South Orangetown Central School District

Last week, 25 teachers, instructional coaches and administrators across all four schools and every discipline participated in the start of an eight-day professional development workshop hosted by long-time District educational consultants IDE on hybrid learning. “Over the past decade, we’ve been working with IDE on developing problem- and project-based curriculum which fosters a student-centered classroom. Teachers across the district have created interdisciplinary units of study that include more student choice, including book choice, activity lists, and multiple ways for students to demonstrate their learning. This approach has enabled students to take more ownership over their learning, which became even more important as we shifted to an all-virtual environment this past spring,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Brian Culot, Ed.D. “Since we anticipate reopening with a hybrid model, there will be a digital component to teaching and learning regardless of whether students are physically in a school or accessing the curriculum from home.”

For South Orangetown Middle School Science teacher Deena Kramarczyk, it was a timely topic. “The IDE skills that my students had been practicing in our classroom prior to March, such as scheduling their time, working independently, and using rubrics, become even more important as we transitioned to distance learning. And the students who had mastered those skills had an easier time learning in a remote environment,” she said. “These skills will continue to be valuable to students no matter what model we’re using in the fall, so learning more about how to explicitly teach these skills was valuable as I consider how to help students master those skills more quickly.”

SOMS ELA teacher Debra DiTuri registered for the summer workshop to “gain fresh ideas and ensure that I’m able to deliver high-quality instruction, no matter what situation we’re in this upcoming year.”

Throughout the week, DiTuri had daily contact with and input from ELA colleagues and her co-teacher, Christa Loughran. “One key take-away for me was the importance of establishing distance learning protocols in the beginning of the year to help students get organized and know where to go if they should have any trouble,” she noted. “Everything I’ve created this week, I’ve shared. This is not a unique experience. I feel like we are a big family here at SOCSD and, throughout the week, ideas about curriculum and instruction have flowed across departments and grade levels. It is evident that we will continue to collaborate during these unprecedented times in order to ensure we are meeting the needs of our diverse learners.”

Observations from spring distance learning motivated SOMS World Language teacher Marie-Laure Spatz to participate in the professional development program. “I saw how students needed to take charge of their own learning during the distance learning this spring and I want to build a wider array of tools to enable them to continue growing independently this fall,” she explained. This training also gives me the opportunity and the time to work collaboratively with colleagues from my department and our library media specialists. It’s nice to have this common time together to develop our practices.”

“The reality is that in September some or all of our students will be learning remotely. It is more important than ever to give our students a ‘felt need’ for learning material to keep them engaged,” said SOMS Math teacher Jennifer Abrahamsen. “Spring distance learning taught me the importance of face-to-face learning and peer interaction for students. After this week, I feel better prepared to effectively use Zoom and its breakout rooms to facilitate cooperative learning. I have already started sharing some of the ideas that have sprung from our work this week with my department and grade-level team. It benefits us all to be prepared before September for all possible scenarios.”

The cohort will reconvene for two days in August and once more in September. But in the meantime, participants are developing lesson plans with the goal of mapping out curriculum for the fall. “We’re setting the curriculum and instruction roadmap with an emphasis on interdisciplinary, project-based learning,” Culot reported. “We’re also streamlining the virtual learning environment. There was a lot of excitement over different applications and platforms this spring, but we discovered that too much variation was overwhelming for students. So, we’re focusing on just a few tools for the fall: Google Classroom, Schoology, Zoom, Flipgrid, Jamboard, and Seesaw which will be piloted in grades K-2.”

In fact, administrators and faculty have spent a great deal of time reviewing the results of the distance learning survey and reflecting on lessons learned and best practices gleaned from the spring. Here are a few additional items students and families can expect this fall in a distance learning or hybrid learning environment:

  • Consistent scheduling
  • Live, daily instruction for all students, whether participating in person or virtually
  • Trauma-based approach to instruction with an emphasis on social-emotional learning

More information regarding what to expect in terms of curriculum and instruction will be available in the District’s draft reopening plan, which will be posted at by July 31.

Teachers participating in virtual professional development