Editorial: Maybe the schools need more time

Posted 8/6/20

After lagging behind their Massachusetts peers for a generation, Rhode Island schools set the standard for distance learning last spring. Led by the governor and commissioner of education, the public …

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Editorial: Maybe the schools need more time

Posted

After lagging behind their Massachusetts peers for a generation, Rhode Island schools set the standard for distance learning last spring. Led by the governor and commissioner of education, the public and private schools in Rhode Island were quicker and better at transitioning to a home-based education system — setting a pace that was typically two weeks ahead of Massachusetts.

While Rhode Island teachers were leading live sessions, with students as engaged as they possibly could be under the circumstances, many Massachusetts districts were posting assignments and asking their students to complete them on their own time.

But this is not an era for resting on laurels, and a recent Massachusetts decision is worth considering here in the Ocean State.

Agreeing to a request from the commonwealth’s teachers’ unions, the Massachusetts education department will delay the opening of schools to students by 10 working days. That means teachers, learning specialists and administrators will have a full two weeks, in the buildings and without students, to wrestle with the mountain of logistical challenges they face this fall.

There are two reasons why this makes great sense.

First, the aforementioned “logistical challenges” are massive. Working in small teams, school administrators are still trying to figure out so many things about how to run their traditional programs in the least traditional environment imaginable. They’ve spent the summer developing 100-page plans for how to run buses, enter school buildings, organize classrooms, transition throughout the building, clean everything, distance everyone and deliver instructions in multiple formats to students both in-person and at-home.

A good strategy in any organization is to get as many smart people as possible to collaborate and problem-solve, and this 10-day delay gives Massachusetts exactly that — an extended brainstorming session. Fully engaged in the planning process, teachers have the potential to discover the flaws in the system, see things in a different way and generate a plethora of new ideas. As the ones who have to live the new reality, they have the most stake in seeing it work well — and safely.

The other reason to get staff back into the buildings two weeks before students is to … get staff back into the buildings. For the teachers who are anxious, frightened or apprehensive about returning to school, this can be an icebreaker. They can clear that mental hurdle of getting back to school and then start visualizing the new normal for schools.

They may be surprised to find the plethora of new regulations designed to keep them and all students as safe as possible. The sanitizing, spacing and rules can seem overwhelming, but they serve a purpose — getting these schools open for the overall health, growth and development of young people.

Rhode Island educators should be proud of all they’ve accomplished since this pandemic began. Parents should be proud of getting this invested in their children’s education. If a slight delay (and what’s two weeks, after six months of closure) helps everyone feel better about getting the gang back together again, then use the extra time. Open the schools in the best environment possible, not the quickest.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.