As to be expected, opening day for teachers was far different than years prior, however; proper planning and dedication to safety has given staff and faculty some comfort as they face remote learning head-on in two weeks.
“Opening day was very strange,” said School Superintendent Lisa Howard. “We are all used to coming together as a large group in the high school auditorium. It’s a time that we all reconnect and get updated on each other’s lives. Usually, it’s a great day for us to get together and get excited about upcoming events, but this year was obviously different.”
Instead of gathering together, a webinar was led by Howard, where she welcomed both veteran staff and new teachers, awarded tenured teachers with the beloved pins and pens, and updated faculty on new safety and sanitation protocols. Town Health Nurse Meredith Hurley, Lead Nurse Tara Beuoy, and Curriculum Director Lori Galvin were also present.
Howard took the opportunity to update teachers on a few key factors including mask-wearing, air quality of the four school buildings, new signage, classroom setups, and the steps to take when a student is sick.
Part of the preparations involved having an engineer company come out to assess all HVAC systems and increase the filter quality. While the current air filter was high quality and it wasn’t necessary to replace immediately, Howard felt that it was a critical need during this time. The rooftop vents in all buildings were checked by the company that services them and the belts were greased to ensure optimal performance. It was confirmed that 100% outside air will be circulated throughout the buildings.
“We are very fortunate that our buildings are all in really good working condition and we’ve spent the last couple of years paying close attention to these details without even knowing, so our commitment to keeping the facilities up to par has definitely paid off.”
The opening day presentation also included a detailed tutorial on the hand sanitizer stations that are placed throughout the building and in every classroom. The classroom setup will be conducive to social distancing and learning stations will be six feet apart. The COVID Relief Act has allowed the district to order $170,000 worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) gear, including gloves, masks, goggles, face shields, plexiglass for all offices and in front of teacher desks. New signage from the CDC will include directional signs, bathroom signs and visual reminders every three feet. A COVID waiting room will be staffed by a medical support person and used as a holding space for ill students and staff members, while they wait to be assessed or picked up.
While the situation isn’t ideal, teachers and staff are adapting to the changes.
“It has been great being able to get back together with and see colleagues that we haven’t seen since March,” said third grade teacher, Kristen Reynolds. “All staff attended safety trainings this week and were eager to learn the protocols that we will follow now, with teaching remotely, and when the children return to a hybrid model to maintain a safe environment for learning. Although being around new cohorts of people has been anxiety provoking for many, especially those staff members who are advanced age or immunocompromised, we are adapting to procedures and accommodations that help keep us all comfortable and safe. The Winthrop Teachers Association and School Committee are continuing to meet to finalize an MOA for the upcoming school year.”