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BRATTLEBORO — Andrew Skarzynski intended to "hit the ground learning" when he started as superintendent on July 1.

"Unfortunately, we had to hit the ground running with the reopening efforts and a pandemic taking place," Skarzynski told the Brattleboro Rotary Club at a meeting held remotely Thursday. "One of the biggest challenges that we found was we had to figure out different ways to say the word unprecedented."

Sept. 8 is when schools in the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union will reopen with a mix of in-person and remote instruction. Aug. 31 was the original start date but the governor issued an executive order allowing schools to begin later so they could have more time to prepare.

Safety had to be the priority for all those who will be inside the schools, Skarzynski said. Buildings were equipped with hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment and signs about room occupancy.

Reopening plans also needed flexibility.

"We had to remain open to design and redesign processes," Skarzynski said. "We had to be adaptable and nimble, adjusting to ever-changing conditions and circumstances."

Anticipating the potential closure of school buildings, another focus was put on being "remote ready." Schools also received guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education on remote learning for those who can't attend in-person classes due to health concerns.

Skarzynski said in June, principals began planning around keeping physical distancing by measuring classrooms and looking at the school buildings. The agency also provided guidance on safely reopening.

Social emotional and health needs are another consideration. Some students have experienced trauma in the past and school staff want to see how the closure of schools in the spring affected them, Skarzynski said.

"A sense of community goes a long way in addressing many of those worries," he said. "We want to make sure we're creating a solid foundation."

K-8 students will have two days a week of in-person instruction, with "cohorts" meeting Monday and Thursday or Thursday and Friday. High school students will get one day a week of in-person instruction with additional support available, Skarzynski said.

About 25 percent of the families within the supervisory union's schools opted for remote, which he described as a similar scenario seen across the nation and region. He said remote learning has been enhanced with increased support since the spring.

For Skarzynski, one of the most daunting parts of the process involves clarifying national and regional figures related to the virus.

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"You know, Vermont is an incredibly safe state right now in terms of the COVID statistics," he said. "And in terms of the community infection rate, it's incredibly low. "

Unfortunately, he said, reports about schools reopening in other states have brought about local concerns.

Surveys of staff and families have helped inform efforts. School forums were held via video conference.

Skarzynski counted more than 150 people contributing to the development of reopening plans. Teams made up of staff members looked at things such as learning, policy, operations, ventilation systems and special education.

Currently, there are no plans to test everyone but masks will be mandatory with few exceptions. The Vermont "Department of Health has said there's really no epidemiological value in testing students or staff in a state with such a low rate of community spread, Skarzynski said, noting that may change.

Skarzynski said he will determine with the department what to do in the case of an outbreak. He anticipates federal coronavirus relief funds will cover much of the extra costs associated with the pandemic.

Frank Rucker, Windham Southeast business administrator, introduced Skarzynski at the meeting.

"He's really done stellar work and shown that he's up to the task and just getting warmed up," Rucker told fellow rotarians. "We're really happy to have Andy as our superintendent."

Ron Stahley, a rotarian and past president of the club who served as superintendent before Skarzynski's predecessor Lyle Holiday, said he could appreciate the challenge facing Skarzynski.

"I know you're in a great school district," Stahley said. "You're going to do great things."

Stahley encouraged Skarzynski to think about joining the Rotary Club, describing approximately one-hour weekly meetings as "a nice getaway" and a place to get a feel for the community.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.