Education / Schools

Hollister School District releases draft plan for reopening

Parents will choose from two models—one bringing students to classrooms twice a week; the other being online only.
Maze Middle School English teacher Sara Casillas works on her fall lesson plans while caring for her 4-year-old niece. Photo provided.
Maze Middle School English teacher Sara Casillas works on her fall lesson plans while caring for her 4-year-old niece. Photo provided.
Education Advocate Kim Taylor works to improve education services and communication between parents and schools. Photo provided.
Education Advocate Kim Taylor works to improve education services and communication between parents and schools. Photo provided.

The Hollister School District released its draft plan for reopening schools to families on June 8. Later that day, the district held a town hall to address parent concerns and questions. The final draft will be presented at a June 23 meeting.

The draft plan gives two options for reopening Hollister School District facilities next school year: a hybrid model with two days of in-person learning and three days of distance learning; and an online-only home school model called Rise Academy.

Parents are now tasked with choosing which of the two models will suit their needs.  Applications for Rise Academy went out on June 15. Parents who choose this option can now apply and there is no deadline. If a parent chooses not to apply for Rise, their student will remain enrolled in their school within HSD.

For Mavell Sagastume, a married, self-employed mother of four, “it’s hard for us because we work. How are we able to make a living by the kids not going to school or only going to school twice a week for half a day?”

With triplets going into kindergarten in the fall and one child going into fourth grade, Sagastume has yet to decide which option is best for her family.

“This is the time they need to learn the basics, it’s not easy having three in the same grade and managing for the fourth grader to keep up, as well as at the same time having to provide an income,” Sagastume said.

For parents who need to return to work or are otherwise unequipped to be their child’s educator, HSD Trustee and Board President Rob Bernosky said district administration continues to explore options and will be as creative as it can be “to have programs that help families cope with the crisis.

“As an individual involved as a board member—married to an educator of another district with two daughters who are teachers and a son still in school—I can say that everyone in education is struggling, exasperated by the fact that there are still huge unknowns,” Bernosky said.

The draft plan was created by the School Reopening Task Force, a group of 15 employees composed of classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, secretarial support staff, school nurses, and administration charged with two main goals: ensuring the health and safety of HSD students, staff and families, and ensuring a quality education for students.

“We are developing protocols for every element of when kids are on campus, based on what we know today,” Bernosky said. “I would be remiss to suggest that plans we have developed today will not change before school starts.”

The in-person hybrid model would be a first-of-its-kind attempt to keep people safe in a classroom environment during a pandemic. Safety precautions include limiting class sizes to 16 students per day; daily temperature checks; decals on floors to remind students to maintain social distancing; desks spaced six feet apart; hand washing stations; masks required for adults and middle school students. Campus visitors would be prohibited except for emergencies and Individual Education Plan requirements. Approved visitors would still have to submit to screenings before being allowed on campus. School custodial sanitation requirements also will be increased. All these measures would constitute the new normal for students and families choosing the hybrid model. 

English teacher Sara Casillas will be new to Marguerite Maze Middle School in the fall and comes to HSD with five years’ experience teaching in Salinas. She told BenitoLink that teachers are working extra this summer to make sure students can continue learning, whether it’s in the classroom or through an online portal. Casillas has a four-year-old attending preschool and comes from a family of educators.

“I feel that the hybrid program is a wonderful opportunity for many students,” Casillas said. “Navigating online courses is difficult, but if students can be successful this is putting them in an awesome academic position and college-ready.” She noted that having the students in the classroom for two days a week will allow her to teach them how to navigate the online portion and work successfully from home. 

Education advocate Kim Taylor supports both plans.

“I understand that parents are frustrated and reacting from concerns and emotions, but I think this was the best option,” she said. “I am concerned for Spanish-speaking families, especially families who have students with IEPs.”

Taylor offered her email address—[email protected]—so that parents who have questions and concerns can contact her. She also suggested that parents listen to the school board meetings and schedule to make comments at the meetings.

Parents are being included in the conversation, with those involved also serving HSD on the School Site Council, the Migrant Education Parent group, and the District English Language Advisory committee.

“Most difficult is that everyone involved in their respective roles has to navigate and digest the myriad of information on COVID-19 from multiple sources each day,” Bernosky said. “However, we have a very competent management team at the Hollister School District, complemented by teachers and staff that truly have the kids at heart. The Hollister School District will do whatever is necessary to deliver the best education possible no matter what the circumstances are.”


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Patty Lopez Day

Patty Lopez Day,  has been a reporter for Benitolink since August of 2019.  A journalist and writer by trade she's had work published in print and online media throughout the Bay Area most notably La Oferta, the longest running Bi-lingual, Latino owned media outlet based in San Jose California where she started her journalism career after graduating from UC Santa Barbara with degrees in English and [email protected] studies in 2005.   Lopez Day covers Education, and Local News for Benitolink and remains open to new story ideas, sources and tips on any subject matter of interest to the community at large.