Santa Fe Public Schools will remain in the remote-learning model for the time being, Superintendent Veronica García told school board members Thursday.
García expressed concern over the newest strain of the coronavirus that is more easily transmissible.
She also said it was equally important to ensure that all employees who interact with students and the public — including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians as well as teachers, administration and staff — be vaccinated before schools reopen.
García estimated it could be at least a month before vaccinations for that group begin. She said she will give a two-week notification to employees when the district returns to hybrid learning.
“If a large portion of our staff is vaccinated, it might make it more feasible to open sooner rather than later in a hybrid model until the infection numbers go down,” García said during Thursday’s school board meeting. “That’s going to be in a bit. It’s not going to happen in the next two weeks, that’s for sure.”
The state Public Education Department announced in December that it would allow elementary schools that operated in the hybrid model during the fall to resume in-person instruction starting Jan. 18.
Santa Fe Public Schools opened its classrooms on Oct. 26 as part of a modified hybrid-learning plan before returning to remote learning on Nov. 23 as coronavirus cases spiked across the state.
Thursday’s announcement came as district administrators presented a review of the hybrid model in which they received feedback from teachers and administrators about its effectiveness.
Associate Superintendent Vanessa Romero said teachers enjoyed returning to in-person learning, even if it was to a limited number of students, and felt the on-site technological support they received was helpful. Teachers also said going from the hybrid to remote schedule was seamless and having a set schedule for both was a big benefit.
Protocols and procedures for facility maintenance and health protocols also met the approval of staff and administrators, Romero said. However, some teachers indicated it was not possible to do the same activities for remote and hybrid students. And the amount of preparation and work it took to manage both models was very taxing.
Some teachers also said they needed additional equipment, such as an extra computer monitor and microphones, and more support staff volunteers to effectively teach online. Social-distancing measures also proved challenging for teachers.
“They said it was very hard to social distance from students,” Romero said. “You build close relationships with your kids and you want to get close.”
Associate Superintendent Larry Chavez unveiled changes to grading practices to help address the struggles students had in remote learning during the first semester. The district reported in November that about 38 percent of students in grades 3-12 failed at least one class or subject in the first nine weeks of the school year.
Chavez said teachers were encouraged to give middle and high school students no more than two graded assignments per week. The district also created a small group of principals, teachers and district staff members to review grading practices, Chavez said.
As for seniors, Chavez said students who meet course requirements for the school year will have met their state assessment requirements, which the Public Education Department waived because of the pandemic.
“[What] this is really getting at is we are focusing on this year’s senior class that they pass all of their classes and earning those credits for graduation,” Chavez said.
García also gave the board a breakdown of the district’s enrollment decline, which saw the number of students shrink from 12,603 last year to 12,033, a loss of 4.5 percent. She said the district accounted for all but seven students, and three of those students were siblings.
García did not have a breakdown of how many students left the district, opted for home school or attended private schools.
“It was pretty miraculous that we found all but seven,” García said.
The board also made some organizational changes. Rudy Garcia moved from board secretary to vice president, replacing Lorraine Price. Sarah Boses moved into Garcia’s former post, while Kate Noble retained her position as board president.