By Caroline Lanni
FRAMINGHAM – The Keefe Technical High School Committee held a public meeting virtually on Monday, March 8 to discuss the schools re-opening plans and COVID updates.
Superintendent Johnathan Evans told the School Committee “things are going very well.”
Supt. Evans said “in terms of our move into in-person learning, we are as of today we are starting our second cycle of having students here with us in the building for their career and technical programming one grade at a time.”
In the last four weeks, the regional vocation school has had all students in the building for in-person learning, one grade at a time. The sequence was juniors, followed by sophomores, then freshman, and finally seniors.
“It was fantastic to have the building come alive again with students in our career and technical areas,” said Evans.
Tt has been a “good adjustment” for both the students and staff and to have the school function again, Supt. Evans told the School Committee.
Since Keefe Tech began this process one month ago, the school district has taken some “modest steps” to increase enrollment in students to come into the building, explained Evans.
“We want to have as many students as we think we can safely have in,” said Evans.
The Superintendent thanks the Special Education faculty members for “initiating a process where we have actually invited some of our higher needs students into the building to work with us during their academic week, in addition to the career and technical week.”
Each of the last two to three weeks there have been 20 – 30 students with them at the building while doing their academics online, and the other parts of the day that they are not doing their online work they have been able to work with teachers and counselors for additional support, said Evans.
“So, I think that has been a good additional step that we have had to increase our student population while sort of maintaining the model that we have to face,” said Evans.
The Superintendent said the school is looking forward to expanding the model even further with the help of their
guidance department. The technical high school wants to bring in “additional students who are at risk in other ways,” like other higher needs students during academic time.
“We still maintain a manageable number of students in the building, but increase our in-person population nonetheless,” said Evans.
The next step the district is looking at is the steps for in person learning and they have been in consultation with other schools [like Keefe] who are operating in hybrid learning, talked to area school leaders, local board of health, and to seek guidance that makes the most sense for them, said Evans.
“What we have decided to do is to increase our student population substantially by adding to the success we have in our career and technical instruction and to actually bring in some of our students into the academic program we have in the building for in person academic learning,” he added.
Evans said they want to go forward in this next step to maintaining the six feet of distance they started with and what they are currently employing within the career and technical areas.
“Our classrooms [academic] are set up for six feet of distancing,” said Evans.
The school district wants to make sure they are not doubling up their populations in classrooms due to creating the danger of lacking space and distancing, said Evans.
“What we are going to do is refer back to the plan we had in place that we had in the beginning of the year, if you will recall we had a plan set up to do an alphabetical split for our students. … It was a split in the alphabet that gave us about half of the kids in each section and we are going to utilize that model for academic programming for our students but leave the shop alone because we think there is real value and benefits to giving students a whole week to work on
projects,” said Supt. Evans.
This description will be confusing with families and students, but essentially means that they are going to have one whole class in for a whole week for technical construction and at the same time in academics they are going to have half of two classes in for academic construction and split the week that way, said Evans.
Each day they should have about half of their students in the building with them while maintaining six feet of distancing and have more students in the building, he added.
Evans said they will be holding a staff meeting, communicating with the families, and setting up parent information sessions for any questions they have about this next step.
“We are looking for this to begin after the conclusion of our second cycle in the beginning of this program will be Monday, April 5th, so that would give us four weeks to prepare,” said Evans.
He added they will be ready to hold a larger number of students going forward in April.
School Committee member Elizabeth Smith-Freedman, who represents Natick, asked about working with the bus company about transportation for the students.
“Our plan at the beginning of the year was to include half of our students by alphabet on career and technical and the academic component and that 50% in the building allowed us to run the buses in a safe and compliant fashion.”
He added looking at this model now it would be the same [50%] number of the students that would fit for the buses.
Evans said, “An important factor we are going to need to pursue is a survey to all of our families, to specifically hear from them to see who is interested in willingly to have their student come in for this additional piece of in person learning and to take that information and ask about transportation needs and really map out some detailed bus routes to get ready for this step.”
Keefe Technical School Committee member AJ Mulvey said that from previous information relayed on him before was that 85-90% of families were looking forward to in person classes.
Evans said, “We are hopeful with the success of this program that those families will be interested in continuing and maybe even more will want to join us in the next step.”
School Committee member Barry Sims asked how confident are they going to be in running the entire season with this plan?
Evans said, “Not entirely confident that they would, they want to start the next cycle with this plan,” and they want to look at the public health data, and if there would be a continued push for reopening.
The school administration believes this is the next best step entering the next academic schedule, and they believe this
will be a “smooth transition, said Evans.
The team will be “working hard to communicate specific details to families,” and know where everyone stands, he said.
“We think this is the best way while complicated to get as many students in as possible,” said Evans.
School Committee member Ruth Mori, who represents Natick, said “I really think how fabulous that were going to be increasing our students right in the building and also the importance of the six-foot factor – not all districts are looking at that. … I think for our students needs and ensuring that we don’t have to have kids stay out of school potentially because they are closer than six feet right now is a positive way to start, and I commend the administration for that.”
Evans said they will be sending an email out about most of these details, and they will be scheduling a parent information session to talk about this more in detail.
The district will be surveying parents for their input also.
Supt. Evans also provided an update on the testing efforts to the School Committee on Monday night.
The tests have been negative so far, he added, and that test has been helpful for the school.
“We are very clear to tell all members of our school community that if you’re sick or if you have any symptoms related to COVID, we do not want you in the building – we would instead want you to stay home,” said Evans. “But, in the event if the symptoms develop during the school day it gives us the chance to explore it.”
Nurses at the schools even conducted testing with students outside if they developed symptoms during the school day and the tests have come out to be negative, so it is good to know, he added.
Evans said other options they expressed interest in is called, “Pooled Testing,” an opportunity for several samples to be taken and to be voluntary.
“We would be able to take samples from a number of students with a test that is not overly invasive in the nose and we would be able to test an entire grouping of students in various places within the building,” said Evans.
If there would be a positive test that came out of that specific pool of those students, those students would be removed from class and go to the nurse’s office to get a Binox now test, he said.
“That would give us the ability to test a large number of students at a time and to have a quick intervention and the student or member of our school community who was positive that made that pool of samples positive would need to quarantine or isolate in following the procedures related to COVID-19, but the others in the sample that was negative would be able to continue on,” said Evans.
This is being used in a few larger districts according to Evans.
“We have become a certified site for the Pool Testing and we are considering a model where we will begin with staff members for Pool Testing,” said Evans.
Going into the next step for the hybrid in April, if there is interest in our school community it is something we will want to implement [Pool Testing] when more students are in the building, said Evans.
The Superintendent said the testing is funded by the State and “we feel it is a good investment that we have the ability to provide going forward, if sufficient interest.”
Evans said they are working to get the resources they need to safely stay open and go forward.
Caroline Lanni is a 2021 spring SOURCE intern. Lanni is a senior communications major with a minor in journalism at Framingham State University. She wants to pursue a media career in broadcast journalism. She is a member of the dance team at Framingham State.