Question 12 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: COVID-19 Response?

Written By: Robert Cox
  1. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised many issues but two of the prominent for the District are Food Distribution and Distance Learning. Address those two points specifically and your thoughts on the District’s pandemic response generally.

Adina Berrios Brooks: After a somewhat rocky start the District has successfully partnered with community organizations and established a food distribution system to meet the needs of the many in our community who are food insecure. It will be crucial that the District remain engaged with the City of New Rochelle, nonprofits and community organizations to ensure that the nutritional needs of students are met, including over the summer months.

As I’ve said in many public forums, I believe the District could be doing more to collect feedback from teachers, parents and students about their experiences with remote learning. Many teachers have worked tirelessly to meet the needs of their students, but there are some who have not received the kind of professional development or technology necessary to teach remotely successfully. For these and other reasons, distance learning has been frustrating for many students and their families.

Looking ahead, we must be prepared for more remote learning, not less, as it is not clear how many students will be returning to brick and mortar classrooms, and when. This preparation includes, at minimum: (1) ensuring that all students have internet access and the accompanying hardware necessary to fully engage the curriculum; (2) thoughtful consideration of the goals of remote learning, and; (3) identification of platforms that allow for a more seamless experience for caregivers and children. The District must use the summer to be creative and partner with those with expertise in distance learning, and must be in dialogue with other educators across the country about best practices going forward. Finally, we must make sure that any remote learning that is planned for next year successfully addresses the needs of special education students and English Language Learners.

Katie Castellano Minaya: In terms of food distribution, I was pleased to see how quickly the district partnered with community leaders to ensure there was a plan for food security for our students. I am thankful to have witnessed firsthand the efforts of our community that so quickly had to rise up and support, as well as fill in the gaps. The difficult reality is that there were shortages at times and volunteers had to supplement the food that was provided by the school district. There have been tens of thousands of meals provided since the pandemic began. Where was the emergency readiness planning, though, prior to the pandemic? Every school district should always have a plan in place for disaster/ emergency preparedness. Let’s use this time to ensure we are even more ready for any disaster that could arise. What are the lessons we learned? How can we better coordinate with city officials, local leaders, and families? What are best practices from other districts that we could use to help improve?

Distance learning has been a challenge for everyone, regardless of your school, income, or background. It has been especially difficult for our under-resourced communities. I applaud care -givers who are trying their best to support their child’s learning, teachers, counselors and social workers who worked tirelessly to learn new ways of instructing students. Access and the availability of technology were problematic. Again, we need to have a district-wide plan in place at all times. Now is the time to collect data from parents, students, community partners, and teachers to help us as we rethink education. Let’s use this as an opportunity to build something stronger, more engaging, and more inclusive than ever before.

Barbara D’Alois: It is imperative that we provide our students with the supports that they need to be successful. Regardless of whether those supports are in the area of academics, social emotional supports or financial aid. When our schools shut down, we continued to bear that responsibility. I have the luxury of seeing how these situations were handled in both New Rochelle where I reside as well as Rye City where I am employed. Although I believe that remote learning started a bit slowly, it has progressed nicely and the students seem to be getting some screen time with the teachers and they seem to be very responsive in their dealings with the students. As for food distribution, many mistakes were made. It is my understanding that sites were not trained and/or prepared to distribute anything following proper COVID-19 protocols. I absolutely realize that others in our community are in need of nutritional support in addition to just our students. The CSDNR has a responsibility to our students. We have terrific supports throughout our city and state that are dealing with the needs of families and other community members. All one has to do is look at the response from the various food banks. This is all good stuff. However, the only responsibility of the district is to our students who deserve the breakfast and lunch programs. City and private food banks should, and must, make up the difference.

Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.

Stephen A. DiDonato: The food distribution was handled in a manner that has raised many issues. There was poor coordination, and communication. There were also some very dangerous decisions that did have people exposed to Covid positive people.

We could have done better.

Furthermore, the necessity to feed people who simply didn’t qualify for free school lunch might be considered charitable, but it was unnecessary.

The distance learning initiative was forced on school districts all over the country. From what I’ve gathered, there was not much direction from the top down. Then there was a great deal of confusion.

We didn’t equip all of our students with Chromebooks soon enough, and the policies were less than stellar.

I recognize that the teachers were working hard. My daughter is a teacher as well, so I am familiar with the amount of time that was required to ensure as much success as possible. We can only improve ourselves if we are willing to be reflective and critical.

Sharon D. Footes: Food Distribution 1 thru 10 = 6, Distance Learning 1 thru 10 = 5.

Matthew T. Hirschman: This is a tough question. Primarily because the response is still ongoing. I do reward the efforts of the students, teachers and parents. I’ve been unimpressed with the decision making and excessive communication that amounts to nothing from the superintendent and board president.

Michael Leone: The response to the pandemic with regard to food service is to be compliant with State mandates to provide nutrition to the District’s children in need. This has little to do with the Board of Education other than to ensure that the Administration is doing the best job to ensure compliance and provision of meals to this demographic.

All school districts were charged with the responsibility of developing distance learning plans in very short order. New Rochelle started off slowly using Google classroom and YouTube to deliver content and assignments to keep the students moving forward but this was not sustainable in keeping the students engaged. Students lacked structure in their day, no class periods and no scheduled class times were a detriment. The teachers did a wonderful job of researching relevant content at that time and I truly believe did they best they could with the tools they had. Given some time, the District administrators and teachers have heroically come together to enhance the learning experience by having the children attend class every day on a schedule, to see and hear their teachers, to ask questions in real time, and to have a more “normal” school day. This can only get better if, God forbid, this goes on for an extended period of time. The District Administrators in collaborative effort with our very capable and resourceful teaching staff should continue to research ways to keep the children engaged and to make sure that every student has the tools to succeed.

Timothy McKnight: Food Distribution: I have firsthand been a part of the food distribution efforts in New Rochelle. My site at 345 Main Street has been a distribution location since the beginning of the pandemic response. Generally, I believe their response has been great in regard to food distribution. This has been a great way for the school district to partner with the community and community organizations.

Distance Learning: Distance learning has raised many questions around the disconnect between school administration, parents and households and our teachers. From the delayed Chromebook distribution to elementary school students, to the delayed implementation of distance learning 2.0, we have learned lessons that we can improve from the disconnection between the major stakeholders in a student’s life.

Mario A. Scarano: Did not answer.

Julia Taylor: It was nice to see the community come together to support families in need. We should make sure everyone is taking advantage of all of the programs available in the state and our country. In terms of distance learning, it was a learning curve for everyone. Distance Learning 2.0 was a good start and I would like for us to build on it. Moreover, I believe interactive, synchronous learning for all students coupled with improvement in Response to Intervention (RTI); Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 supports will improve student achievement.

Donald Vega: Distance Learning right now is two soup cans and a string compared to what we will need going forward. There are multiple platforms, licenses, security, etc. that all must be worked out and should be worked on right now and is not happening. Distance Learning entails an educational profile of each student where their needs are addressed first and then work backwards. Instead we saw a poorly put together email survey (one with broken Spanish links when 50% of our system is Hispanic/Latino). That means someone just wanted to get something out there rather than having a plan. The board and educators should be collecting direct open feedback from the parents and students about what they need and want. Maybe high school students who are 16 would prefer to take online classes at night to finish their schooling. That would free up even more space in the high schools. Something quantifiable, measurable. These are the discussions which should be happening now.

Food distribution is a little more complex but a lot of the same applies. How do you know who would need food or not if you are not asking? There are lots of food banks to partner with, but you first must identify the need. Talk to the people who are on the front-lines right now instead of assuming we know what’s best.

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