DISTRICT INSIGHTS: Schools Are Not Closed

If you or someone you know works in public education, then you know our schools are not truly closed. Our buildings and grounds are closed, but our schools are still operating to provide distance learning, student meals, child care for essential workers and other support on a daily basis.

To say this spring has been challenging for K-12 schools would be a major understatement. When the Hudson City School District (HCSD) announced the shift to distance learning in mid-March, we had less than 48 hours to put plans in motion. We knew the challenges we would face in ensuring every student has access to meals and the resources they need to engage in meaningful learning at home.

More than 1,000 laptop devices were provided for K-12 students to use at home. To ensure equitable access, the district also developed plans to help student households without internet to get free or affordable Wi-Fi access through local carriers or mobile hotspots. Our Information Technology department continues to configure and distribute Chromebooks to students weekly, as needed, and assist with hundreds of Help Desk emails.

Teachers adapted quickly and learned new things about technology to keep engaging with our students and the community. For elementary students who are not engaging in online learning, teachers and staff continue to develop, organize and deliver paper instructional materials, including books, directly to student homes. The Parent Teacher Organization also sends supplies to students to help them complete assignments from home during the necessary closure.

Each day we evaluate the needs of our school community and make adjustments where needed. Student meal distribution grew from eight locations to 15 locations throughout the district. Since March 17, the HCSD has provided approximately 36,000 meals to children 18 years and under. More than 4,500 free meals are distributed to Hudson children every week.

Despite all this hard work, there are more challenges on the horizon.

We are concerned about the academic, physical and mental well-being of all our students, but we are especially heartbroken for our seniors. The Bluehawk Class of 2020 has expressed a general sentiment of uncertainty and angst due to the current coronavirus pandemic. They are rightfully upset about missing all the milestone activities they worked so hard for such as the senior trip, prom, senior awards and their long-awaited graduation. Principal Bob LaCasse, Associate Principal William Wood and I are committed to giving our seniors the recognition they deserve. Plans to honor our graduates will be shared once they are finalized.

Another major spring event impacted by this pandemic is the annual school budget vote and Board of Education election, which is now scheduled to take place on June 9. Historically my May column outlines the school budget proposal but this year it was not possible. The HCSD and many other districts are waiting to adopt proposed spending plans for the next school year until we learn how much more Governor Cuomo plans to reduce state education aid. That announcement is expected to be made by May 15. We are not looking forward to the news.

Please be assured that we are committed to developing a transparent budget that is fiscally responsible, academically sound and sensitive to the social-emotional needs of our students. A virtual public hearing on the proposed budget will be held prior to the vote. We will also keep our website updated with information about the budget proposal and Board of Education election as it becomes available. Please visit www.hudsoncsd.org/budget so you can be an informed voter.

There are many words to describe the current pandemic situation. Difficult, challenging, uncertain and unprecedented are just a few. A lot of uncertainty remains, but what is certain is that we will work together to address the challenges ahead and become stronger than ever before.

In closing, I urge you to complete the 2020 U.S. Census if you have not already done so. As noted in my previous column, your responses to the census are imperative in securing valuable federal education funds that are critical to our district’s efforts to close the achievement gap and provide all students with the opportunity to excel.

Dr. Maria Lagana Suttmeier is Superintendent of Schools of the Hudson City School District.

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