Before giving an update on our schools, I would like to take a moment to share a heartfelt thank you to everyone who reached out to me and my family as we mourned the loss of my father to COVID-19. As this pandemic began, we anticipated it would touch many lives, and, like many, my family wasn’t spared.
Since my father’s passing, my family has drawn great strength from the many thoughtful cards, donations, flowers, and prayers. You have all shown me, once again, that our schools and community are truly special places, full of kind, considerate, and loving friends and colleagues.
Throughout the pandemic, we have faced each day with a series of questions and unknowns; however, having experienced first-hand the outpouring of love and compassion these past weeks, I know one thing for sure. We will continue to successfully navigate whatever challenges lie ahead, and will emerge stronger, more connected, and wiser than ever before.
From me and my family, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your support, your love, and for your confidence as we continue navigating these uncharted waters together.
Throughout the closure, our schools have partnered with the town in order to serve the most vulnerable in our community. In an earlier email, I shared some examples of how our staff has responded to help others, such as the partnership between our food services and transportation staff to package and deliver lunches to students/families in need. As this pandemic has continued other needs have arisen, and I am proud to share that our staff has responded admirably to the call.
As a school district, we are continually engaged in helping our youngest to succeed and excel; as the context has shifted, we have expanded our efforts to include other vulnerable community members, particularly senior citizens, since they are most susceptible to the virus. For example, one important undertaking was the relocation of the town’s Meals on Wheels program, formerly housed at Waveny Cares, into the NCHS cafeteria. Since the relocation, our outstanding food services staff prepare and package a cold lunch and a warm dinner for approximately 70 elderly citizens every day, and on Fridays, they pack extra to help clients get through the weekend. Another important undertaking has been the addition of bi-weekly grocery delivery for seniors in need.
By using the cafeteria’s supply chain to source groceries, we have partnered with CERT volunteers and town employees to order, receive, package, and deliver fresh produce and groceries for those in need. By partnering with the town, we are working to ensure that everyone in the community has what they need to weather this storm. Another valuable resource throughout the pandemic has been our skilled and talented nursing staff. From the start, our nurses jumped in to help the town’s Health and Human Services and Health Department by making phone calls, organizing volunteer shopping efforts, and communicating with seniors and families to assess and resolve needs. Our nursing staff, led by Nursing Supervisor Janet Reed, has displayed the courage, compassion, and commitment of first responders everywhere, even volunteering to help in some of our hardest-hit areas, and they have helped hundreds, if not thousands, of our citizens through this experience.
Although school is closed, our buildings are not, and our custodians and campus monitors have been working each day to maintain the highest standard of cleanliness in our buildings, to ensure we maintain the CDC’s social distancing guidelines if anyone is in the building, and to assist with materials distribution when necessary. When school reopens, we can enter confidently thanks to the ongoing efforts of our custodians to ensure that we have met and exceeded the highest standards of cleanliness and care. Our secretaries and support staff also continue to work every day, managing data, monitoring attendance and enrollment, and continuing the operations of the district to ensure that we are prepared and ready when we reopen.
The operations at our schools, along with district operations such as human resources and business, are continuing forward thanks to the great work of our secretaries and support staff. Supporting our students, our school counselors, social workers, psychologists, teaching assistants and other staff are actively engaged by calling students and families directly. In these conversations, they provide both academic and emotional support, check-in to see how things are going, connect families with outside support, and help our students to continue learning and growing in our Distance Learning environment.
If you or a loved one could benefit from a conversation with our counselors or clinical team, please reach out them directly, or to your principal or me any time, and we’ll be glad to connect you. While these are only some examples of the great work happening district and town-wide, it shows the comprehensive network we have developed to support our most vulnerable, regardless of age, while also continuing forward. We are focused on providing help and assistance to those in need while also continuing our preparations for the future, when school reopens, to ensure we can do so safely and successfully. Of course, our Distance Learning program has been the most comprehensive, and most complex, undertaking of this entire experience. Our teachers have, from the very start, stepped forward with an unrivaled strength of conviction and sense of purpose. In one voice, we believe that educating children is the single most important endeavor on the planet, and our teachers have personified this belief in both word and deed. When we first closed school, we anticipated a 14-day closure. As such, our teachers and staff prepared Distance Learning as a “classroom replacement” approach, focused on maintaining our pace in order to return to school after two weeks and pick up where we left off. Although we didn’t name it such at the time, we’ve since come to think of this as “Phase 1” of our Distance Learning program.
Preparing as we did enabled us to get up and running quickly, and the success we continue to experience in our program is thanks, in part, to the thinking and planning that occurred in February and early March district-wide. When it became clear that we would remain closed until at least April 20, we moved into Phase 2 of Distance Learning. With a focus on pacing, time, professional learning, and overall wellness, Phase 2 was designed as a sustainable system by teaching staff the skills required in a Distance Learning environment, providing students with clear, relevant, and meaningful experiences each day, and by balancing the educational, social, emotional, and physical needs of our students.
As we’ve continued forward, we have moved into Phase 3 of our Distance Learning program. Phase 3 builds upon current practices by capitalizing on the outstanding professional learning that is being provided to our teachers and encouraging students and teachers alike to continue expanding their experiences together.
From the beginning, we have been guided by three overarching goals:
(1) engage students in meaningful and relevant work so they can continue learning and progressing;
(2) keep students connected to their teachers, peers, and schools;
(3) provide continuity and consistency for our students to help them remain healthy in all domains of their life.
In Phase 3, we remain focused on these goals as we build upon our successes with a sustainable, balanced approach. The guiding principles of Phase 3 are expanding instruction and deepening connections, and our efforts include balancing opportunities for students to engage in synchronous and asynchronous learning, creating more opportunities to connect with students, and reinforcing school spirit and student identity through various student-centered activities developed at each school.
Our principals have been fantastic communicators throughout this experience, and specific details will continue to come from your building principal and administrators. Since it is a district-wide decision, I will be sharing information about K-12 grading by the end of this week. While we recognize that Distance Learning is a substitute for in-class experiences, it is our mission to make our program the very best it can be for our students. Please know that we will continue to refine and develop our program as this experience continues. Guided by our goals, we commit to continually striving to do our very best for every student in our schools. Our faculty and staff have stood tall at the center of today’s challenges. They are impressively balancing their professional responsibilities with the demands of their own families and personal situations. In my eyes, they are heroes, putting others before themselves while striving to make the world a better place.
Today marks the start of “Teacher Appreciation Week.” Let’s all take a moment to thank our teachers; they have, truly, been anchors in this storm. Confident that we will continue helping each other no matter what’s ahead, and knowing that there is a network of support for those in need, we can approach each day with courage, gratitude, and compassion, making the most of today while preparing for a brighter tomorrow.
Warmly, Bryan Bryan D. Luizzi, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Schools, New Canaan Public Schools