Gary Stern, Rockland
Turn up the AC. It’s going to be a short, hot summer for school leaders.
From the time teachers and students power down remote instruction in mid- to late-June, New York’s school districts will have about 10 weeks to prepare for a fall no one can yet envision.
It’s anyone’s guess when Gov. Andrew Cuomo will say whether schools can reopen in the fall or what Cuomo and state agencies will require for doing so safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
So superintendents, principals, teacher leaders and others, instead of settling into an easy summer groove, will have to act as tactical units that steadily refine educational and logistical strategies and can react on a dime to pending and unforeseen challenges.
Districts must prepare for three scenarios:
the reopening of schools with health and safety rules that require the reshuffling of schedules, staff and space; the need to elevate remote learning for all types of students in the event that schools stay closed into the fall; and a hybrid system, the most likely, difficult and costly scenario, which would have students in school part-time — half-days? every other day? every other week? — and continuing remote learning the rest of the time.
Most districts began planning weeks ago for the fall, and have set up committees to focus on what will come. But there is only so much they can do until they know what the state expects and when schools will reopen.
One thing that’s for certain: Labor Day will be here in a flash.
“You have to surrender a bit to the ambiguity, which is not something schools are used to,” Harrison Superintendent Lou Wool said.
Districts will also have to make budgetary adjustments, as they will likely take on new costs with fewer dollars. Cuomo has promised 20% cuts in state aid, and possibly more into 2020-21, short of a federal bailout.
Whatever school looks like when summer recess ends, the goal must be that parents and staff have confidence that schools can keep children safe and give them what they need, said Regent Fran Wills, who represents the Lower Hudson Valley on the state Board of Regents.
“The most important aspect of this next period is to build trust and confidence with parents and staff,” she said. “Schools need to have an ethic of caring, to communicate empathy and humility. We must acknowledge there is much we don’t know, but we are doing the very best that we can.”
Here is a look at what schools will face during through the summer:
There isn’t much time. New York’s nearly 700 school districts are waiting on Albany to act.
Cuomo has said the state will release guidelines in June for the eventual reopening of schools and that districts will have to return plans in July.
The Board of Regents, which oversees education policy, is about to name a task force on the reopening of schools. Wills said the group will release its own guidelines for districts by early July. Districts will be asked to create their own task forces and reopening plans.
Whether Cuomo and the Regents’ guidelines and planning requirements will connect is to be seen.
In addition, Cuomo’s “Reimagine Education” advisory group, which has started to meet and is expected to focus on the use of technology, will produce an ongoing set of best practices, Cuomo advisor Jim Malatras told Spectrum News in Albany.
School districts will have to react fast to meld Albany’s guidelines and requirements into local plans.
“We need to know what requirements will look like so we can make solid estimates for what can be done,” New Rochelle Superintendent Laura Feijoo said. “The sooner the better.”
Districts’ own committees have started to read reports and research about reopening schools, review what’s happened in other countries, look at what other states are doing, and even draft plans for the fall.
The Mamaroneck district, for instance, has working groups that include parents and students at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The district is also working with Stanford University’s Design School Lab on its plans.