School began in the Penn Hills School District on September 8, 2020. At this time, K-12 families were given the option to start the year according to a 100% remote learning pathway or according to a hybrid model that includes two (2) days of onsite learning and three (3) days of remote learning. Our initial concerns focused on equity and making sure all students have access to a learning device and core online curriculum. Now that we are about three (3) weeks in, we are trying to implement more differentiated instruction, as we recognize one size does not fit all. An admitted struggle has been that not everyone (students and staff alike) has the same mastery level in terms of navigating technology. We are thankful for our PH families who are doing their best to assist students on remote learning days and also for our more proficient colleagues who are shepherding us through this conversion that is built on increased reliance on technology beyond what most of us are accustomed. Most importantly, WE thank EVERYONE for your ongoing patience and support.
As we prepare to move toward increased learning time onsite for those families who are interested, we continue to map out options and what that next shift might look like. To that end, Mrs. Brown will be asking Kindergarten families to weigh in on their interest in a possible conversion from the current two (2)-days onsite option to perhaps a four (4)-days hybrid learning pathway instead. We know the importance of shifting smaller groups according to a designated sequence, so we don’t compromise safety and/or overwhelm our system. Depending on local conditions and family interest, Kindergarten students may be cleared to shift to a four (4)-day hybrid option in just a few weeks. Kindergarten families not interested in making this shift, would retain the option of remaining in or moving to a 100% remote learning pathway instead. Based on the success of this potential pilot, other grade levels would be shifted shortly thereafter, again not necessarily all at once. Our ultimate goal is to offer a five (5)-days onsite learning option, no later than mid-January for those K-12 families who want maximum onsite learning time restored. Again, final decisions will continue to be based on local conditions.
As a reminder, Penn Hills School District applied over the summer for approval to offer Flexible Instruction Days (FID) in lieu of school cancellations that are most commonly invoked in the winter months due to inclement weather, power outages, etc. While our FID application has not yet been approved, we are anticipating approval in the near future. Accordingly, we are planning to launch a FID-like “test” for our system on Tuesday, November 3 (Election Day) for all K-12 students. Similar to what we have done in the past on Election Days, only staff will report. Shifting to 100% remote learning for K-12 students on Tuesday, November 3 will not only benefit our PH community by allowing each of our three (3) schools to serve as polling sites, it will also allow us to pilot a FID and to address glitches ahead of that day in the future when we will have to call a FID based on weather or related issues that make onsite learning not the best option that day.
Finally, I cannot express how pleased I am that, to date, our District is aware of only two (2) confirmed cases of COVID-19 among those affiliated with Penn Hills School District (as a student, volunteer, or employee) since March 2020. The fact that we’ve only had two (2) documented cases thus far provides evidence that ALL stakeholders in the Penn Hills School District have been making solid decisions and taking very seriously the threat this virus poses. I firmly believe our District’s conservative approach, while not always understood and/or supported in the moment, has been helping us to manage a safe learning environment for our students and a safe work environment for our staff. I wish EVERYONE continued good health.