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Editor’s note: At the end of each year, The Sun provides an opportunity for area school superintendents and top municipal officials to reflect on the year, and, if they wish, discuss plans for the new year.

This year Stonington Public Schools focused on providing instructional options for families within the safety guidelines established by the Center for Disease Control due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stonington implemented a hybrid model where students attended school in-person two days per week and remotely for three days a week. Two cohorts allowed for one group of students to attend in-person on Monday and Tuesday each week and the other cohort to attend on Thursday and Friday with Wednesday as a fully remote learning day for all students. This enabled the district to provide the required social distancing of six feet between students who were in school in-person in addition to the implementation of the other mitigation strategies recommended by the CDC. The district also offered full distance learning for those families who preferred that option. The goal of the district has always been to return to full in-person instruction as soon as safety requirements could be achieved. In the meantime, the administration acknowledges the current models are not optimal for student learning and supports the faculty as they continually work on ways to help students meet academic expectations.

The current plan in Stonington Public Schools is to offer a robust and high interest menu of summer school courses before welcoming back all students and staff to a full in-person instructional model for the 2021-22 school year. All schools will offer a range of orientation programs for both families and students to prepare them for the return to the in-person learning model and associated expectations for all stakeholders in the teaching and learning partnership. Strong communication and partnerships with families are critical elements to ensure a smooth start to the school year and a seamless transition back to the in-person instructional model.

Districtwide, the comprehensive approach to improve student engagement and support student voice and choice in grades K-12 will continue through the implementation of trauma-sensitive research-based teaching strategies. The diversity, equity and inclusion work will continue as outlined in the Call to Action crafted in July of 2019 through professional development, curriculum development and revisions, and data-driven decision making. The district will continue to progress in its evolution toward exemplifying an anti-racist and anti-biased teaching and learning community.

Stonington High School enthusiastically looks forward to the return of in-person internships and expanded community partnerships. The VOICE program will continue to support student self-advocacy and the advocacy for others through in-district programming and out-of-district collaborations with area schools.

Stonington Middle School anticipates the return of the popular Encore offerings for students in grades 7 and 8 and the expansion of community partnerships to support the development of global citizens through mastery of the global competencies for all students. Both secondary schools look forward to the return of all sports and clubs with families, community members and other fans cheering for students on the athletic fields, and applauding their dramatic, artistic, and musical talents on the stage and in various other venues.

Deans Mill and West Vine Street Schools plan to offer clubs and afterschool programs that were curtailed last spring by the pandemic. Supplemental before and after school may be offered to mitigate some of the academic and social-emotional impacts due to the disruption in instruction over the past several months. Performance-based disciplines such as art, physical education, and music will return to the full in-person delivery model and students will showcase their work in live performances and exhibitions once again. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics offerings for grades 3-5 at both elementary schools are expected to return and inspire students with lessons in coding, robotics, science, and engineering.

Van Riley is the superintendent and Mary Anne Butler is the assistant superintendent of Stonington Public Schools.

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