When the state's Department of Education put an official effort in place to plan how schools may look in the fall with a potential reopening, local school districts were already thinking about how that new year might look in these unique, challenging times.
New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut announced last month the formation of the School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce (STRRT). With a structure similar to the Governor's School Safety Preparedness Task Force, the group is joining together stakeholders from across New Hampshire education system to provide recommendations on bringing students back into school buildings this fall.
Meetings are underway and a survey of involved stakeholders ended last week. The task force plans to issue preliminary recommendations by June 30, with follow-up recommendations within 30 days.
"This has been an unprecedented challenge for everyone, and will give a new meaning to 'back to school' this fall," Edelblut said in a press release. "We want to provide schools with the best guidance possible on how to protect student safety and to apply the lessons we have learned from remote instruction."
Until more finite guidance comes, school districts are winding down their years and remote learning efforts, but thinking to the fall and what that might look like.
In Londonderry, teams are currently studying the district's remote learning outcomes as the virtual school year ends, looking at what worked and what didn't, and making plans to move forward with those remote processes if and when they might be needed again.
Londonderry Superintendent Scott Laliberte also noted it's still early to tell exactly how the fall start of the school year will look, but by studying remote learning, guidelines can be put in place for the future.
Laliberte said a physical return to the classroom is also a key point of study, with many "what ifs" still circulating about possible ways to bring students and staff back safely.
"Teams are working behind the scenes," he said. "What if we have smaller numbers, stagger days? It's all speculation."
Laliberte said more information will be released once the state comes out with its task force guidelines.
"We don't want to panic anyone, we are looking at every scenario," Lalberte said, adding in the weeks ahead there will be clearer information on what a district can or can't do.
Londonderry's district also continues to keep Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information close by as well as what the state will offer.
"We're preparing to adjust to the conditions that are in front of us," Laliberte said. "We are creating solutions as we go and doing the best we can under the circumstances."
Laliberte said the district also continues to plan ways to honor the Class of 2020, including a Senior Salute held June 2. More information on how to honor students with commencement will be announced soon.
The Derry Cooperative School District is also taking the state's lead with the task force in place and is participating in meetings as part of that state effort to put a reopening plan in place if school districts open their doors in the fall.
Derry School Board member Brenda Willis said there are many unknowns.
"We don't know what's going to happen with reopening," Willis said. "Our main goal is to make sure students are safe and staff are safe. We will know more in a couple of weeks."
The Derry district continues with its year-end planning, releasing report cards and teacher/team assignments for next year, honoring eighth-graders moving on to high school, and making sure routines and special events are maintained for students and families.
"We want students and families to have that semblance of order," said Derry Superintendent MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian. "We want our students to have that same feeling of knowing."
Pinkerton Academy in Derry is also continuing to update its families weekly with not only COVID-19 information, but also upcoming events to be held remotely as the school year ends, including awards ceremonies, honors inductions and performances.
Headmaster Timothy Powers offered a virtual question and answer session with families recently and fielded many questions about the summer, and what the new year in the fall might look like.
Powers said that once remote learning was in place, Pinkerton started working on reopening plans.
"We've been working on plans for over a month now" Powers said.
Things have changed and evolved, he said.
"As the pandemic has continued and the time in the remote setting has grown, the plans have evolved and changed as well," Powers said at the virtual gathering. "Currently, we have groups looking at the different scenarios for what reopening in the fall will look like."
Those scenarios could range from a normal school year to a delayed start, to a modified hybrid start, the headmaster said. There are many possibilities, either back into a remote setting, being on campus, or a combination of the two.
"In this constantly changing situation we continue to plan and adjust to the changing circumstances of the pandemic," Powers said. "We will continue to base our decisions on the guidelines of state and health officials while also considering what will work best for our campus community."
Powers said this isn't the ideal way the campus hoped the school year would end, but there are things to be learned moving forward.
"The campus is way too quiet," Powers said, "but I think we learned a lot."