SPECIAL COVERAGE ON THE CORONAVIRUS
School Committee Race Part Two: Pandemic, E-Learning And Policy
By Kristen Arute, Hingham Current Staff , Posted June 17, 2020
Candidates for School Committee: Jen Benham, Stephanie Gertz and Michelle Ayer [Courtesy of the candidates]
From the pandemic to school policy, the candidates for School Committee share their thoughts on a number of important topics. Here’s what they had to say.
We are living in challenging times, and within the next year the educational experience will have a different landscape. One way the pandemic has reprioritized my platform is with the loss of direct daily engagement our students will need even more support once they return to school in the fall. We need to think differently and creatively when looking at the budget constraints that will be a direct consequence of the pandemic. We must be ready to address the social and emotional consequences of the school closure by making sure our students have the resources and support they need when they return.
Parent communication was always important, but the remote learning during the pandemic is where many of us parents became teachers. The experience has really shown us just how critical communication is. Parents must be treated as partners by the school committee, the administration, and the teachers. We are a resource and we have needs. I think everyone has made admirable adjustments in the past few months, and I'd like to see that continue.
The pandemic abruptly interrupted learning for our students, upended the daily lives of our families, and impacted our teachers and staff but my core priorities haven’t changed: to ensure a safe, supportive, and equitable learning environment for all. As I work on the Superintendent’s Recovery Response Advisory Committee to develop the plan for the return to school in the fall, my top priority will be to ensure that we have all of the resources we need to address the social-emotional and educational impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our students, our faculty, our families, and our staff.
The current school closures have teachers and students facing unique learning challenges. One hope of mine is that we continue to adopt innovative technology and evolving best practices to address students’ needs. This could include practices such as project-based learning and also flipped classrooms, in which students are first exposed to a new topic outside of class through a reading or video, and then process the material through real time discussion, problem solving and debate. We also need to be mindful of our most vulnerable students and how we can integrate more support into their individualized plans. Lastly, we must ensure that our educators and families receive the support they need as we work together to deliver the best possible education to our students.
Input from the parents, what is really working and what do we need to make it work for all families. We really need to dig deep into how e-learning during a time of national emergency affected kids and their education, as well as their social-emotional development, even their physical development. With an event of this size, it's really hard to predict what the outcomes will be. Studying it closely now will be very important.
Over the next two months, we need to prepare for multiple scenarios for the return to school, including the potential for additional periods of remote learning. We will develop a technology plan to ensure our teachers and our students can connect with each other and can have access to robust online learning opportunities. I’ll work with district leadership, parents, students, and faculty to ensure that we have the right plan in place to keep students and staff engaged, supported, and connected.
I would like to see additions to our current technology policy that ensures all students have access to technology devices and internet access if distance learning occurs again. Parents and students need the tools at home to support online learning. I would like to ensure that every student is ready for success in a world where science and technology skills are increasingly important. The district has made great strides within our elementary level STEM programs. I will advocate to improve our district goals by expanding and strengthening our STEM programming in our secondary schools.
I would like to see our attendance policy change. We should not require a doctor's note for absences. I would start with building on our existing policies. I've been very impressed with the way in which schools have tried to reach out and let students know that they are missed. The senior pictures posted around town, the "congrats to 5th graders" lawn signs. Even in the school yearbooks, which were mailed out last week, it's very clear that teachers and administrators are trying to make sure every student knows they are loved. In support of students and Pride month, the decision by the Committee to fly rainbow flags outside of schools, so that students would still see that support which they would normally see inside school, is positive and meaningful. I think increasing visible support for students of different backgrounds and identities helps to ensure that kids know they are our first priority, and that any child can come to the administration to help solve a problem. This could be anything from academic struggles to bullying. It's much easier to address problems if students feel safe reporting them.
Last year, the School Committee voted to develop an updated policy manual to ensure that our policies remain compliant with ever-changing guidelines and laws while providing our students, staff, and leadership with policies that set expectations, support learning, and promote well-being. The work the School Committee is currently doing to update current policies is designed to limit amendments and additions to our policies, but I’m supportive of adding any policies that we need to reflect the core mission of our schools to provide a safe, supportive, and welcoming learning environment for our students and our staff.