New Kent Charles City Chronicle

News for New Kent County and Charles City County, Virginia | February 26, 2021

New Kent superintendent, school board shifts focus to older students return to buildings

By Andre Jones | February 3, 2021 3:57 am

As second and third graders returned to a hybrid approach in New Kent County Public Schools, the narrative now focuses on bringing back older groups of students to the classroom.

New Kent Superintendent of Schools Brian Nichols unveiled modifications for Cohort 4 and Cohort 5, groups that target on older student returns, during Monday night’s New Kent School Board meeting.

Originally, Cohort 4 would have brought back grades 4-5 and Cohort 5 would have saw the return of grades 6-12. Nichols said that after learning the factors from the elementary school buildings reopening, those cohorts have been modified. Cohort 4 is now proposed to see grades 4-5 return but would also bring back grades six and nine. Cohort 4 also has a target date of March 4.

“Similar to what we did with Cohort 1 (kindergartners and first graders), we wanted to allow sixth and ninth graders into the school because it would be the seeing the buildings for the first time,” the superintendent said when making the proposal to the school board. “While sixth graders will be easier to implement, we are still working with ninth graders because there aren’t any specific courses other than English 9 that they are required to take. There are some logistics that have to be done with that.”

According to Nichols, New Kent Middle School administration and staff have organized a plan and modified the layout of the school for students returning. Middle school students would have a staggered bell schedule that allows for easier travel within hallways while meeting all requirements of social distancing. Secondly, many of the classes remain in the same hallway, whereas in the past students would have had to travel across the building.

Among another issue that comes with the implementation of Cohort 4 is additional transportation.

“When that shift happens, we will move to multiple tiers for transportation,” Nichols said. “With that, we will extend time for in-person instruction that will allow for buses to be cleaned. The times for virtual instruction would remain the same.”

Nichols added that while virtual instruction will still be an option for students, the desire for in-person learning is continuing to increase within the county.

“Right now, there is a waiting list for grades K-1 who now want to come back,” the superintendent commented. “Currently, we can’t fit all the kids back in school at the same time due to spacing and keeping desks at least three feet apart. It is something that we are managing.”

Along similar lines, a survey of parents for grades 6-12 also showed that most favor a hybrid return. At New Kent Middle School, a four-day hybrid schedule was received favorably with 60 percent of respondents saying they would allow for the in-person return, while a two-day hybrid schedule also was favorable at 57 percent. New Kent High School respondents also favored the two proposed models, with 62 percent saying a four-day in-person return was favorable, and 61 percent saying that a two-day in-person return also met their satisfaction.

Despite the positive responses, Nichols said realistically the two-day a week option was more suitable at the high school level due to the enrollment size.

“Based on current numbers, it would probably be two days and it would necessitate a hybrid schedule,” the superintendent said. “There are still things we’d have to work out, such as us having only one chemistry teacher right now and they would have to teach both virtual and hybrid classes.”

While Cohort 4 received a tentative date and will be discussed at the Feb. 16 work session, Cohort 5 (consisting of grades 7-8, 10-12) may receive a target date at that work session.

“We are still relying on metrics for our in-person return,” Nichols commented as he wrapped up the meeting. “There are still a lot of factors in play and there are still shifts going on when it comes to in-person and virtual learning.”