Carl Albano is the superintendent and interim principal at the Garrison School. He joined the district on July 1.
Which of the plans required by the state does the district plan to use?
Like everyone else, we submitted three models [in-person, virtual and hybrid], and what we learned is that we have the ability, with nearly 60,000 square feet and approximately 210 students, to fit all of our students in-person full-time. As long as the governor allows us to remain open, we’re confident that we can fit everyone here with social-distancing measures in place. We had our architecture firm, which is doing the work on our $10 million capital project, come in and analyze every square foot of instructional space in the building and give us a capacity for each classroom, with students 6 feet apart.
Will masks be required?
Masks will be required by all staff and students unless you are alone in a space, and then you can remove your mask, or if you’re outdoors and you’re 6 feet apart, then you can remove the mask. The other exception would be if a staff member or student has a health need, such as asthma, and we would make accommodations. We also have ordered plexiglass barriers for people who may have trouble tolerating a mask. Students and staff could lower their masks in the building, if they’re 6 feet apart, for instance if someone needs to drink water. We also intend to have students eat lunch in the classrooms. Weather permitting, they may be eating outside, but if it’s raining, they will most likely eat in their classrooms. And of course they’ll remove the mask for that. There will be scheduled mask breaks for all students and staff.
Will there be an all-virtual option?
The district plans to partner with a company called iTutor through Putnam-Northern Westchester BOCES. The iTutor teachers, who are all state-certified, will provide synchronous remote instruction for students whose parents decide to keep them at home. We conducted a survey about three weeks ago, and at that time, 17 percent of parents said they would not be comfortable sending their children back to school in person. I’m going to ask parents in Garrison to make a final decision by Aug. 21 so we can plan schedules, room assignments and transportation routes.
Has being such a small district made it more or less challenging to create a reopening plan?
In some ways it’s been less complicated. With our generous instructional space, we have some advantages that larger, more-crowded districts don’t have. Where it was more challenging is that we have a small administrative staff, and our principal position is vacant. Between myself, our business official and our director of transportation and facilities, we really have just three administrators.
What are your plans if a student or teacher gets sick?
We’re going to have iTutor teachers in place for every grade level, so if one of our in-person students becomes ill or has to quarantine, we could enroll that student in iTutor. If we go fully remote, the Garrison teachers would replace iTutor.
Is this the most challenging situation you’ve dealt with in your career?
Without question. Any administrator will tell you that, typically, by this time in the summer, the school year is 95 percent planned, if not more, meaning everything from bus routes and schedules to teacher assignments. At this point, you’re just fine-tuning and preparing to welcome everyone back. Instead, this year many districts are creating three schedules and two bus routes, and then there’s professional development for the teachers, as well. Many of the initiatives that we were working on are on hold because now the focus is on training staff for health and safety protocols.
The last big piece is that, for the most part, myself included, our expertise is in in-person education, not remote. So there’s a big learning curve there. Our teachers have worked hard to improve their understanding of virtual learning because that’s what we need to do this year. But this pandemic will eventually end. We will get through it, and I look forward to that day.