Families and educators everywhere are talking about when and how to reopen schools with social distancing. Most conversation so far has been focused on how to reopen schools safely but there are other questions that we should consider today.
How can we all collaborate for the greater good?
There have been voices in New Orleans education clamoring for the Board and Administration to take a stronger stance on centralizing some services for our schools. There’s probably no better opportunity to make a compelling case than in the development and implementation of policies and practices related to the reopening of schools for the next school year.
The burden doesn’t have to be on every school to blaze a different path. Each site does not have the capability, resources, or capacity to do this on their own. This is a challenge the administration could take head-on, with school input.
Here’s a start:
- Bring in health experts: Educators aren’t expected to be epidemiologists. The school district can hire health professionals to help schools create good plans and to monitor health issues as they occur within schools.
- Share and celebrate learnings: Schools will be learning and adapting so quickly. The school district can play a vital role in listening and learning from educators so that everyone benefits from successful bright spots.
- Advocate for our schools and students: The school district should put together a diverse task force of front-line educators to help identify the critical priorities for our schools, students and families and develop a NOLA specific agenda to pursue on the local, state, and national levels.
Do we start with our youngest learners?
In New Orleans, we are all rightfully worried about losing important instructional ground with all of our students, but our youngest students are particularly vulnerable to lost learning time. It’s a sad, hard truth: many of our students are already entering elementary school behind: Nearly two-thirds of kindergarteners in New Orleans performed below grade level on literacy screeners in 2019.
We need to be realistic: Early learners need one-on-one engagement to develop, grow and learn the fundamentals of reading and math. We know zoom is not developmentally appropriate for a five-year-old.
As we wrestle with the challenges of reopening schools and keeping everyone safe, we will need to prioritize finding ways to ensure in-person instruction for our youngest learners.
In all grades, however, how do we do more with less?
By now, we have heard the news that revenue from the state and city coffers is bad. But reopening schools with social-distancing measures will be expensive and difficult.
Frequent deep cleaning, smaller classes, fewer students on each bus, masks, equipping every student with devices, and access to the internet, adding instructors and assistants…these costs will add up.
At the same time, our schools will see a reduction in funding and worse…it may take a few years to recover.
As we face these challenges, the important thing to remember is that we are not the only ones losing sleep at night wondering what is ahead for ourselves and our students. After Hurricane Katrina and the levee failure of 2005, when we decided to move forward as a school community, we did so with innovation and resilience. Together, we must chart a path forward and your voice matters. What are the questions or suggestions that come to the top of your list?