Chea Waters Evans, News Editor

An email went out in November to parents of 7th- and 8th-grade students from Meghan Metzler and Amy Shore, two parents of 7th graders at Charlotte Central School (CCS). They were concerned about the amount of “live,” or synchronous, learning that the upper grade middle-school students at CCS were receiving in comparison to other schools in the Champlain Valley School District. An analysis of hours students spent working in real time with teachers during remote school days showed that CCS students, as well as students at Hinesburg Community School, weren’t receiving as much as their counterpart grades in Williston and Shelburne.

Currently, 7th and 8th are the only grades in the district that are not in school four days a week; students are divided into A group and B group. Each group goes to school in person on either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. All students in all grades throughout the district work remotely on Wednesdays. Some vocabulary: “synchronous” learning and classes are those that are held live online with teacher and student interaction; “asynchronous” learning or classes are those that take place remotely but require independent work on the student’s part without live online participation.

While looking over their children’s schedules, Metzler and Shore wrote in an email to The Charlotte News, “We reviewed the original remote schedules for CCS 7th hybrid learners and saw that throughout the course of a remote day, they only had two opportunities for synchronous learning, with a four-hour gap between those opportunities on some days. Their remote schedule also only included one 10-min. advisory on one day, which did not seem sufficient for their social emotional learning.” That schedule, they said, was of concern.

After obtaining schedules from the other 7th grades in the district, they compared schedules and found that Charlotte 7th graders were getting around 280 minutes of synchronous instruction across their three remote days, while students in Hinesburg received 565 minutes, Williston kids got 535 minutes, and Shelburne students received 560 minutes of remote synchronous instruction.

Charlotte Central School co-principal Jen Roth, who serves as the middle school principal, said that coordinating schedules with CCS teachers and students has been a challenge, and that as younger students started coming back to school four days a week before Thanksgiving, the schedules changed again. “None of this has been easy,” she said. “This pandemic has redefined the definition of flexibility.”

At an October school board meeting, the learning time discrepancy was addressed, Metzler and Shore met with Roth and CVSD Superintendent Elaine Pinckney on Dec. 1, and a parent discussion on the matter was added to a 7th- and 8th-grade parent Zoom curriculum night on Dec. 8.

Seventh-grade and 8th-grade schedules have been revised since students returned to school after Thanksgiving break. Metzler and Shore wrote, “Since students returned from Thanksgiving Break, CCS has added live advisories on A/B days (non-Wednesdays), an additional live humanities class (so students now have live Humanities class every day), live science classes on A/B days…and some additional live [essential arts] classes.”

Roth said the schedule changes are “like a huge Tetris game.” While trying to figure out how to best address parent concerns and make learning equitable for all students in the building, Roth said, “The top priority was to communicate with our families all that is available to support students with their academic and social emotional learning needs.” She said the school district and Pinckney provide support, and that all the administrators across the schools “meet regularly to collectively discuss new health and safety guidelines, to share successes in our structures, to problem-solve challenges and to monitor the balance of equity and autonomy.”

As for changing the schedule and responding to parents, Roth said, “This has not been easy, but it was important to do.” As the school year plays out with challenges popping up that administrators have never had to address before, she said some lessons will remain after the pandemic is over. One thing, she said, is communication, which she said should occur early and often. “Things can sometimes evolve within the course of a week and keeping everyone informed when schedules are tighter than ever and in-person meetings are restricted is a challenge.”

Another big lesson, she said, is “Assume nothing, communicate everything. We all (educators, parents) have far more to manage and schedule than ever before. A high degree of communication and transparency helps everyone.”

Metzler and Shore said that the changes are welcome and already seem to be making a difference. “Their schedules are now more closely aligned with those of other schools in the CVSD district, and we thank the administrators and teachers for their efforts.”