Caesar Rodney reviews elementary hybrid start, prepares for middle school return

CAMDEN — With a number of Caesar Rodney School District students back in school for hybrid learning, the administration reported a smooth transition to in-person instruction.

“So far, things have been going really well,” said Julie Lavender, principal of Allen Frear Elementary School. “No real issues, just obviously getting the students used to a routine. Transportation worked out great. Lunches have been great. Students’ smiling faces are so excited to be back. Our teachers are happy.”

The district is hovering between its second and third phase of moving to a hybrid format, with students in kindergarten through grade three and the Caesar Rodney Countywide Program, on- and off-site, having returned Oct. 19, followed by fourth and fifth grade and the early-intervention program returning Oct. 26.

Monday is the target date for the district to bring back middle school students in grades six through eight. High schoolers are slated to return the following week.

“Before I go around to anyone else, are there any of the elementary school principals that have had any challenges with the return of the fourth or fifth grade students?” Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald asked administrators last Monday evening during the school board’s virtual workshop. “Are there any issues that we need to be aware of?”

The silence was a no, but the district’s elementary schools — plus the John S. Charlton School — are still adapting to changes with having students on campus and following the state guidance concerning mask wearing, distancing and more.

Districtwide, buses are averaging 11 students on A days and nine on B days — a “dramatic decrease from last year, where we averaged 60ish for elementary,” said Dr. Jason Bonner, district supervisor of transportation. Several buses are nearing COVID-19 capacity.

“Most of the kids are compliant with wearing their masks to and from school. All drivers are wearing masks,” he said. “Things are pretty uneventful.”

Bus drivers are encouraged to crack their vehicles’ windows when the weather is above 42 degrees. Below that, and during inclement weather, windows are closed.

Kathleen Fitzgerald, principal of Star Hill Elementary, said the school has more parent pickup students than in years past, noting that “certainly, parents are concerned about the buses, so we do have more.”

Other than taking students to and from school, buses have taken athletes to practice during the remote-learning period.

“It seems to be well-received. We’re averaging 60-70 students a day,” Dr. Bonner said, noting that a lot of the ridership comes from Magnolia.

Athletics, band and cheerleading have all been up and running at the high school. Caesar Rodney High School Principal Sherry Kijowski said it has been going well, noting that the Division of Public Health inspected the football game Friday night.

“We passed with flying colors,” she said. “People were wearing masks. People were social distancing. Athletes, band members and cheerleaders were all doing their part.”

During the process for participating, students scan a QR Code, have their temperatures taken, etc.

“It’s becoming a pretty quick and efficient system to get practice started,” she said.

Kenneth Starke, supervisor of facilities management, said the district’s personal protective equipment supply is adequate.

“So far, so good. We’re keeping up,” he said. “Nothing but positive feedback so far. Hopefully, that’ll continue next week when the middle school starts and the following week for high school.”

Breakfasts and lunches — free for the remainder of the year for children in the district through a U.S. Department of Agriculture waiver — are going smoothly, said Paul Rodgers, child nutrition supervisor.

“All students eating for free helped minimize a lot of stressors on both our parents (and) our administrators in the child nutrition department,” he said.

For the little ones, Jennifer Martin, principal of Simpson Elementary, said social distancing has gone well.

“We’ve used, with the little kids, the analogy of standing on a base because it keeps them socially distanced,” she said. “We just say, ‘Touch the base and keep your space,’ and then, they touch every dot as they walk down the hallway, and it keeps them apart. Whenever it gets backed up, they all know they have to find a circle and stand on it until the backup goes away.”

Meanwhile, at Charlton — the district’s program at the middle, high school and transition-aged levels that teaches life skills curriculum and an extension of the Common Core program — administrators are gearing up for a four-day week.

“We’re putting protocols in place to make sure that’s a smooth transition, including looking at our arrival and dismissal processes,” said Principal Tina Sander-Loftus.

The middle schoolers, meanwhile, shifted to a new schedule this week in preparation for starting hybrid.

“It was just a matter of getting them used to the new schedule, and that’s both teachers and students, honestly, as a prep for the reality of next week,” said Kim Corbeil, principal of Fifer Middle School.