WEST NEWBURY — Pentucket Regional School District officials discussed the next steps for improving the hybrid and fully remote learning models at a School Committee meeting Tuesday night.

Superintendent Justin Bartholomew said there are about 275 students participating in the fully remote learning model. 

In addressing the many needs of those students, the district announced last week that Emily Puteri, principal of Dr. Elmer S. Bagnall Elementary School, will move to a temporary position serving as principal of all remote learning. 

"We've gone from just over 200 students to about 275 students in remote," Bartholomew said. "With those students, comes all the teachers who are trying to support them. The teachers are trying to reach out to a whole bunch of different folks and there's no one person for the students, the parents or the teachers to go to."

Bartholomew did not say how many students are enrolled in the district but according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there were 2,396 in 2019-20.

Puteri will serve as a point of contact for all students attending virtual school through the district, including those who selected the Florida Virtual School option, which was presented to students and families at the start of the year.

Bagnall Assistant Principal Jim Day will take over as interim principal for the time being. 

In looking to improve some areas of remote instruction, district officials are looking to possibly try livestreaming some classes. The district does not have extensive technology to do so, but officials said they want to provide more live instruction, especially for those quarantining or enrolled in a fully remote learning model.

The district is also looking at ending its instructional support for the Florida Virtual School so those teachers can focus more on the district model.

Those who wish to remain with the Florida Virtual School program can stay with it, but families will be given a homeschool-like curriculum. Families would have the option to choose the revised district model. 

Under the revised model, teachers would be correcting assignments and providing feedback, which families said were missing from the remote model.

Bartholomew put this year in perspective in comparison to previous years, saying about 83% of students will receive a maximum of roughly 70 in-person school days compared to the typical 100% having access to 180 in-person school days.

He recognized that remote learning cannot replace the need for in-person learning, especially for younger students. Even so, he made clear that the district is "not shortchanging" its students. 

With the environment the COVID-19 pandemic has created, the superintendent said "everyone is being shortchanged," from children to adults. He looked at curriculum standards and said for the most part, students are still meeting those standards.

Bartholomew said the district will not look to move to a fully in-person model anytime soon. 

He said if the School Committee voted for the district to begin the year fully in person or to set up desks 3 feet apart rather than 6 feet, there would be "at least two schools, possibly three schools, that would be closed right now, today."

Bartholomew said all positive COVID-19 cases in the district's three towns — West Newbury, Groveland and Merrimac — have been the result of community spread, not school spread. 

To watch the full meeting, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqahadFfITI.

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