Fiorello: Re-Opening Schools This Fall

Submitted by Kimberly Fiorello, local parent and candidate for State Rep 149th District,

We all hope and want our children to be back in their school buildings learning and thriving with their teachers and friends this fall.  State Rep Harry Arora’s education survey showed over 90% of the 648 Greenwich residents who participated want fully in-person or a hybrid of in-person-and-virtual learning at our schools.

At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting to discuss details of Greenwich’s Schools Reopening Plan, Superintendent Jones and BoE focused on meeting state mandates and regulatory protocols from temperature checks to correct mask-wearing, the “directionality” of hallways to social distancing in the cafeteria, and more. All important things.

But I kept waiting for the “now, let’s talk about education.”  Thinking of my two daughters excited to be heading to North Street School, on my mind was how will we ensure our students learn a core curriculum and how will they be taught using online learning techniques?  Clearly, for many in our community, what was offered this spring was not satisfactory and far from Greenwich quality expectations.

 Fear of COVID may be amplified this fall by the regular cold and flu season when school children inevitably get fevers, dry coughs, sore throats, and achy bodies.  Families who opt-in to regular in-building school may suddenly opt-out for the health and safety of their families and loved ones.  And well-meaning teachers may understandably opt-out, too.  Have BoE members fully grasped how low the threshold might be to shutter a class, a grade, or an entire school? Parents will expect effective education to be provided through online classes, much better than was attempted this Spring.  

If COVID has taught us anything, isn’t it to see this disruption as the catalyst to innovate for the betterment of our lives?  The same can be true for Greenwich Public Schools if we commit to turning lemons into lemonade!  

I, like many mothers in town, firmly believe there are courses of study out there that can capture the imagination and ignite the intellect of our children.  The Internet opens the world to us.  Imagine a “classroom” of students not just from across town, but across the country or the world.  Imagine their courses being taught by our local teachers and augmented by leading thinkers in the fields of math, science, and the humanities.

With one of my older children attending a “virtual” middle school that held all of its classes online, I’ve learned that children can be inspired by great teaching, even when that teaching occurs from a distance. 

Children learn by watching us.  Will we simply do as we’re told by Hartford to manage COVID?  Will we embrace these interruptions as a reality that can drive innovative solutions? Will the school system be trapped by a 100-year old design of public education that doesn’t work in the era of epidemics?

We parents are responsible for the education of our children and must have more of a role in shaping their instruction than Hartford does.  To expect rapid innovation this past Spring may have been too much to ask.  But with 6 months to plan and prepare, I think we can expect our Board of Education to demand that the Superintendent not lose sight of what we all hope is the singular mission of Greenwich schools – to fortify and spark the minds of our children.  

If we want our children to thrive and excel in this environment of uncertainties, we have to change our thinking from considering distance learning and disruptions to our normal routines as temporary inconveniences to now being a part of the fabric of our lives.  This is the time to ask our Board of Education to ensure that distance learning, when used, is conducted in a way that provides the same level of academic education as would be provided in an in-person classroom.  Leaders in Hartford, are you listening too?  This is local control of education driven by parents for their children.