The Everett High School (EHS) is scheduled to offer the option of returning to classes in-person the week of May 10, but at the moment it appears most students in the older grades will opt to stay home in the remote learning model, said Supt. Priya Tahiliani.
At Monday’s School Committee meeting, Tahiliani officially announced that 9th graders at EHS will return on May 10, and grades 10, 11 and 12 will return on May 11. However, in early surveys of students, many are preferring to remain remote – unlike the responses from K-5 families that chose in-person at a rate of 70 percent.
“We noticed the lower rates for middle school and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the same will be true for EHS students and families ever more so,” she said.
The early survey recorded about 400 responses from a student body of around 2,000 students, which meant there were a lot of students that didn’t respond. However, 63 percent of the students surveyed chose to remain remote, while 37 percent chose to go in-person.
That was the polar opposite of K-5, which has about 70 percent of students back in-person now since early April. However, the number did decline with middle school students returning last week, taking the overall in-person number to 63 percent.
“In grades 6-8 we did have a lower response rate that we did in grades K-5,” said Tahiliani. “So we are preparing for not necessarily knowing what students will do from a certain population and we’ll be ready for these students if they come. There will be space for them if they come or not.”
One of the wrinkles to the return of 6-8 middle school last week was that many families did not return any official paperwork regarding their choice of in-person or remote. So it was that many students showed up that weren’t expected, and other stayed remote without notice. At the high school, Tahiliani said they expect the same.
One of the major reasons at the upper grade levels is that there are fewer than 40 days left in the school year, and many parents felt it a better fit to just keep their schedule the same through the end of the year. Rather than re-acclimate students now to in-person learning, many parents said they would rather stay the course and return next August.
Another response was that may families felt the remote model was going well for their students, and didn’t feel compelled to change that up.
Finally, other groups have said they have health concerns, and weren’t ready to “break out of their bubble,” Tahiliani said.
Many students also listed new family obligations as a reason, and also a reliance on them working to help support their families through the pandemic.
•MCAS Will Be Required, But Don’t Stress
Supt. Tahiliani reported that the state and federal government have told districts that the MCAS test will have to be given to students in grades 3-8 this year, and for 10th graders too. The crop of 11th graders that missed last year’s test are not required to take the test, but can opt to take it.
The tests will be shorter for grades 3-8, with 90 minute tests for math and science and 2.5-hour tests for reading. That is substantially less time than the traditional MCAS standardized test. The state has said they will not use the results to penalize any district based on the performance. The test will be given in May and June.
That said, Tahiliani – speaking for the School Committee as well – urged students not to stress over the test and said she did not support the idea of giving a standardized test in the midst of a global pandemic.
“I know I speak for myself and my leadership team and this Committee when I say students should not feel one ounce of stress over this year’s MCAS,” she said. “I am very reluctant to attach widespread meaning to standardized test scores in any year. I am one of countless educators that feel giving a standardized exam in a global pandemic is at best unnecessary and harmful at worst…It is our job to be frustrated for our students.”
•Spike in Enrollment
One thing related to the School Committee on Monday was that enrollment has been on a steady incline over the last few months, growing by nearly 900 students since September.
Supt. Tahiliani reported to the School Committee that they started with 6,042 students and in April had 6,939 enrolled – an increase of 13 percent.
“We do believe we will easily eclipse 7,000 students by next year and we’ll see our enrollment return to numbers similar to recent years,” she said.
Committee Chair Frank Parker said this is a major concern for the district, as funding is tied to enrollment reported on Oct. 1. This year, the Oct. 1 enrollment number was much smaller than the enrollment now, and certainly what it will be in August when many expect kindergarten students to return in larger numbers – as many were not enrolled this year due to remote learning.
“This is something we should all be concerned about,” he said.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he had spoken to the state delegation and they mentioned that there is a $40 to $60 million pot of money that is being eyed at the state level to fix such enrollment issues – and said he didn’t anticipate any problems in that vein.
However, Parker said he has been informed by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) that those funds would likely be exhausted by the six largest districts in the state – of which Everett is not one.
School Committeewoman Samantha Lambert said she hoped a better system would be in play because she was wary of using supplemental money to fill in foundational processes like enrollment numbers.
“We know students are coming back,” she said. “We have many, many young students, especially in kindergarten where it didn’t make sense to come back…I would expect that number to be far higher in September. We have been reliant on supplemental funds before and it didn’t work out well.”