On March 16, GCSD teachers will work on preparing lessons to teach remotely in case schools are forced to close

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Natalia LeMoyne, the technology specialist for the Guilderland schools, will help teachers learn how to teach remotely in case the schools have to be closed.

GUILDERLAND — “It’s been a rough day,” said Marie Wiles, superintendent of the Guilderland schools, at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 12.

Twelve hours earlier, at 7 a.m., she’d had a text from the Farnsworth Middle School principal, Michael Laster, who had gotten an email, she said, that someone in a household connected to the middle school may have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We had to wait two-and-a-half hours to speak to someone to confirm,” said Wiles.

Meanwhile, at 10 a.m., the county executive, Daniel McCoy, was holding a press conference — joined by Albany’s mayor and the county’s sheriff and health commissioner — announcing that two people in the county had positive tests for COVID-19. One of them was a Guilderland woman in her 30s.

“Nobody called us,” said Wiles. “We had to make four or five or six phone calls this morning. We were just behind the eightball the rest of the day, trying to figure out what to do.”

The Albany County Health Department could not immediately be reached for a response.

Wiles told The Enterprise that the woman who tested positive, and is now under quarantine with her household, is not a district employee nor has a student tested positive.

Either a student or staff member with a confirmed case of COVID-19 would trigger a school closing, as outlined in guidelines issued March 9 by the state’s education and health departments.

Describing the mood at school today, Wiles said, “People are worried and you can feel the anxiety build as this moves closer and closer to our community.”


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She went on, “I had to make the really tough decision to cancel our large events.”

It was particularly painful, she said, to cancel the Guilderland High School spring musical, “Chicago.”

Wiles said it was “horrible” to have to tell the students who had rehearsed for the musical for months that, on what was scheduled to be opening night, the show would not go on.

“They were heartbroken and upset,” she said, “which is understandable.”

Wiles immediately thought of having the performance videotaped, so it could be shared that way, but learned it was prohibited as a copyright infringement.

“We have to be cautious,” Wiles said of her reason for making the difficult decision. She noted the virus is spread through people in close proximity and the high school auditorium no doubt would have been packed for four performances.

Wiles drew a deep breath and went on, “I’m an optimist. If everyone takes strong measures early on, maybe we’ll be able to run the show later on in the spring.”

She concluded of the show, “It’s postponed, not cancelled.” 

Cancellations include a Celebrate America event at Altamont Elementary School, and school dances at both Farnsworth Middle School and Lynnwood Elementary School. All field trips and out-of-state travel are suspended and the SAT administration scheduled for Guilderland High School on Saturday, March 14, will not be held.


Preparing for learning at home

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the district posted an update on its website, letting parents know that Guilderland’s seven schools — five elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school — would be open tomorrow, Friday, March 13, and operating as usual

But the schools will be closed on Monday so that staff can prepare to teach through electronic means if the schools have to close later.

Wiles told The Enterprise that a Superintendent’s Conference Day that had been scheduled for Friday, March 20, had instead been moved to Monday, March 16.

“We’ll use the entire day to provide teachers with the time to prepare materials and lessons to be done remotely,” Wiles said.

So, while there will be no school for students on Monday, March 16, the original conference day, Friday, March 20, will become a regular school day.

In order to effectively teach all students at home, should the district have to close, parents are being asked to fill out an online survey to assess technology in homes across the district. The survey is to be completed by Monday, March 16, at 10 a.m.

For homes that lack internet access, Wiles said, the district hopes to supply “hotspots” — devices that provide internet connections. Also, said Wiles, “We could provide loaner Chromebooks.”

The district’s technology specialist, Natalia LeMoyne, started a week ago to plan ways to help teachers to reach their students at home if shool has to be closed.

There are practical limits, Wiles notes in her post to parents, of continuing regular instructional programs. “Instead,” she said, “our commitment will be to sharing a variety of resources for parent-guided and self-guided learning for students. This will include links, resources, and remote learning when possible.” 

Wiles concluded, “We want to give a buffer to families who are upset and worried … This is ever-changing. We’ll keep pushing out information as the situation evolves.”


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