Going Well: Schools Open Without a Hitch

Supt. Priya Tahiliani told the School Committee on Monday that last Tuesday’s first day of remote classes was the most nervous she had been at her job since her first day as a teacher.

As she stood in front of the Parlin School where the first e-Learning Center group was starting to gather, she said all of her fears were put to rest by the commitment of the teachers and staff and families to make this odd school year work.

“After months of planning every facet of the opening, what I saw after all that was a collective group of teachers, staff and administrators wanting to do everything they could to help students,” she said. “Though the vast majority of our students are learning online from home, there was a soothing buzz in our buildings last week. There was activity and energy, but done safely…I will never forget seeing those young kids interacting with classmates and teachers. Sheer happiness has been in short supply in the last six months, but I saw teachers enthusiastic and happy…There is no substitute for learning in person, but given the situation we’re in, I am happy to see the smiling faces of teachers and students on computer screens.”

While most students – about 90 percent – chose remote learning from home, the Everett Public Schools did open e-Learning Centers on Tuesday last week, including at the Keverian, Lafayette, Whittier, Parlin and Everett High.

As of this week, she said there are 578 students at the e-Learning Centers, and 59 are on a waiting list. They are staffed by non-teachers and administrators and family liaisons.

So far, attendance last week hovered at around 50 percent of those signed up for e-Learning Centers had reported to them. On Wednesday, the number hit 50 percent, but that number dipped to 40 percent by Friday.

She said some parents had chosen the Centers for the sake of having reliable internet, but those technology issues were worked out for some students by delivering them ChromeBooks or Wi-Fi hot spots. With that equipment, they no longer needed the Centers.

So far, attendance for remote learning isn’t available, she said, but the district plans to delve into that later this week and report back the initial numbers.

One of the big pushes right now by staff and administrators is to make phone calls to students that are not showing up for school, and many times those issues are being resolved with delivering them ChromeBooks or hot spots. She said they have made more than 200 phone calls and that is continuing this week. One challenge is that much of the technology is in high demand across the country, so computers and other equipment is on back-order and will be coming in at a later date.

One change made to help teachers and other district officials reach out to parents was the introduction of the translation service LionBridge. That service allows any district employee to request translation services in a variety of languages on the spot. It’s the kind of change that has brought families and teachers closer together, said Tahiliani, and it’s a change that will continue.

“We are delivering services to help our families today and in the future,” she said.

“We are seeing this paradigm shift just two weeks after implementing it,” she continued. “We are making shifts that will help not just today, but after the pandemic as well.”

School Committeeman Marcony Almeida Barros said he visited the Everett High e-Learning Center last week, and ended up staying for a few hours. A skeptic of the idea at first, he said he was won over and impressed.

“I was skeptical at first because of the COVID-19 situation, but what I saw was kids that really needed to be there,” he said. “It was like a family environment and they weren’t doing that because a member of the School Committee was there…The e-Learning Center idea was fantastic and I was happy with what I saw.”

•HVAC Systems Pan Out At All Schools

One of the major pieces tripping up schools as they prepare for hybrid, in-person learning later this fall has been inadequate ventilation and HVAC systems. That will not be the case for Everett, Supt. Tahiliani said on Monday.

On Sept. 10 and 11, the schools contracted with an air quality inspector at all of the public schools.

The inspectors looked at indoor air quality, surface samples and temperature/humidity/CO2 readings.

For air quality, they looked at mold spores and other contaminants inside the building, had the samples tested at a lab in New Jersey, and found that there were no readings that would be any different than a typical New England day outside of the building.

“They found all the buildings to have sufficient filtering and air flow,” she said.

For the surface samples, the investigators took samples on high-touch surfaces like desks, door knobs and switches. All of those sample at all of the schools came back safe and classified as clean. She said that shows the cleaning and disinfecting programs put in place are working.

Finally, the ventilation of the schools was tested and found to be well-within all of the recommendations at every school building. Tahiliani said they would continue these tests on a random nature, and would also suggest air purifiers for some classrooms.

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