Burke set to begin “hyflex” reopening on December 2nd with 6th and 9th grades

This pilot program will run for three weeks, and the full implementation is scheduled for late January


photo from burkeschool.org

Burke plans to bring back 6th and 9th graders in a new hybrid learning system on December 2nd, with the rest of the school to follow in late January.

Head of School Damian Jones presented the new proposal to families in a series of town halls before finalizing it in an email on November 18th. He explained that the school overhauled its original hybrid proposal after receiving feedback from families and observing what has worked well so far in the fall. 

The original proposal would have had students grades 8-12 alternating days of in-person synchronous classes and remote asynchronous work. Under the new model, these students will still alternate in-person and remote learning, but classes will meet synchronously all four days (Mondays will still be for virtual community events, allowing for deep cleaning of the school building). This means that every class will have a mix of in-person and remote students. The school is calling this a “hyflex format,” and Jones expressed in both the town halls and the email that the plan allows students to choose to remain at home without losing any academic opportunities. 

According to Director of Technology and Innovative Learning David Panush, teachers will likely begin by simply having the in-person students log on to Zoom as well (with headsets to avoid audio issues). Panush explained that this will maintain continuity and ensure an effective learning experience in the early stages of the new system. “We know how to do remote learning pretty well now,” he said. As teachers and students get more comfortable, he expects teachers to tailor their lesson plans to take advantage of the benefits of in-person education without depriving remote learners of the full educational experience. 

Jones also made it clear that safety protocols and requirements will be strict in order to keep the community safe. Because of this, many components of the traditional Burke experience will be missing or heavily modified. He specifically referenced that there will be very limited freedom to roam the campus in students’ free time. Still, he believes the return will be beneficial for students. “It’s not the Burke that you are all most familiar with, but it gets you into the building and puts you proximate to your peers,” he said.

9th Grade Dean and history teacher Ryan Lipford echoed this sentiment. “Students are currently spending a lot of time in the same workspace so I think students are welcoming a change and a chance to be around friends,” he said.

Jacob Maitland ‘27 said he is welcoming the change. “I feel very pumped to do hybrid versus online,” he said. “I am very happy that I get to go back because [during remote learning] my computer sometimes does whatever it wants and I might be late or even miss class.”

Owen Galster ‘24 expressed a similar sentiment. “I’m excited to see teachers in person and actually interact with other students without it being as awkward and forced as it is online,” he said.

Maitland did add that the only drawback for him will be the rigid safety protocols the school is implementing, such as mandatory mask-wearing and little freedom to roam around. Jones has stated several times that these are absolutely necessary to be able to bring students back in the building.

Still, some students may be disappointed with the scope of the restrictions and how this school year will differ from previous years. “I’m pretty upset that we can’t go out for lunch anymore and all the privileges I was looking forward to for high school are no longer allowed,” said Ethan Moses ‘24. 

In addition to these rules for students and staff in the building, the school will also have an outside firm conduct surveillance testing as a data collection tool. There may be an interactive dashboard once there is enough data, and the school will also alert the community to any positive test.

In the event of new regulatory guidelines from local or federal governments, evidence of a cluster within the community or in-school transmission, significant student and faculty absences due to illness, or significant failures to comply with protocols, learning would move back online for 14 days and the rollout of the reopening would be put on hold.

According to Jones’ email, the building will be at 15% occupancy during the initial pilot phase. He said that 6th and 9th grade families were especially eager to get their kids back to school, and that a common reason was the unfamiliarity that comes with being new to a community. “Their kids don’t know the school, their kids don’t know one another, and their kids are not really connected to the teachers who are here,” Jones said. “There’s something about not having ever set foot in the building of a school that you’re going to be a part of.”

Galster agreed that this is an attraction of the plan. “I’m glad to be the first ones back because we have a lot of new students in our grade that I would like to meet,” he said.

Lipford added it will be an opportunity for his grade (as well as the 6th graders) to feel like leaders and pioneers of Burke in ways they may have never experienced. “I am happy that the youngest in the school get to be trailblazers for their older schoolmates,” he said. “It is incredibly rare that the youngest group in the high school gets to walk the halls and make a name for themselves before the older grade arrives.”

Matthew Craugh ‘24 also expressed enthusiasm for being part of the pilot program. “I’m excited to be [a part of] this first group so that we can lead by example,” he said. “I feel a little bit like a guinea pig in this plan, but I don’t care because I will finally be able to go back.”

These students are also serving as test subjects for the new system. Jones hopes the pilot phase will offer valuable information to help shape the full rollout. “It gives us the opportunity to learn over a three week period how the protocols we’ve developed can then be scaled up and applied to the larger groups of students who will come back in January,” he said.

After the end of the fall term on November 24th and Thanksgiving break, there will be no classes on November 30th and December 1st as administrators and faculty prepare for the transition. When 6th and 9th graders begin their hybrid learning on December 2nd, the rest of the school will also see a slight schedule shift that better lines up with in-person learning. Classes will lengthen from 50 minutes to an hour with longer breaks in between, lunch will be shorter and earlier, and advisory time will take place after school. Panush explained that these changes are necessary to accommodate safety protocols in the building as well as the many teachers who teach multiple grades. 

The pilot phase will last three weeks, and then winter break will be from December 19th to January 3rd as scheduled. The whole school will return to virtual learning between January 4th and January 22nd, which Jones said helps build in a quarantine period for those who travel for the holidays, as well as avoid disruption as the first semester ends. All grades will begin the transition to hybrid learning on January 25th.

Despite this resolution, Jones acknowledged that there will continue to be differences of opinion within the community, even at a school as small as Burke. “There’s no schoolwide consensus in terms of what people want,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is land in a way where we’re meeting as many people [as possible] where we can meet them.”

Special thanks to Riley Del Sesto ’24 for help with interviews