Never before in any of our lifetimes has society come to a complete halt. We are prisoners in our homes, prevented from having any human contact, except for our immediate family, unless it is electronic or we are standing six feet away. Many of us are fighting for our jobs, all while standing in line for hours at the supermarket and policing our children’s virtual learning.
We have great respect for Board of Ed. member Allison Manfred. We thank her for speaking up at the end of the April 2 special meeting and telling us that, because she must sit with her elementary school son all day, when “he is in school, I am in school,” and that she does not know how parents with younger students and who are working from home are coping.
Our elected and paid school leaders ask us to be their partners in educating our children each year. But the characterization, both during the Board Meeting and in Ms. Fano’s April 3 Update, that “from the positive feedback we have received from both students and parents alike, the remote learning plans we have developed are working,” paints a sugar-coated picture that turns a blind-eye and deaf-ear to the numerous concerns voiced that our leaders refuse to acknowledge unless they are addressed by a specific parent regarding a specific child and to a specific administrator, always strictly following the chain of command.
Parents do not have time to write emails or to figure out and then call the supposedly “appropriate” staff member. We are overwhelmed, and many of us have taken to posting on Facebook or coming to the Randolph BOE Meet Up admins to see if we are hearing similar concerns. But just because the correspondence log read at the Board of Ed. meetings isn’t the length of Santa’s naughty and nice list, doesn’t mean that everything is “working.”
Sugar-coating the situation and telling us that everything will be better if we give our children the frequent “brain breaks” they get in the classroom, as Ms. Fano suggested as a solution to parents’ angst, isn’t going to keep those of us, without the luxury of tenure, employed for the long haul.
It is sad that the District did not act years ago when hearing the cues from the State that one day the rules prohibiting virtual learning would be relaxed; those cues were there, and other districts of our stature and below heard them. It is sad that the District kept referring during the Board of Ed. meeting to April 2 as the “fourth day of virtual learning,” when it should have been the 14th day. A ten-day gap in our children’s education resulted from the District needlessly waiting two weeks to start implementing a synchronous learning plan, when the other districts in the area were ready on day one. Our children have lost that time and it cannot be recovered.
Past decisions that appeared to be sound at the time do not always translate to good solutions in times of crisis. While no one could have imagined the status quo, the cues from the State were not just the rushed comments made by our Governor and Commissioner of Education in the few short weeks before they ordered the schools closed, but came from earlier events, like school shootings, the California fires, environmental issues with aging school facilities, Superstorm Sandy, and the excessive snow days of 2014, all of which caused some communities’ school facilities to be closed and for distant learning to be utilized, both in our own State and across the country.
These cues led many of the more progressive and far-sighted districts to plan for the inevitable: a time when every student would need to work remotely for more than a day or two. Those districts did not passively wait for the State to clear the way for those days to count towards the 180-day minimum. They were ready to immediately put in place a comprehensive virtual learning plan that would be a solid alternative to on-premises instruction and would provide a valuable educational experience for all students. The number one lesson learned before March 2020 was the need to have an immediate head start in a disaster scenario, in which every child had access to the same type of device, and was trained on and familiar with the platform to be used, including full video conferencing capabilities.
Our “Bring Your Own Device” policy was adopted in 2011, before the majority of our elementary school children were ever born, and when online tools were not used nearly as widely in the Randolph schools as they are today. In fact, Microsoft TEAMS didn’t even exist until 2017. The first time anyone heard that “equity of access” was an obstacle to educating our children was at the March 12, 2020 Board of Ed. meeting.
Confidence and trust in leadership is built on the decisions made in good times and the tests those decisions are subject to in bad ones. Transparency is being able to fully explain the District’s thought process and future plans, and not only talk about the positives, but also about the warts, problems, obstacles, and shortcomings of those plans. Being a responsive leader is not waiting nine days between superintendent communications, as the silence between March 24 and April 2 demonstrates. Blindly staying the course or saying that everything is “working” for the sake of attempting to maintain a sense of calm is often not a good policy, as it can result in skepticism and distrust of all authority figures. It is not a good feeling for any of us when we must question the motives and decision-making abilities of those whom we entrust with leading our schools.
This sense of mistrust, however, becomes inevitable when there is either silence or a lack of timely communications from those in charge, and constant sugar-coating of the real picture. This is not a statement about the capabilities or dedication of our teachers or principals – and we particularly applaud Mr. Rodas, whose video now has close to 30K views on YouTube. Rather, it is about our District’s senior leadership, whether paid or elected. While flowery communications about the good things are always welcome to put smiles on our faces during a difficult time, those sugar-coated sentiments must also be balanced by raw, transparent and honest communications based in fact.
When we get to the end of this, it will be the Randolph teachers who will be the real superheroes. They have moved mountains to work with the limited available technology of the Microsoft TEAMS platform (which is the least expensive, least used platform by schools; Canvas and Google Classroom are much more widely used, including by year-round, completely online full-year schools) and have made the best of a horrible situation. They sought out their own solutions when those provided by the District did not fit their needs or those of their students. They are the ones helping our children continue to learn, and are also the ones creating a sense of continuity. Our teachers do this while they, too, face the same fears and challenges as the rest of the community. No one should have any doubt after the past few weeks that our teachers love our children as if they were their own.
Please don’t ignore the cues from parents that all is not sugar and spice and everything nice. How you act now will be pivotal in determining whether the District bounces back stronger than ever or if its leadership is irrevocably tarnished by its untimely and “seat of the pants” response to the situation, causing the District’s once stellar reputation to suffer as a result.
It is now safe to say that our children are not going to be back in our school buildings any time soon. Virtual learning is thus not going to be a short-term situation or minor sidetrack. Telling the parents that everything is “working,” because you hope that if you repeat that enough times you can make us believe it, will only elevate the negative discourse and emotional strain on everyone and color everything you do when we finally reopen our school facilities. Just remember that without a strong partnership among the parents, teachers, principals, the Board of Education, our Superintendent and her administrative staff, our children’s education will suffer.
As you reflect on the past few weeks over the spring break, we hope that you return considering the following:
- Committing to at least weekly substantive and honest updates from Ms. Fano to the community about what is and is not working, and how parents’ concerns are being addressed. You lead from the top.
- Ramping up significantly the volume of synchronous class time vs. asynchronous work (of all types) in all grades. We don’t know if some of the concerns voiced by parents would be alleviated by having children stay online with their classmates while doing independent work unless we try it. We are in uncharted territory.
- Understanding that the majority of us are unaccustomed to working from home daily and having our children home all day as well. We are having to learn that process while still doing our jobs and getting our own work completed with our children underfoot. And these are not children who are homesick or on vacation and happy to amuse themselves for a few hours, but children who are getting used to their own homes becoming their schools and who thus need more than a typical amount of parental attention.
- Relaxing the rigid chain of command for the sake of everyone’s sanity. We are not trained as teachers, and many of us know that we lack the patience, capacity and skill set to succeed in that role. Having to assume an “in the classroom” role for our children is extremely stressful and anxiety producing for many of us. Dictating to us how we should be communicating with you about our concerns is wholly unfair and unreasonable under these circumstances. Sometimes we just want to speak with someone with whom we are comfortable or who we believe is the best person to answer a particular question, whether it be a board member, senior staff member or even Ms. Fano, or communicate through a group because it is easier on us, or because we are embarrassed that we are having a difficult time balancing our work and home responsibilities.
- Creating a working group of educators who can help parents problem-solve the challenges that they are facing with managing their children and, in many cases due to the lack of synchronous learning opportunities being made available, essentially home schooling them.
- Developing more actionable solutions to help those parents with special needs children (who are at their wits’ end).
Be safe, be healthy and be #Randolphstrong.
The Randolph BOE Meet Up Facebook Group Admins
Abigail Hartman Alexander, Layne Varga Broyles, Susan Casareale, Melisa Coletti, Mariana Nieto Amador, Eliza Schleifstein, Gerlando Termini, Carrie Weiner