Opening under the current hybrid model for Chagrin schools has proven to be a challenge, but the overall outlook remains positive with proper measures in place to help the district adjust to the new learning environment, Superintendent Robert Hunt said last week.

In a virtual community forum, streamed live through Zoom on YouTube, Dr. Hunt gave an update on the schools’ reopening as well as a brief overview of the 3.85-mill levy hitting the Nov. 3 ballot and introduced the interactive dashboard for monitoring the novel coronavirus’ effect on the district educational model.

The Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District started school with a hybrid model due COVID-19, with some students attending different classes in person and online and other students enrolled in an entirely remote model for at least the first semester. The first day of school for grades one through 12 was Aug. 31.

Navigating challenges

“By and large, from every building administrator, the perspective is that students and staff have both been very respectful of the protocols and the safety measure that we have put in place,” Dr. Hunt said at the Sept. 10 forum. “We have seen consistent implementation of those throughout the district and feel really good about where we stand today in terms of the implementation.

“This is a completely new environment for both students and teachers,” he continued, explaining that when asked “point blank,” teachers and administrators felt all remote would be easier than the current hybrid model. “But when you start to interact with those kids that have the opportunity to come back into school and see how important that interaction is, we certainly made the right decision.”

Dr. Hunt acknowledged that there are various challenges all members of the district face with the current school year, including lesson planning for hybrid classes, learning new technology implemented throughout all buildings, troubleshooting slow Internet from home and even families coming to terms with restricted access to their students’ athletic events, among others.

On top of the educational, technological and social challenges, he said, surrounding construction isn’t helping with road work on East Washington Street. But district officials remain positive, he said, and are “working through some of those kinks.”

Director of Technology and Information Mike Daugherty, for example, has put out tips for troubleshooting technical challenges like slow Internet, Dr. Hunt said, and the district plans to roll out surveys to students, parents and staff to “touch base” and determine and remedy shortfalls in their different needs.

This 2020-2021 school year is a “learning curve,” he said, adding that he believes the community will only come out stronger on the other side.

“I’ve encouraged [teachers] to try new things and take risks,” he said. “Sometimes it will fail, and sometimes things will be great, but that will help us on the other side because I think we’re going to be better educationally as a system because of this experience.

“By and large, the opening of school was, from my standpoint, very, very well received by our students and staff,” he said, later adding, “I think we’ve had a tremendous opening of school under very, very challenging circumstances.”

More levy information

In a brief update on the 3.85-mill operating levy for the Nov. 3 general election ballot, Dr. Hunt reminded the district that approval of this issue will not raise property taxes for homeowners in the district.

He explained that the millage will replace the district’s debt service for the 1997 construction of the Chagrin Falls Middle School, the last payment of which is due December of this year.

More in-depth information will be available on the levy with Dr. Hunt and district Treasurer Ashley Brudno’s presentations during the upcoming Sept. 22 and Sept. 29 virtual town halls, both of which begin at 6 p.m.

“We’re committing to 3.85 [mills] to last for three years,” Dr. Hunt said, explaining that to achieve this, the district has implemented and is in the process of implementing about $1.2 million in cuts to keep spending down while “trying everything we can to keep that away from students and student programming.

“I’d ask you to mark your calendar and certainly consider participating in one of those virtual town halls, as well, so you can make an educated decision when you go to the ballot box or when you’re filling out your absentee ballot,” he said.

Keeping count of COVID-19

The interactive dashboard, which went live last week, includes two main sections: the total active and cumulative COVID-19 cases in the district among students and staff and the district’s four main criteria for determining the proper learning model, including health and safety protocol in place, student absences, staff absences and the state advisory system.

Dr. Hunt said he has been asked what he and the board of education are looking at when determining the learning model for the district between hybrid versus remote or hybrid versus all-in.

“This dashboard kind of encompasses all of the elements that we will evaluate as we make decisions on how we’re educating students throughout this pandemic,” he said.

The first section that keeps tabs on COVID-19 cases in the district will be updated weekly, he explained, and be included in conversations with the board of education at least one meeting per month.

Viewers can click the active cases section of the dashboard, and it will take them to a spreadsheet that shows where those specific cases are located by building or department.

“The second aspect of that dashboard is it really focuses on our ability to implement those health and safety protocols that we have committed to, and that is retaining the necessary inventory and PPE,” Dr. Hunt explained. “So, not only do we have it currently, but do we have it going forward?”

He said administrators will monitor this every Monday during cabinet meetings.

In addition to supplying personal protective equipment for the schools, the second half of the dashboard also monitors attendance of students and staff, including the district’s ability to supply substitutes for absent teachers and the availability of bus drivers, custodians and maintenance personnel, among others. It also factors in the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, looking at the color-coded levels for Cuyahoga and Geauga counties.

The Chagrin school district is in both Cuyahoga and Geauga counties, including Chagrin Falls, South Russell, Bentleyville and parts of Moreland Hills.

Like the active cases component of the dashboard, viewers can click through the four criteria to open a spreadsheet that keeps track of trends in those categories.

He said the board will have its first review of the dashboard during the Oct. 7 meeting. Until then, “we are definitely going to stay with the [hybrid] model that we are in until the first [full] week of October so we can get kind of a feel for how much spread exists, how these cases may play out,” Dr. Hunt said.

He added that getting students back in the classroom is a marathon, not a sprint.

“A large part of coming back into hybrid wasn’t active cases and trying to flatten a curve, it was realizing the complexity of bringing students back under the requirements, some of them we didn’t even know at the time, and safely implementing all those things with students and staff,” he said. “And then trying to mitigate as many risk factors as possible to not only come back to school, but to stay in school as long as possible.”

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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