Last week, Cheshire Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jeff Solan received a much-deserved “attaboy” from Gov. Ned Lamont and the state of Connecticut.
Lamont, highlighting how Connecticut school districts have been stepping up to meet the challenges of education during a pandemic, singled out the Cheshire Superintendent for his substitute initiative. With every town in the state facing severe staffing problems due to COVID-19 — pandemic protocols mean teachers are often asked to quarantine for up to two weeks if deemed a close contact of someone who has tested positive for the illness — Solan had to find a way to make sure there were adults in the classrooms when students arrived for study.
To do it, he’s enlisted the help of recent CHS graduates, whether they are pursuing a future career in education or not.
This is the kind of forward thinking that makes the difference between a district shutting down and one remaining open and ready to provide safe in-person instruction to students. It’s the kind of quick thinking that’s needed as everyone adapts to the reality of a virus that remains unpredictable.
And it seems indicative of what’s kept Cheshire rolling along these last several months, able to avoid the kind of uncontrolled outbreaks that have plagued other towns and forced students back into full remote-learning mode.
Teachers, administrators, students, and most especially parents should be commended for how they’ve adjusted to this historic moment in time. Moving from the standard in-person model of education to one that relies on new technologies for hybrid models of class instruction has been a monumental task that, even under normal circumstances, would have required years of trial and error to get right. What school communities have done in the last several months, to provide opportunities for students and teachers to continue learning while staying safe during a pandemic, is nothing short of incredible.
But we also know this: Remote learning continues to be a poor substitute for the brick-and-mortar education model that puts students and teachers in the same room, interacting on a near-daily basis. An ABC News report this week revealed that students all across the country are earning failing grades at an alarming rate. One Oregon principal was quoted as saying students’ grades are “off the rails.”
This is not surprising. Data accumulated over the last several months has indicated problems with everything from student attendance when learning remotely to retention of information taught. Keeping students in classrooms as much as possible is the ideal, and while circumstances make it impossible for Cheshire to return to a normal, pre-pandemic schedule at the moment, administrators have done an admirable job of keeping as many students as possible engaged and in buildings together.
That’s a testament to everyone from Solan to individual school administrators to the teachers going in to work everyday, to parents who have had to upend their own schedules in order to accommodate new ones for their children.
And the response Solan received to his call for action from recent graduates is also heartening. These young people have stepped up to help. They were informed of a need and rose to meet it.
There’s been a lot of talk about all of us “being in this together,” but what Solan requested and the response he received is actually evidence of the slogan coming to life. The community is stepping up to make sure children get the education they need. It isn’t easy or perfect, but it’s better than what’s happening in many other places around the country at the moment.
And when we finally do arrive at the light that we are beginning to see rise over the horizon of this pandemic, and we are past it all in (hopefully) the next few months, the community will be able to look back at initiatives like this and be proud.