assigned color codes to each of the state’s 16 counties. As was the case with all other counties in the state, Hancock County received a “green” designation, meaning that schools in the county are safe to return to in-person classes with social distancing and sanitary guidelines in place.
Yet Higgins cautioned that a return to in-person classes can only be accomplished if schools in the district adhere to rigorous safety precautions aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The schools will be adapting strict hygiene protocols as well as providing students, teachers and other faculty members with cloth masks, which must be worn during school hours.
“It is great that we received a designation that means that we are considered low-risk,” Higgins said. “However, in order to implement an instructional model, we need to make sure that we can comply with the health and safety standards that are provided.”
School officials say a hybrid model is necessary in Ellsworth because of one of those standards: reduced capacity for school buildings. The number of elementary, middle and high school students requesting in-class instruction in the district exceeds the maximum capacity for all three groups.
The School Board also discussed the prospects of reopening Hancock County Technical Center, an academy that allows students to complete trade programs during their high school tenures. Although the school must also accommodate students from Hancock County’s five other high schools, Director Amy Boles is confident about its ability to provide students with reasonable forms of hands-on learning.
“Our plan right now is to absolutely be open in the fall but with the same safety precautions that are being described,” Boles said. “What will happen is, when students are in the building, that’s when they’ll focus on their clinical hours, their live work and those types of things we have to document for certification purposes, and then the remote time will be more of the time when we can do classroom instruction.”
The School Board also is proposing to delay the start of the school year from Sept. 1 to Sept. 8. The additional week, Higgins said, will provide staff members and families with time to make “necessary arrangements.”
Higgins said the School Board hopes to have a framework on the 2020-21 school year ready for a vote at the next meeting. That meeting is scheduled to be held Tuesday, Aug. 11.