Schenectady school district officials moved back the planned start of new elementary school “learning pods” in the face of a slow rehiring process and other logistical challenges.
The learning pods will give students who have been learning remotely a chance to attend a classroom where they will take their virtual classes with the support of educators and other school staff.
After establishing new learning pods at Schenectady High School and Mont Pleasant Middle School last week, district officials had hoped to open similar pods across the district elementary schools Monday. But the slowness of recalling staff and sorting out the logistics of students transportation forced district officials to delay opening the elementary pods until March 18.
“The change is being made because we are still working on important details and logistics including staffing, training of staff, and students transportation,” district officials wrote in a message Friday. “We want to make sure everything is in place and ready to run smoothly for your child.”
The district is turning to the hundreds of teachers and paraprofessionals laid off at the start of the year – part of the district’s effort to brace for potentially devastating budget cuts that were never fully realized – to staff the learning pods. District leaders also shuttered school buildings to secondary students as part of the budget savings.
Human resources staff in the district have been working through seniority lists as they call teachers and paraprofessionals to invite them back to positions in Schenectady. District spokesperson Karen Corona said part of the process involves waiting to connect with teachers on the list before they move to others on the list.
Since many of those laid off staff took other positions, when district staff do connect, they may need some period of time to provide notice or make arrangements before they can return to Schenectady.
“What’s making it challenging is they are reaching out to people mid-year,” said Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers. “If they are able to come back, they are having to give notice in those positions they are in.”
Benaquisto said at least some of the laid off staff took teaching jobs in other Capital Region districts and are expected to give 30 days notice. She said others have to find childcare accommodations before they can return to work. She said many of the laid off educators are eager to return to Schenectady but that the district was likely to lose some staff who stay in positions they accepted after getting laid off from Schenectady.”
“I’m sure we will lose staff; I don’t know how many it will turn out to be,” she said. “The other side of that is our teachers are really committed to our district and they want to come back.”
Corona said as of Monday the district had recalled 20 teachers and 65 paraprofessionals, including the staff who helped open the middle and high school learning pods last week. Over 400 teachers and paraprofessionals were laid off in the fall, and district officials have said their plan is to recall all teachers.
The middle and high school pods opened last week to about 400 students, but another nearly 1,500 students were waiting for spots in the pods, which district officials have said will continue to ramp up in the coming weeks and months as the district recalls more and more staff.
Corona said staffing for the elementary pods should be set later this week, with staff returning Monday for three days of training and preparations before students join the pods next Thursday. Corona said the district was planning to start with about 200 elementary students spread across nearly 20 pods next week.
“We have to work through the recall process and we have to go through the list of seniority and areas of certification for teachers… it takes longer than it seems it should,” Corona said Monday. “More people will be recalled today and tomorrow.”