Rising to the Challenge – with Help
It is exciting to witness the joy expressed in so many schools where students and staff have returned to in-person instruction. While this celebration is certainly not universal as so many students remain remote, we have seen educators once again step up and meet the challenge of recreating a positive learning environment for students, whether in the schoolhouse or through the Internet.
I and the NJASA leadership team salute you for your incredible efforts in collaborating with stakeholders to organize a plan for reopening your schools and implementing it, for many, with last minute modifications. Your work was complicated by the policy shifts the Governor adopted during the summer to his original mandate to open the doors to students in September. On July 24, the Governor gave parents the option to have their children elect remote only instruction. On August 12, he then permitted each district to maintain remote student instruction if the required health and safety standards could not be met. Amid growing member concerns about looming staff shortages, I requested that the Governor clarify that lack of staff alone was a safety concern sufficient to maintain all students in remote instruction to start the school year. Regrettably, the Governor did not respond to the request.
As schools re-open we are witnessing the expected initial Covid-19 cases among students and staff members, causing yet another pivot in operation for several districts. The first weeks of school have seen the state transmission rate exceed the 1.0 threshold. The future portends a further increase in Covid-19 transmission as health experts predict a fall rebound of the disease. The work of school staff will be increasingly difficult as student and staff health symptoms during the cold and flu season will require the assumption of Covid-19 infection, health testing, and potential classroom or school closures due to confirmed cases. In short, it is likely that some districts will be shifting to all-remote instruction for periods of time. You, of course, understand this and are planning for these possibilities. It does not, however, minimize the angst and frustration that not only your school constituents experience, but you as well.
It seems for so many NJASA leaders that there never was a summer recess due to the constant work required for reopening and responding to staff and parental concerns. We have spoken as leaders about caring for our students and staff and their emotional and social health. It is time now to be sure that you maintain your own health as the pressure of district leadership has all the issues land on your desk. It is a challenge to be the expected model of mental and physical health for your community when you return to the isolation of your office. One important way that I have witnessed our members contribute to their well-being has been the incredible communication with colleagues in each county. Sharing information, strategies, and concerns has increased collegiality as I have never seen it before. I encourage you to maintain these connections. Another is to connect with NJASA committees and programs with your colleagues. The NJASA staff is here to support your work with professional connections, legal services, and advocacy. Perhaps the most important action you can take is to connect with your own loved ones every day in a meaningful way. It will provide the strength that you need as you undertake your difficult work and serve as the inspiration for those around you.
As Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics suggest:
“You might need somethin' to hold on to
When all the answers they don't amount to much
Somebody that you can just talk to
And a little of that human touch.”