Staff Photo / Tyler Hughes
Students enter the building for the day on March 5. About 700 students will be returning to the building full time during Trimester 3, while around 275 students will be participating in a hybrid model of two days on, two days off, similar to the current hybrid model.
Three months after Winnacunnet School Board Chairman Henry Marsh directed administration to investigate a five-day-per-week return to school option for students, it is on track to become a reality for hundreds of students for Trimester Three.
According to Principal William McGowan, the results of a survey filled out by parents last week were consistent with the numbers required to implement a third model- a full in-person model. Parents decided for their children to either go to school five days a week, stay with their current hybrid model of being in the building every two days, or remain fully remote. A previous version of the survey only provided students the option of full in-person learning or full remote learning.
“We had sent out a survey with two questions to find out which students wanted to come back in person and which students wanted to stay remote, so we could see if we could accommodate all in-person students,” McGowan said. “We said 75 percent was that break point, and the numbers that came back were about 80-81 percent.”
According to McGowan, with respect to each of the three models, 61 percent of students chose the full in-person model, while 24 percent chose the hybrid model. 15 percent of students chose to stay remote altogether.
McGowan said that community interest, including a student-created petition, made him reconsider the prospect of keeping the hybrid model in tandem with the full remote and full in-person options. McGowan said with all three models in place at once, students will be able to use whichever learning model they chose, and less students will be in the building at one time.
Three parents pushed back on the initial two-model survey at a school board meeting on Feb. 17, after McGowan told the board the results of the first survey meant a two-model return was not possible. Several of those who called in to express their opinions have been critical of the administration’s reopening efforts for months, including Winnacunnet parent and community member of the SAU 21 Superintendent Search Committee Jennifer Waddell.
“While I respect 100 kids that want to be in hybrid and there was a petition, there was a petition months ago with a thousand kids saying they wanted to go to school,” Waddell said, referencing a December petition that argued for the hybrid model Winnacunnet is currently in. “It’s honestly reminiscent of the fall, where you would sit at one of these board meetings, we’d be sort of not promised, but we’d get this indication we were going to move forward and that we would make progress, and then next month you would come and it would be pulled back.”
Additionally, the model-shift comes with a schedule change for all students. In the new schedule, an A day would go block three, four, then a 30 minute Warrior Block. Block five would have four lunches, A, B, C, and D, and a B day would go the same way, just with blocks one, two, and six, according to McGowan.
Lunches would not be broken down by grade level, but by class, similar to how pre-pandemic lunches worked. The school day will still run from 8:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with an hour of “office hours” directly after school. McGowan acknowledged that the new schedule may not be as popular among seniors, who will lose some of the time they previously could go home during the school day.
“I think the trimester three schedule is probably better in that it keeps instruction more consistent and eliminates the 50-minute Warrior Block, which I think is time much better-used going back into the classroom,” McGowan said. “Some students do need that time, but overall, it hasn’t provided a major benefit.”
After the survey results and plans are finalized, McGowan said he will work with administration to identify any classrooms that need to be relocated for certain classes to allow for increased student capacity.
“Right now, the majority of the classrooms in this building are between 14-16 students, but there are some that are 8-12,” McGowan said. “Once I find out what classrooms are over capacity, we can find out which classrooms that can accommodate them are available. What happened with everybody coming in was that there were eight or nine rooms that I couldn’t move, so that caused a domino effect.”
Winnacunnet parent Lynn Rademacher was another outspoken critic of the failure of the original plan.
“We are tired of you catering to the minority,” Rademacher said. “It’s time to think outside the box.”