Larry Lee Holman: Hybrid school model needs rethinking

This is an open letter to the Board Of Trustees for the Nevada Joint Union High School District: Jim Drew, James Hinman, Jamie Reeves, Al Angulo, Pat Seeley and Maggie Aguilar-Diaz; as well those at the District Superintendent’s Office: Brett McFadden, Dan Frisella and staff at Nevada Union High School: Kelly Rhoden, Luc Browning and Tim Reid.

I am a paraeducator at Nevada Union High School, and I am also the single parent of a sophomore who attends school at Nevada Union.

Three things I try to remain mindful of, and impart to my son are; to use common sense, critical thinking, and to always take personal responsibility. It is my hope that the many students at Nevada Union High School, which I have the honor to serve, come away with some of these values as they negotiate life’s waters.

We are all affected by turbulent waters: a global pandemic, catastrophic fires, power outages, and in addition we all have family, financial, and work challenges.

I have never seen, nor experienced such powerful dedication, hard work and resilience as I have seen within the Nevada Union High School staff, the district office, students and parents during these challenging times.

Someone presented the district with a question at this week’s staff town hall Zoom meeting, “When we go from distance learning to a hybrid/cohort model, how many COVID-19 cases at the high school, until we go back to distance learning?” The district’s answer? “We’ll just have to wade in and see.”

I don’t want to add fuel to the fire of the controversy that seems to be brewing. However, I will present a metaphor to express my feelings about the situation: I served as a kayak guide, including years of Surf Zone instruction, for just over a decade. The primary concept we instilled in students during a Surf Zone class was to observe the waters, as far as characteristics, wave frequency, size of waves, tidal conditions, wind, etc. We would have been negligent to suggest to students just wade in and see what happens …

Nevada County is now experiencing a “spike” in COVID-19 cases. In the light of one teacher at Nevada Union already being quarantined because his wife had COVID-19, and some parents possibly believing that the pandemic is not a significant risk, or possibly not being forthcoming or knowledgeable about their children’s exposure; at this juncture it is not a good idea to go to “hybrid learning” where students attend two days a week and teachers teach four days a week.

My son has three classes with the quarantined teacher, who he was supposed to meet in person at the high school on Sept. 21 … so even though my son has chosen hybrid learning he, possibly, will have to do learning from home at 7 a.m., get to school by 8:30 a.m. for two classes, back home for distance learning at the middle of the day, back to school till 3:30 p.m., then back home for distance learning.

That would be nearly impossible between my work schedule and his school schedule. There is not enough time to go back and forth.

One more metaphor: “Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream.”

I see many of my colleagues at Nevada Union about to hit the wall. Teachers, administrators and staff are over-taxed getting up to speed and learning a new paradigm of teaching. This is not the time to throw 80% of the students into in-person classrooms and still keep 20% in distance learning.

I know that the staff, including myself will rise to the occasion, however I am seeing that many are at the breaking point. I honestly don’t see how we can successfully do a hybrid implementation at this point in time. Another question that remains unanswered from the staff town hall meeting is, “How do we orchestrate this, and who is responsible for being the conductor?”

I am hoping that the Board Of Trustees can sincerely, and clearly reflect on the big picture when making its final decision.

Larry Lee Holman lives in Nevada County.

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