Smith Voc prepares for hybrid opening

  • Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School criminal justice students march March 17, 2019 during the 68th annual St. Patrick's Parade in Holyoke. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2020 7:07:21 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Installing UV lights, increasing custodial staff, and setting up an “isolation trailer” in a portable office trailer.

These are some of the measures that Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School is taking as it plans to reopen this fall with a hybrid model — meaning students would do some learning remotely and some in person. At most, half the students would be in school at once, and only vocational classes would be in person at the start of the year, said Superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker.

When school closed in the spring, “the biggest challenge was in the vocational shops,” Linkenhoker said. “There was very little, if any, hands-on learning in any of those shops. Our shop instructors were trying to be creative.” The school offers carpentry, cosmetology and plumbing, among other vocational fields.

The board of trustees voted on a hybrid plan earlier this month, according Linkenhoker, who said he supports the plan.

Eighty-eight percent of parents surveyed by the school wanted in-person learning this fall, the school said in its plans, and Linkenhoker said that 66 to 70% of staff said they would return to work in person.

The Northampton Association of School Employees — the union that represents teachers and administrators at Smith Vocational, as well as employees in the Northampton Public Schools — is still negotiating with the district on the school’s reopening, president Andrea Egitto said in an email.

NASE is part of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which has advocated for school to start remotely.

Child care is an issue for teachers and school staff, as some of their kids will have remote school this fall, Linkenhoker said. Smith Vocational is planning to open a space with tutoring and adult supervision for children of staff, according to the school’s most recent plan. The space will be open in the mornings and will require those using it to pay a fee.

Watching the numbers

School officials will be keeping a close watch on the positive test rate in Hampshire and Berkshire counties, where the school draws its students from, to determine if it needs to close or if it can move forward and hold more classes in person, according to Linkenhoker.

If the rate is below 5%, the plan will move forward, he said, but if it rises above 5%, the school might go back to remote learning. Currently, the rate is around 1% in the cities in towns in the two counties, according to a calculation using state Department of Public Health data that the school links to in its plan and regularly updates.

For at least the first four weeks, only vocational classes will be at school in person. Half the students will have in-person shop time for a week, and the other half the next week. Those on a remote week will focus on academic courses.

At any given point, at most half the students will be in the school, Linkenhoker said. Smith Vocational’s enrollment last year was 496. After four weeks, students without internet access may start in-person learning, and as soon as four weeks later, students who receive special education services or those who are freshmen, homeless, in foster care, or are English language learners will come in-person, the plan says.

Everyone in the building must wear a mask, unless they have a medical or safety reason they cannot wear one, according to the school’s plan. UV lights are being installed in an effort to stop virus spread, and filters in classroom HVAC systems were replaced, according to the plan. The district has hired more custodians to help clean and disinfect the building, Linkenhoker said. If someone shows symptoms, they will isolate in a trailer the district is renting.

If someone in the school tests positive for COVID-19, Linkenhoker said, the school would consult with the city’s Board of Health.

Greta Jochem can be reached at

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