Cherry Creek plans July graduations, braces for fall changes

Alternating in-person, at-home days possible, superintendent says

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Most families across metro Denver won’t be able to cram into arenas to watch their high school students walk across the stage this year, but Cherry Creek School District hopes the rite of passage still will proceed — just without the crowds.

The district was “trying to find a way, if at all possible, for kids to bring mom or dad or someone important to them,” Superintendent Scott Siegfried told Colorado Community Media. But “it’s not going to work.”

Without a way to thread the needle to satisfy social distancing guidelines, the district now is planning for in-person, live-streamed graduations at the Stutler Bowl, Cherry Creek High School’s stadium, in the last week in July.

“We are in close communication with Tri-County Health Department and will follow all guidelines and restrictions that are in place,” said Abbe Smith, district spokeswoman.

Changes for fall

When the fall semester arrives, depending on the severity of COVID-19’s spread, students in the district could be on an alternating in-person, at-home schedule — an “A day, B day” system, Siegfried said.

“My greatest hope is that school can open as normal next year, but hope is not a strategy,” said Siegfried, adding that the district is planning for different approaches.

Half of students would come to school one day, then work on material at home them the next day, Siegfried said. Alternatively, splitting each day in half would require cleaning buses midday, and that isn’t as feasible, he added.

But the district plans to be ready to switch to online learning at any time if holding in-person classes becomes too dangerous. The roughly 7,000 laptops it provided this spring to families in need will stay with those families over the summer, ready to be used in fall.

And if state or local officials decide in-person classes can’t resume until January, the district is prepared for online-only learning to last until then, Siegfried said.

“That’s why we will have significant professional development (training) for our teachers” this summer, Siegfried added. The district will offer training over the summer for students and parents to ensure everyone understands how to use the online platforms.

In the past couple months, the district learned it should limit the number of platforms to simplify the system for parents and teachers, according to Siegfried.

How class will work

This spring, the district’s online learning focused on “asynchronous learning” — meaning teachers uploaded lessons and assignments, and made themselves available to students or parents throughout the week, according to Smith. Students didn’t all have to engage the content at the same time.

The district now is planning for “synchronous learning” — teachers leading lessons online that engage the whole class at the same time, for example.

Grading requirements also will change. Grading during spring’s online learning was intended to support students rather than negatively impact their overall grades, according to Smith. In the fall, students will be “held accountable” for their work in the fall and will receive grades, Smith said.

New online option

The district already was planning to expand Cherry Creek Elevation — the district’s first-ever online school, which opened at the start of the 2019 school year with an anticipated 800 to 1,000 students enrolled — to include middle school students before the pandemic began. Currently, it offers a full-time pathway to a high school diploma as well as a part-time program for students who primarily attend traditional high schools.

The district will “open Elevation Online Middle School for families that want a different school as we enter next year,” Siegfried said in a May 15 video message to the district community.

The online middle and high school will serve as an option for students who learn best in an online environment or for students whose parents prefer not to send their child to school for health reasons, Smith said.

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