ORR district opens schools smoothly despite changes

Sep 21, 2020

Educators from the Old Rochester Regional School District managed to work through technology hiccups and planning logistics to make a smooth start to an unusual school year

“Overall, we are all relieved to get back to what we do - and that’s educating children,” Superintendent Michael Nelson said. “We are all proud to be able to start this school year and we feel we have started the school year successfully.”

 Rochester Memorial School principal Derek Medeiros said it was an awesome start on Sept. 16.

On the first day of in-person instruction at Rochester Memorial, students filed out of cars and buses and into socially distanced lines outside the building wearing masks. 

Students in the district alternate days between learning in the building and remotely from home in two separate cohorts that are divided by last name. 

All things considered, Medeiros said he “couldn’t think of a better way” to start the school year. Medeiros attributed much of the success to parents, guardians and the planning task forces who helped get school up and running, and kept parents, teachers and students informed on what to expect from the beginning of the school year. 

And even though Medeiros works with some of the district’s youngest students, he said the students have been models of Rochester Memorial’s rules. 

“The students have been wonderful,” Medeiros said. “Kudos to the parents and guardians.” 

But the first week hasn’t been without its unexpected issues.

Medeiros said online teaching proved itself to be a bigger hurdle than unfamiliar and unprecedented regulations for in-person instruction.

Old Rochester High School shared a similar issue with Rochester Memorial, where technology was the main issue facing students, faculty and staff. 

But those issues have been quelled by a strong effort from the IT department.

“Our technology department has been amazing and very responsive to family needs,” principal Mchael Devoll said. 

Devoll also attributed much of OR’s successful start to cooperation between students and teachers. 

“Students have arrived back to campus with a positive attitude and a great outlook for in-person learning,” Devoll said. “Teachers have done an amazing job adapting their historical practices to meet the students at their level of need.”

But even though he said OR has a good handle on operations, the students and staff still have to adapt to a new and steep learning curve. 

“We are all ‘freshmen’ and ‘first-year teachers’ this year!” Devoll said.

Over in Sippican School, Principal Marla Sirois said the start of the year “really has been a smooth transition.” 

Although she said it always takes a few weeks to get adjusted to new daily routines, students and families have been understanding of the new safety measures. 

In the “new normal,” there are changes like single-file traffic in hallways, desks six feet apart, and some learning from home on certain days of the week. 

Despite the changes, Sirois said faculty and staff are very happy to have students back and are appreciative of how mindful people are of the new practices for this year.

“Things will be different this year,” Sirois said. “But we are excited to get through this as a school community.”

Going into her second year as principal at Sippican School, Sirois said that the support received from her fellow educators and the community affirmed why she chose to come to Marion in the first place. 

Over in Mattapoisett, Principal Rose Bowman said the opening of school went well at Center School and Old Hammondtown School

The schools usually have celebrations on the first day of school for students, so teachers celebrated it twice for each cohort

“The positive attitude and enthusiasm demonstrated by the students as they arrived back at school was heartwarming,” Bowman said. 

Procedurally, she said students are following are the procedures regarding masks, social distancing and washing hands with relative ease. 

One process that was changed was the screening for incoming Kindergarten students which usually happens in the summer. Instead, that happened at the start of the school year.

“Some practices and procedures may be different, but the outreach and care for each student will never change,” Bowman said.

With students back in sessions, Nelson said he and the entire district are already looking towards the future.

“Although I feel the first week went really well — we will continue to work together to create as many learning opportunities for our students that we can — with safety being our number one priority.”