Principal Browne Outlines Plan for In-Person Learning in January

Nick Bumgardner, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

With the new year fast approaching, the verdict is in—Notre Dame Academy will be returning to in-person learning.

The news, first broken on Monday, ends three months of online instruction, offering a return to school option for students starting January 11.

“Our decision was almost entirely concerned with the students.  We were seeing some troubling numbers concerning academic performance,” explained Principal Patrick Browne.

“We realized it was most important we weren’t neglecting what we were hearing.  We heard from parents that were concerned about their children’s well being…there were a lot of students that did better when they were in school as opposed to at home for a long period of time,” he continued.

According to parent surveys, a plurality, at 47.5%, preferred to transition to a full five-day a week in-person schedule.

Meanwhile, 42.5% of parents surveyed preferred a virtual option, whether it came in the form of either a blended or fully virtual schedule.

Ten percent of parents surveyed were undecided.

“We will be staying physically distanced because we know CDC recommendations are very important to the health and safety of our students and staff,” Browne said, reaffirming the school’s commitment to social distancing.

To guide NDA administration in the transition back to in-person learning, a medical advisory committee, consisting of medical staff, medical professionals from Bellin and Prevea, and NDA parents who are medical doctors, has been created.

Reviews will be conducted of the school’s quarantining, contact-tracing, testing, and illness-reporting procedures ahead of January’s reintroduction to in-person instruction. 

In addition to the newly-formed medical advisory committee, NDA will be working with a spatial consultant to help maximize space in the school building to honor social distancing requirements.

“We have a consultant coming in next Monday…to talk about how we can maximize some of the space we may not have been thinking about previously…It’s good to have people in the building that can help you visualize space differently,” Browne reiterated.

“We can only put so many students in a classroom at one time and still honor that goal of being physically distanced.  So, in the event we exceed the number that we can realistically put into a distanced classroom, we may have to have some of the students that were normally in that classroom in the commons learning virtually…We would do this on a rotational basis,” he said.

In other changes, students will now be eating lunch in the commons and, potentially, the Triton Center.

Schedule adjustments, the introduction of non-teacher volunteers, the addition of new technological access points throughout the building, and new maintenance procedures are other changes being discussed.

Additionally, to accommodate the influx of students returning to in-person instruction, difficult decisions must be made concerning virtual instruction

“It’s really sort of a mathematical calculation.  You have to have at least a good percentage of students who are planning on staying home to meet the desires of those who wish to physically attend school,” Browne remarked.

This balancing act is likely to come into play when parentst formally commit to in-person, blended, or virtual instruction in late December.

NDA’s president, Thomas Kiely, remains optimistic about the return.

“We are excited to welcome students back to Notre Dame Academy beyond the smaller numbers who have been coming to school over the last several weeks! There is much to do to ensure a smooth transition and a continued community learning experience throughout the second semester,” he said in a Monday email to parents.

Further questions and comments for the reopening plan should be directed to [email protected].