Pelham school district alters elementary hybrid schedule, lengthens day in mid-year adjustment

District begins to address a few of steps called for in racial equity audit


The Pelham school district is making mid-year adjustments to the hybrid learning schedule for the elementary schools beginning Feb. 1, including changing the start time to 9:10 a.m. and having rolling dismissal begin at 2:50 p.m.

Superintendent Cheryl Champ told the school board at Wednesday’s meeting there will a 40-minute increase in instruction time at the elementary level, while afternoon office hours are going away. The district is exploring enrichment opportunities for afternoons on Wednesdays, which will remain half days.

“(This) addresses the desire to see a longer school day, but providing teachers with the half days to keep them afloat,” Champ said.

Dr. Steven Garcia, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and personnel, said, the district’s goal in the beginning of the year was to “create a blend between hybrid and fully remote models and to create a seamless transition between both.” He said numerous “authentic virtual learning programs” have been rolled out for students in all grades, along with the hundreds of new devices that have been purchased for students. “We have to have the backbone to support students,” Garcia said.

Board President Jessica DeDomenico asked how the hybrid learning system will affect benchmarking on students. Garcia replied that even with the unknowns on whether state testing will occur, the district is seeking “to provide students with as many supports systems as we can. We want to make sure kids are ready for the future and are comfortable.”

As part of her mid-year report, Champ discussed Pelham’s work in the area of cultural competence, which is the district’s newest term to describe efforts to address racism and bias. The staff received “foundational training in anti-bias/anti-racist strategies” at the beginning of the school year, she said.

Champ pointed to the racial equity audit from New York University’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools and the “ongoing partnership” established with the center. “We are looking forward to expanding that discussion with our community, to raise awareness and formulate what the next steps forward will be for our district,” she said.

The district is looking for professional development for all teachers, staff and administration, as well as training for student equity leaders in the middle and high schools to lead discussions regarding cultural competence. There is a limited amount of professional learning during the school year, Champ said, but she was “attentive to building our own capacity in racial education.”

The NYU center’s audit found the district lacks “a consistent commitment to fostering an equitable and racially just school environment,” citing disparities in the testing performance of white and nonwhite students and a deep need to diversify hiring. The group called for a review of existing barriers to employment and the creation of “affinity spaces” for minority groups.

The report specifically recommended the district revisit the implementation of the Princeton Plan at the elementary level to better integrate younger students. The Princeton Plan, considered ten years ago, would eliminate the neighborhood elementary school system, instead populating the schools by grade, and address the “historic segregation” where most of the minority students in the district attend Hutchinson School, the report said.

The school district is looking to prioritize building relationships for elementary students among the four schools early, Champ said. She did not address the Princeton Plan, nor have any school board members since the report was presented in October.

The superintendent said the district had already taken action on one recommendation by “diversifying our hiring practices” as it seeks to find a Colonial School principal, three teachers, one counselor, two teaching assistants and one clerical worker.

Trustee Eileen Miller said a large number of people had joined the cultural competence committee at a recent meeting. The panel was preparing to move forward on the recommendations in the racial equity audit and talked about hypothetical racial situations in breakout groups.

“These meetings continue to open my eyes on things happening around us that I have not appreciated before,” Miller stated.

When the report was presented to the board Oct. 21, Miller said “this feels a little damning and we have a lot to do.” That is one of the very few comments made by a school board member on the 43-page report, which includes five major recommendations and more than 30 action items under those recommendations.

A survey of district staff found a majority are eager to get vaccinated for Covid-19 or are already in the process of doing so. However, those who want to get it will be waiting six to eight weeks for the first round due to a high demand and limited supply.

“There is no vaccine for children under 16, and it is currently inconclusive on new strains and how the virus can be carried,” Champ said. Since there has been no change to guidance on quarantine or six-foot distancing, school officials are unable to make an estimate as to when students will be able to return to full in-person learning.

“We need guidance to change and student vaccines to make the full return to school viable,” Champ said. “The six-foot distancing requirement is the main driving factor for students going back fully in person.” Until that changes, she said, the district is in a “holding pattern.”

“Most likely it won’t be until September until we see normalcy, with possibility of masks in the fall,” she said.

(Special education students and English language learners have been brought back to school full time.)

Board members praised the district nurses, administrators, custodial staff and teachers. Closing the meeting, Garcia acknowledged Maria Sutherland and Joanna Lombardi, who are retiring.