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Shaheen, administrators talk school return

LONDONDERRY - With the school district facing many challenges and unknowns as opening day gets closer, administrators are sharing thoughts with what hopefully will work to keep staff and students safe.

And in Londonderry, educators are saying they are ready and excited to get back to the classroom.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., paid a visit to Matthew Thornton Elementary School recently to talk with Londonderry administrators and hear more about how the district is planning for its reopening next month.

The school district's detailed plan for its six buildings is a combination of all in-person, hybrid and remote learning models.

The plan combines an in-person return model for grades kindergarten through eight and an alternating day hybrid model for high school students. Families can also choose an all-remote learning option.

Shaheen met with school officials in the Matthew Thornton library, where preparations were being put in place for the safely-distanced atmosphere once children return to the classrooms. Stacks of cleaning supplies, sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and masks were stacked on a library shelf.

Principals representing the district's preschool/kindergarten, elementary and middle schools joined in the discussion, along with other administrators. Many said getting to the reopening plan was a lot of hard work.

"Our leadership team had a lot of late nights and cancelled vacations," Superintendent Scott Laliberte told Shaheen. "And it means a lot to us to have you here."

Shaheen hoped she had better news coming from legislators and leaders in Washington, D.C.

"There is no new movement to address the coronavirus," the senator said.

Shaheen has called for at least $175 billion for the Elementary and Secondary Education Relief Fund in any future COVID-19 relief package, but a stalemate still exists on any agreement.

The senator said she has talked with many school leaders all across the state and knows there are deep challenges as students return.

"I know you need some help from the federal level," Shaheen said. "I really want to see if there are ways we can be more helpful. What are you hearing from parents and teachers?"

Laliberte said the word "worry" is an appropriate term.

"But we are trying to bring some sense of calm and safety into the process," he said.

Laliberte credited his leadership team and all staff in the district for working so hard to come up with the reopening plan. So far, about 80% of families have said they are returning to school for in-person learning.

The superintendent also credited the support of families and much feedback given during the planning process that helped shape the approved reopening plan.

Shaheen also heard from leaders about what worries parents the most. Sandra Mack, kindergarten coordinator at Moose Hill School, said families of the younger students worry about their social/emotional well-being and just the inconsistency of the unknowns that will be part of the school day.

Londonderry Middle School Principal William Van Bennekum said everyone knows the return will be difficult, but a lot of positive things are coming from the challenges as well.

"A lot of us are excited and want to have the students back," he said.

Prior to leaving, Shaheen took a quick look inside one of Matthew Thornton’s classrooms, already set up with small desks spaced six feet apart and ready to welcome 16 students.

Laliberte credited his team for being committed and for working hard to create the reopening plan.

"The strength of the group is our ability to collaborate," he said. "It’s a group that has a sense of trust."