ConVal pitches remote K-8 option in 2021 budget

  • ConVal school bus in snow Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/3/2021 4:02:30 PM

ConVal sees an opportunity in full-time remote learning beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, and the school district’s 2021 budget includes funds to set up a long-term remote option for grades K-8. Residents can vote on ConVal’s budget and warrant at their polling places  this Tuesday.

$780,000 of the proposed 2021 budget is slated for setting up a full time, long-term remote option within the District. Proposed staffing levels would allow for 200 students to be served through the program, according to a ConVal press release. Currently, 250 students in kindergarten through eighth grade are opting for fully remote learning. The funds would hire teachers, special educators, a dedicated school counselor, a media and technology specialist, tech support, and a director to oversee the program.

The program would fulfill some of the public school’s continued responsibility to meet student and family needs as the pandemic rolls on, Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said, and keep students in the ConVal system who would otherwise have to withdraw in order to pursue a full-time virtual option. 

“Based on the success and feedback regarding our current remote learning program, we are excited to explore the possibility of providing this opportunity to help meet the ever changing needs of our students and their families while maintaining and growing our enrollment numbers,” she said. 

Middle and high schoolers can currently take classes via the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, but students wishing to attend remotely full time have to withdraw from the District, Rizzo Saunders said. There are currently 110 students in K-4 learning remotely across the District since the start of the school year, and 220 students in grades K-8. “Some parents say this has worked better for their child,” Rizzo Saunders previously told School Board members at a January meeting, and that those students are more engaged and comfortable in a remote environment.

Although the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School will remain an option for students, the ConVal option sports a personalized and flexible atmosphere, and features live (synchronous) instruction in addition to asynchronous curriculum, according to the press release. Students, as part of multi-age groups, would be able to interact remotely with their teacher and fellow students, “able to naturally progress socially and cognitively,” in the mixed-age system, according to the press release – an arrangement that also stabilizes class size and teacher assignments. “This program would also provide a flexible, personalized learning experience for students who may be unable to attend school in person for an extended period of time for reasons such as a chronic illness,” the press release said.

The proposal goes too far for some residents in the School District. “I think there’s a limit on how much you can ask,” retired ConVal music director Richard Sanders said. Although he’s heard that some students do better learning remotely, he sees the proposal as “an awful lot of money to subsidize the wishes of a small group.” Although he himself used to advocate for music department funding, Sanders said only requested what he could justify before the school’s budget committees. “This just seemed extreme,” he said. “Residents of this school district have done very well by their schools,” he said, but such a proposal might max out the goodwill of the ConVal community as state aid continues to wane.

The proposed 2021 operating budget is $52,583,177. It includes $425,000 in additional student mental, social, and emotional health supports, and $144,000 to further expand pre-kindergarten offerings through the District’s long-term rollout of a Preschool For All program. The default budget is  $51,065,984, or $1,517,193 less.


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