Greenwich Schools Propose Small Group Pull-Out Model for Middle School Music

On Thursday night the Board of Education had its first regular business meeting following a string of special meetings about reopening school during Covid.

The board heard from administrators about returning middle school orchestra, band and chorus.

Music teacher Mike Strange and Art & Music coordinator Laura Newell proposed a small group “pullout” model in middle school much like the model elementary schools have used for years.

Mr. Strange said he believed the rotating pullout model with small groups of 4-5 children could work, and that colleagues in neighboring districts had safely continued their instrumental music programs. However, he noted those districts follow a hybrid model.

“I believe Greenwich can offer similar solutions in our current full time model,” he said, adding that should the district need to pivot to remote learning again, instrumental instruction could move online easily.

Ms Newell said the pullout model would be least disruptive as it preserves the existing, complex schedule.

She said students would be pulled from academic classes once or twice a week for 30-minutes, depending on how many children need the service.

She said the biggest challenge would be finding space for instruction, and that some instructional spaces were being used for storage. She said if those items were put into storage elsewhere, that might free up instructional space.

Newell said if a classroom was available, five students could have a lesson with 12 ft of social distancing, with them all facing in one direction so that “particles” all go in one direction.

Newell said at Eastern Middle School there are teachers with open time in their schedules for pullout lessons.

She said a 1.0 general music teacher would need to be hired at both CMS and WMS to teach general music while the existing teacher did the pullout lessons.

Mr. Bernstein asked about chorus.

“As of right now there is no singing allowed at all in any of our buildings,” Newell said.

Ms Newell said using outdoor space was a consideration, but had not been discussed in depth. She said there are districts renting tents with no sides to hold rehearsals outdoors as long as the weather holds out.

“That is something we probably should discuss,” she said. “Orchestra in my opinion is something we could get running pretty quickly.”

At the previous special meeting Dr. Jones had said rental tents was problematic because it was hurricane season and a pole could go flying.

Newell noted students in orchestra would be playing their own instruments and wearing normal masks. She said bell coverings ranged from $10 to $30.

The administration was previously considering after school lessons, either at school or virtually, but the after school model presents equity issues as there are students with commitments to look after younger siblings at home, and there are no late buses. Also, after school lessons in person would disrupt the cohort model.

Still Gordon Beinstein, principal at Western Middle School said the pull out lessons might also disrupt the cohorting model.

Middle school cohorts have about 100 students each. There are two in each grade at Western; two in each grade at Central, and three in each grade at Eastern, and each cohort has its own teachers.

“If we’re looking at Laura’s (pullout) model, we’re now changing our cohorting protocols, where a single teacher is seeing kids across all six cohorts within a day or two,” he said. “We built our schedule with a different understanding…Are we comfortable revisiting cohorting six or seven days into the school year?”

Ms Newell and director of K-8 curriculum Marc D’Amico said they planned to visit the schools to inventory space and storage.

D’Amico described the main challenges as, “Space, Storage and Safety.”

Unlike the elementary schools where some classrooms are being used for storage, the middle school principals said only their auditorium stages were being used for storage.

Orchestra students can social distance and wear masks, but there are more challenges with band, and there was discussion on the use of bell covers and even who will clean up spit.

Ms Stowe said it might be worth considering reinstating late buses in order to implement after school lessons.

Dr. Jones said after school lessons could start remotely, which was successful last spring, and transition to after school lessons in the buildings once people are feeling safer.

“In the school day, it’s going to be very restrictive moving kids around,” Jones said. “The board did not ask us to look at the after school piece. The board asked us to look (at lessons) during the school day.”

Karen Kowalski said she’d received letters from music students including an 8th grader at Western who described orchestra as her favorite class and her “relief” from the rest of her day.

“We’ve just scratched the surface,” Kowalski said. “We need to come up with a scenario – get the numbers of students, where they sit, what cohort, when they’d be pulled, and put that schedule together to get this done.”

Peter Sherr asked Dr. Jones if she had “banned” chorus in Greenwich Schools.

“I’ve not banned singing,” Jones said, adding that younger children singing along with a teacher is very different from chorus.

“I doubt that those music masks with the slit have any sort of filter that is close to a 14 or 16 MERV filter,” she added.

“When you have someone singing from the diaphragm – especially since covid is known to be heavy, that’s where it sits – so you’re more likely to project those very small particles out when you do chorus,” Dr. Jones said.

Dr. Jones said she anticipated custodians would not view it as safe to clean up spit after band class. “It will fall on the teachers or the children to have to clean up after themselves because I don’t think it will be seen as safe.”

“We’ve heard what the board is asking us to do. We will go back and look at that. If you’re asking, as a school superintendent, can we implement the guidelines and do it safely, I’ll say I’m not comfortable doing that, but the board is saying that’s what you want us to do.”

Greenwich Schools superintendent Dr. Toni Jones

Peter Sherr said he appreciated cohorts, but that there was already cross-cohorting of students riding school buses.

“We can’t use this selectively, and in certain instances be very devout about these rules, and in particular situations where it’s created a difficulty, we’re not,” he said.

Asked about a timeline to return middle school music, Dr. Jones asked for flexibility.

She said an after school music teacher job had already been posted, and they probably could already have had after school lessons underway, but that they would return to planning lessons during the school day.

“The last thing I want is to be pulling middle school principals out for two hour meetings, three days a week,” she continued, adding that if there is a positive Covid case in middle school, principals will need to be present to answer parent questions for 24-48 hours of difficult time.

“This was a very difficult ask tonight,” she added.

“If they need money, if they need buildings, if they need tents, we have a curriculum and it needs to be taught,” Mr. Sherr said.

“I think so much of this is operational, and we have veered well into that lane and we need to get out of it,” BOE chairman Bernstein said.

“Toni has heard the board, that if they can move forward without us, they should do that,” he added. “They don’t need to come back to us with every detail. If they can get orchestra back and, in the next few weeks, great, and if band takes a little bit longer, and they have to reassure the parents, get the implements that cover the instruments, go do that. I don’t want to get in their way.”

Following about two hours of discussion of middle school music, the board moved to its next agenda item.

See also

BOE to Schools Chief: Return band, chorus & orchestra to the middle schools. Be creative.

Sept 4, 2020