For Superintendent Amy Rex, the current moment is all about choices. Many things are uncertain right now -- health, child care, education -- but Rex said she has chosen to make the best of it.
“This is our reality, and it sucks, but we’ve got to deal with it,” she said.
For the last several months, Rex, co-chair of the Champlain Valley Superintendents Association, has been working with CVSA to design a unified reopening model for the 16 districts the association represents.
CVSA’s school districts announced July 26 they will use a hybrid model for reopening in September, in which students learn in-person two days a week and work remotely for three days.
Although the districts share many of the same reopening challenges, Rex said Milton is unique in that all of its elementary school students are in one building, causing plans for physical distancing to be difficult to develop.
“In South Burlington and Essex, they have multiple schools which are all fairly large,” Rex said. “Our challenge is that we have a lot of students in one building -- almost 1,200 students between Pre-K and grade eight.”
Due to the small number of Milton Pre-K students, they will be able to attend school almost normally — four days a week with no remote learning, Rex said. Kindergarteners, though they would benefit from more days in-person, will follow a similar schedule to older children, with some days in-person and some days remote.
The MTSD steering committee and its subcommittees met all day Aug. 3 to work on finalizing plans for transportation, food services and teacher schedules. The committees are using the results of the surveys sent to families to guide their decision-making, Rex said.
At the time of this interview, Rex could share that on in-person learning days, students on the free and reduced meal program or those wishing to purchase, will be able get breakfast from grab-and-go stations at the start of each day. Lunch will be delivered by food service workers to each classroom.
Per state guidance, cafeterias cannot be used for mealtime, so one of the MTSD subcommittees is currently looking into duplicating the cafeteria’s recycling and composting receptacles for each classroom.
Rex said committees are also still figuring out how to get meals to students on the free and reduced lunch program on the days they are learning from home.
One of the biggest questions without an answer right now is how students whose parents work will be supervised during the three days they are learning remotely. Rex, like many other educators, doesn’t yet have an answer, but she is meeting with other superintendents and local child care providers this week to discuss possible solutions.
“We don’t have answers yet, but we’ve decided we’re going to figure it out,” she said.
While other school districts are concerned about having enough staff to facilitate both in-person and remote learning, this is another instance in which Rex has chosen to think positively.
“Even last year, at the start of the school year, we weren’t fully staffed, but we figured out how to compensate for those gaps,” she said.
Rex has accepted the fact that there will be challenges she didn’t see coming, or that certain situations may bring her and her colleagues back to the drawing board.
“We don’t know what we don’t know until we start doing this,” she said. “Our first step is to put all the safety measures in place and then see what the issues are. You can sit in an office and think about all the things that could go wrong, but I don’t think that’s very productive.”
Even though Milton Town School District is currently consumed with figuring out how to operate during a global pandemic, Rex said she is still personally invested in many other projects.
“I feel conflicted,” she said. “I’m working with the leadership team on our COVID-19 response, but I’m still thinking about the teaching and learning piece that I hold in high regard.”
Rex is focused on ensuring all students have access to high quality education, especially those who struggle academically or those who have a difficult situation at home. She also is committed to increasing MTSD’s education around race and diversity.
“I don’t want that to go by the wayside,” she said. “Right now our priority is to make sure our faculty and staff feel safe, but we’re still trying to work on those other things as well.”
Rex finds herself lucky to be part of the Milton community. Though she said there will always be critics, the majority of families have been supportive and understanding of the challenges she and other educators face.
“I think that if there is anything I want our community, both families and staff, to know, it’s that we have their best interests in mind,” she said. “I feel very, very fortunate that we have a community that wants to work together to do the best that we can.”