Rye Neck Superintendent of Schools Dr. Barbara Ferraro (left) and Mamaroneck Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Shaps
School Superintendents Address Community in a Local Summit/LMC-Media Zoom Forum
By Linnet Tse
Instead of the Local Summit’s regular breakfast meeting at the Nautilus Diner, a live ZOOM forum was co-sponsored by the Local Summit and LMC Media on Tuesday, May 12, hosting Rye Neck Superintendent of Schools Dr. Barbara Ferraro and Mamaroneck Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Shaps. The superintendents discussed their district’s transition to remote learning and how they are planning for the 2020-21 school year.
TRANSITION TO REMOTE LEARNING
Both districts’ last day in class was Friday, March 13. Literally overnight, teachers and administrators had to figure out how to transition to 100% remote learning. Luckily both districts were well positioned due to their extensive use of technology and their experience using technology to guide learning. The transition has required a significant amount of professional development for staff to learn new online platforms such as Zoom, Screencastify, and Padlet.
The transition to remote learning has been a huge learning process for students and their families, as well as staff. As Dr. Shaps noted, “it’s been a community effort.” The superintendents pointed out that “where we were on March 16, and where we are today on May 12 is totally different. And we will be different a month from now.”
Calling it a “testament to their dedication, professionalism and commitment,” both superintendents praised and credited their building administrators and teachers for their extraordinary efforts to provide meaningful instruction that reflects each district’s values. Continuing to provide support services to English language learners and students with special learning needs was especially challenging.
The superintendents also expressed appreciation to the students’ families. Dr. Ferrarro noted “we’ve also learned that home learning is really hard on families.” For everyone, flexibility and creativity have been key.
Given the community’s diversity, ensuring equity of opportunity to learn was critically important for both districts. Both provided technology to students needing it. Mamaroneck has also continued providing over 600 meals daily, seven days a week to families in need, and has partnered with the Community Counseling Center to address the social-emotional well-being of its students.
Unfortunately, the superintendents cannot give the community any answers in terms of what the 2020-21 school year will look like. Dr. Shaps shared that they are looking at three different scenarios for the fall: 1) physical school, but with health-imposed restrictions; 2) a hybrid model of learning which would combine physical presence in school with blended (remote) learning; and 3) full time remote learning. They are waiting for direction from Governor Cuomo and the NYS Department of Health and the NYS Department of Education. In the meantime, Mamaroneck will begin having community conversations about these models in the upcoming weeks.
One thing that weighs heavily on Dr. Shaps’ mind is equity of opportunity to learn. He stresses that “providing students with technical devices and WIFI hotspots doesn’t mean that students are engaged in learning across the system in equal ways.” To address this, he is exploring partnerships and new models that will “provide students with a degree of independence around guided learning, and not have to rely on parents or caregivers full time.”
The superintendents will build on what they have learned this spring and are looking to learn from what’s happening in other countries around the world such as Denmark, Germany, and Israel, where public schools are beginning to open under certain restrictions.
PROPOSED SCHOOL BUDGETS
Both the Mamaroneck and Rye Neck proposed budgets are tax-cap compliant. Both districts reduced their original budgets in light of the economic impact of the pandemic and threatened cuts in state aid. The budget vote, originally scheduled for May 19, has been postponed to June 9 by Governor Cuomo. The school board election and budget vote will be conducted by mail. Eligible voters in school districts will be mailed absentee ballots to cast their votes, which will include a postage-paid return envelope.
In closing, Dr. Ferraro and Dr. Shaps urged the audience to “invest in public education to give students in our community the best possibility of thriving in a complex world.”
This forum was co-hosted by the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit and LMC Media. The Local Summit is an informal community council that seeks to make life better for all in the tri-municipal area. To view this Zoom Forum: