When the bell rang on Friday, March 13, students and faculty at Cheshire Public Schools knew they would not return for at least two weeks.
The day before, Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan, reacting to the growing concern over the spread of the coronavirus—COVID-19—across the country, announced that local school buildings would remain closed through March 27.
However, the expectation was that the timeline would eventually be pushed out.
On Monday evening, Governor Ned Lamont made that official. Schools across Connecticut will remain closed through April 20, Lamont stated, at which time the situation in the state will be reassessed.
“I emailed our parents and staff (upon hearing the news) and I said that, while it wasn’t unexpected, it was still jarring to hear,” said Solan, on Tuesday morning. “I think we are all appreciating what it is like being home right now, and to hear that it’s being extended out another month? That does rattle the cage.”
Last week, Cheshire went to an online learning format for students, allowing teachers to post assignments, conduct lessons, and answer questions from students remotely. Solan stated that, when the program was put into place, it was done so with the expectation that online learning would be required for an extended period of time, and that prediction has now become a reality.
“I think we are getting more accustomed to that way of working,” said Solan. “We are (less than a week in) and everyone is working on that adjustment. It’s not just school work that has changed. It’s life that has changed.”
According to Solan, the word that is being preached amongst both teachers and students is patience. While the District had begun discussing the possibility of moving class instruction online prior to the decision to close schools indefinitely, action still had to be taken quickly, which means all involved are adapting as best as possible.
“This is a shared-growth experience,” said Solan. “The parents have been incredibly supportive.”
“It really was a Herculean effort,” he continued. “Our administrative staff worked around the clock for a week to try and prepare for this. To go from centuries of brick-and-mortar learning to remote learning in effectively a week? There are all these variables that have to be considered.”
During normal school operations, Solan preaches the need to try and get “a little better at what we do everyday,” and he stated that the approach is no different when it comes to online learning. This week, several math teachers reached out to express concern that they currently do not have a way to effectively show students how to solve a particular equation in real-time, in a way that allows for the work being done by the teacher to be seen. On Tuesday, Solan was developing ways to address such concerns.
“I have told the teachers to take it slow,” he said. “We are all learning as we go along.”
As far as a timeline for when Solan expects the school buildings to reopen, he admitted to not being focused on long term projections at the moment. “The phrase, ‘Taking it day by day?’ That’s where we are right now,” he commented. The District remains in direct contact with Chesprocott Health District and will continue to monitor the situation, hoping to return to normal as quickly as possible, but planning for anything.
“We told the teachers that we could be doing this for a long time,” said Solan. “This is a huge reset button for us, but we are getting more comfortable as we go.”