The usual sound of chatting and laughing students in Auburn school buildings was replaced last week. Instead, it was crying teachers and the din of copying machines.
Auburn Enlarged City School District Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo said educators were upset at not being able to work with students face-to-face. All nine school districts within the Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES closed March 16 after Cayuga County declared a state of emergency. The schools are currently set to be shuttered through April 13 at the earliest, leaving students out of classrooms while learning remotely.
Staff understand the current necessity of separating from those they educate, Pirozzolo said, but the process has been hard nevertheless.
"The children, they're part of our lives. This is what we do, and we really miss our children. We want normalcy back and we want our kids back in school. We don't want to jeopardize anybody's safety and health, we know why we're doing this, we know why we have to do it," he said in a telephone interview Friday. "(In) my 28th year of education, I never would ever imagine that something like this would ever have happened or that we would be living through a crisis such as this."
But amid the stress and emotions, Cayuga County-area superintendents said they are also seeing the best in their school communities as educators and families work together to keep students connected with their teachers and the support services that public education provides. Every local school district has put systems in place to provide meals and supply curriculum work that can be done from home.
Pirozzolo said he was extremely impressed with staff coming together within a short time period to meet children's needs. A mixture of technology, such as portable Chromebooks, and curricular materials in quickly assembled packets have been deployed to keep instruction going.
Pirozzolo praised teachers' creativity in reaching children. Some elementary teachers are reading books to students at different times of the day. Junior high teachers Matt Drastal and Julie Feheley broadcasted the school's morning show in Google Classroom. Efforts like these provide much-needed continuity for students, Pirozzolo said.
"There just has not been any normalcy throughout this unprecedented time," he said.
Teachers aren't the only people who have been adjusting on the fly. Pirozzolo said district parents have shown him pictures of schedules they've created, including times for English, math, social studies and more, for their children while they're home. Teachers are available through email so parents can communicate with them and so teachers "can send strategies home to help children that are struggling."
The district has been preparing meals at the high school and they are delivered to Casey Park Elementary School, Genesee Elementary School and the junior high school. Pirozzolo noted there will be changes starting Monday so there will be enough breakfast and lunches provided on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to last students throughout the week and weekends while limiting how many times families have to come to buildings to pick them up.
Pirozzolo also praised the district's secretarial, food service, custodial and transportation staff and thanked administrators for how they're managing buildings and staff. He said that despite teachers not being able to come into the buildings as of March 23 due to Cuomo's new directive on limiting buildings to "essential personnel," including food services and custodians, teachers have still emailed Pirozzolo about how about they can help further. He said the most challenging part of the closure has been adapting to the new requirements coming daily from Albany.
At the Union Springs Central School District, Superintendent Jarett Powers said in an email he is impressed and humbled "by the work of our entire school community to work together as we confront these challenging times.
"Our students remain our number one priority and our teachers and staff are doing all that they can to be supportive. Parents and students are encouraged to email their teachers or leave messages on school's voicemails and our staff will follow up in short order," Powers said. "Our website is updated as situations warrant and individuals should check www.unionspringscsd.org/ for updates in the days and weeks ahead. We thank everyone for their cooperation and look forward to school resuming in the future."
Cato-Meridian Central School District Superintendent Terry Ward said via email he believes "we are doing fantastic given the set of circumstances." He added that the district served 1,500 meals last week, and thanked cafeteria workers, the district's transportation department and others for their involvement.
Neil O'Brien, superintendent for the Port Byron Central School District, praised the local community for their efforts in coming together without negativity during this unique period.
"Everybody just rolled up their sleeves," he said.
Discussions on COVID-19 at a superintendent conference in Albany earlier this month, O'Brien said, helped districts prepare for school closures. The district used the 10 days before the shutdown to get online learning to the level it needed to be, ensuring every student had a Chromebook or other devices and ensuring any staff who weren't already familiar with using technology for instruction received training.
Kim Brown, the district's athletic director and assistant principal of Dana West Jr.-Sr. High School, praised how teachers have adapted to the situation and said students have been taking their school work seriously despite not being in traditional classrooms.
O'Brien said Facebook has been a fantastic tool in communicating with parents and addressing concerns. The district also has been preparing breakfast and lunches, and when families get the meals they have had the option of picking up toilet paper and other hygiene products.
"It's uncharted waters, so everything you're doing is new, and there's no safety net," he said.
To our staff, faculty, students and community ... thank you for coming together this week. These are tough and uncharted times and we appreciate all of your hard work and dedication. Socially distant high fives to each and every one of you!!! Stay safe, Wolves! 🐺💜 pic.twitter.com/zL7xSR1Lwn— Union Springs CSD (@UnionSpringsCSD) March 21, 2020
Having trouble with school issued device? PB IT Department can be reached at 315-758-0080 from 10 to 2 Mon.- Fri. We will make our best effort to answer your call during that time. You can also send text messages to us at that number, or email us at email@example.com.— Port Byron CSD (@PortByronCSD) March 20, 2020
Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.
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