MINT HILL, NC – On July 15, the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board voted to reopen schools this fall under Plan B Plus Remote. The plan allows for a two-week onboarding period during which students will attend school in-person in small groups before transitioning to full remote learning.
Queen’s Grant High School, a charter school located in Mint Hill on Idlewild Road, has a different plan. Under Queen’s Grant’s proposed “Hybrid Delivery Plan,” students can choose to attend in-person classes on campus for two days a week. Students who choose this option will maintain social distance and wear masks while attending their regular full schedule of classes two days a week.
The exact breakdown of the week has not yet been finalized, but in coordination with Queen’s Grant Community School (the K-8 with whom the high school shares a charter), Queen’s Grant High School is leaning toward a schedule where one group of students attends in-person classes Mondays and Tuesdays and a second group attends Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be utilized not only for deep cleaning the campus between groups but also for virtual office hours, team planning, and professional development.
Like CMS, Queen’s Grant will also offer a “100% Online Plan” for students who are unable or unwilling to return for in-person instruction at the present time. One important way that Queen’s Grant’s plan for remote instruction differs from the county’s, however, is that students who choose remote instruction are not necessarily locked into that choice for the semester. “I understand conditions can change,” says Principal Josh Swartzlander, “so if things get better and the numbers start trending down and people want to come back in late October, at the end of the quarter, we’re exploring that.”
To make both blended and online delivery work, Queen’s Grant will rely on a host of tools that include Schoology, Zoom, and Google Meet. “Because we’ve used Schoology and a lot of our platforms for years, there wasn’t as much training necessary,” says Swartzlander. “Now what we need to do better is we need to get more creative because that was kind of the thing that lacked [in the spring].”
Swartzlander is also emphasizing daily communication between teachers and students this fall. To facilitate this, all Queen’s Grant students will receive queensgrant.org email addresses. Swartzlander is also working on a package to provide Zoom accounts for all teachers as well as other necessary upgrades to devices and applications.
Swartzlander recognizes that it’s a tough transition for teachers who are used to teaching in front of a class. “A lot of the tools that we’re trying to encourage are tools that in the past you might have one or two teachers that are going above and beyond using and demonstrating,” says Swartzlander. “Now everybody better be ready to use the whiteboard tools on zoom, share your screen, be able to do those types of things.” Access to and familiarity with these online tools will be crucial for Queen’s Grant’s teachers, who will be expected to teach in person four days a week while also moderating online versions of their classes for fully and partially remote students.
Queen’s Grant is able to provide in-person instruction while CMS schools go fully remote because charter schools are governed by the state, not the county. Although CMS frequently follows CMS decisions with regards to things like weather-related closings, the school’s leadership saw an opportunity here to do something different. “Even though we’re located within Mecklenburg County, CMS doesn’t have any authority over our instructional policies,” explains Swartzlander. “The board and the state determine it, so if our board wants to open and the state says we can open, we’re going to do it.”
Of course, just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should. A critical factor that separates Queen’s Grant from Independence or Rocky River and enables them to open safely is size. “If we stagger the students in, and we have enough students doing remote, we’ll be in such small groups that I know that we will never be over twelve kids in a class,” says Swartzlander, who doesn’t fault CMS for making the call they did. “When you look at Independence, it has four or five times the students we do. Just think about four times the students – I would immediately go to online-only, too.”
But another place that Queen’s Grant deviates from CMS is preparation. Whereas CMS has left families and staff wondering what school would look like this fall for most of the summer, Swartzlander has been preparing to open again since students left campus in March. “We have been stockpiling cleaning solution and supplies and masks and gloves and gowns and anything and everything and we can get our hands on – gallons and gallons and gallons of sanitizer,” says Swartzlander. “ If I thought we just started preparing today, I would say, we can’t open, but we planned and prepared for an opening. I didn’t know whether the governor was going to come in one way or not, but I told my staff back in April, prepare for an “A day/B day opening.”
The school’s smaller student population also made preparation for opening easier. “If we’re looking at resources, the resources we need would be about a fourth or fifth what some of these other schools would need,” says Swartzlander. He uses hand sanitizer as an example: “We’ve got, say, 80 gallons. I don’t know how long that lasts, but it allows us to get one for every single teacher twice. So, we know we can open with that much.”
In fact, one of the biggest challenges Swartzlander anticipates facing in the fall is how fast those supplies will go and whether he will be able to get more. But another challenge he anticipates is dealing with what he calls the “pent up energy of uncertainty” certain to manifest itself in a large group of teenagers. “I worry about how that’s going to show up,” says Swartzlander. “I don’t know whether it causes them to act out, I don’t know if there’s more depression, I don’t know if there’s more anxiety, I don’t know if the kids are more emotional. I don’t know if we’re going to start noticing more cries for help. That’s my biggest worry is what’s going to happen with these kids when they’re back in a setting that is not the same as it’s been in the past.”
Students will begin a staggered return to campus on August 17. Students will have an opportunity to meet their teachers in a very small group of two or three; they’ll also make a final decision on remote versus hybrid learning. These days will also be used to distribute paperwork, textbooks, and Schoology codes and get students set up with their Queen’s Grant email addresses. August 24 will be the first official day of classes.
“There is no perfect solution and no perfect way to open,” admits Swartzlander. “It’s an evolving process, and we will have to adapt to conditions and listen to the science. I feel like since we have been planning for an A Day/B Day opening since March, we have a good start and, our school is the right size to do it. We all want to resume some kind of way, and I think we have the right pieces in place to do that, and if we run into obstacles like a lack of supplies, economic circumstances, or other problematic conditions, then we can move to full remote instruction. If we can get them here two days a week and we can keep them safe, that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Queen’s Grant continues to accept applications for the upcoming school year. To learn more visit https://www.queensgranthigh.org.