Good morning, and welcome to the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. This is my tenth welcome greeting and also happens to be my last, as I transition out of the district for my planned retirement.
As I reflected and contemplated on what to say this morning, I heard my inner voice tell me, “Anthony, I hate to break it to you but the staff really don’t’ want to hear from you.. they are thinking about their fears and anxiety about returning to work in a COVID-19 environment. They are worried about what would happen, the unknown, the concerns for themselves and their families”.
I heard that inner voice and I understand your fears and concerns. While these fears and anxieties are real, there is also hope and assurances that if we work together, we can overcome this current epidemic.
Today’s challenges and struggles about the COVID-19 epidemic may overshadow some of the struggles and challenges we have faced in the recent past at Greenburgh Eleven.
A few years ago, we faced the danger of possible closing of the district. Those of you who were here at the time remember that. Our expenses exceeded our revenues, our student enrollment dropped to the lowest it had ever been, and we could not raise enough revenue to pay our bills. We were even close to not being able to make payroll. Those were the days when I had sleepless nights whenever payroll was approaching. The Board of Education even sought legal advice on the process of school closing should that occur.
It was a time of great uncertainty with a lot of unknowns.
With the Board of Education, Administrators, the Union Leadership, Children’s Village leadership working together, we were able to withstand the tide and kept going until now. We had town hall meetings, we sent delegation to Albany, we contacted our local legislatures, we worked with the Rate Setting Office. We were subjected to financial scrutiny by three independent auditors including the Comptroller’s office and we prevailed. We did it together as a team.
Our efforts of working together in the past resulted in two successful negotiations that broke the long-lasting impasse of 2006 and 2008 which resulted in no salary and wage increases for staff for years.
Those of you who have been here a long time may remember the times of contention between administrators and the teacher union. We have worked together to overcome this too and today more than ever, the District and Union GFT leadership collaboration is at its highest level.
Not too long ago, the only technology we had in the District were 13-inch televisions, a VCR and an overhead projector. The use of emails was very limited or nonexistent.
Today, we can boast of SMART Boards in classrooms, WIFIs that work, Chromebooks, Google Classrooms, Google Meets and other useful technology tools for remote learning.
These successes were achieved because we collaborated and worked together as a team for the welfare of our students.
When our students come back to school this fall after the COVID-19 closures, they will bring with them an incredibly high level of need. In the direst cases, students will have experienced trauma as issues of housing access and food insecurity are compounded by grief, loss, and even abuse.
To meet these needs, we should be prepared to offer a comprehensive set of services that address the needs of children and their families.
But we cannot do so unless we work together as a team supporting each other in ways we probably haven’t done before.
Our Bethune Learning Community must invest in programs, systems and practices to provide students with a wide array of supports that will help them succeed in school. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, the “whole child” approach can be seen as a comprehensive way to ensure that students and their families are able to secure essential services and reduce disparities in access and enrichment.
For Greenburgh Eleven, providing in person learning is one way of reducing disparity in education as our special education students faced digital gaps and learning gaps in the summer program.
Some of our day students and residents lacked broadband access, especially low-income residents making hybrid-remote learning impossible. Established data caps on broadband services imposed additional barriers on low-income subscribers who were forced to ration minutes between the completion of their student’s assignments and online search queries for critical public services.
Additionally, our staff and teachers should be supported in learning how to effectively build classroom communities and relationships in the in-person learning context.
In planning for the fall reopening, we started with the learning needs of our students in mind, focusing on how to provide targeted support to address the individual needs of our special education students regardless of the instructional setting.
Our instructional plan prioritizes in-person instruction for all students and how we can ensure 1:1 instruction for students who need it most and balancing health risks with educational and social-emotional benefits of in-person instruction.
It is already apparent that implementing our plan will be very costly and significantly change the education landscape. It is going to be a challenging experience for staff and students alike.
Social distancing and mask wearing are critical safety mandates that we should all work together to implement. We have seen the challenges of implementing these requirements not just for schools but basically for every phase for reopening at all aspects of public gatherings.
Ultimately, each one of us must do our part in protecting each other’s health and safety. I believe that we will overcome this challenge together the same way we overcame challenges in the past.
I want to conclude by thanking and acknowledging those who have done such great work during the summer to get the district ready for this moment. First, our great and dedicated maintenance staff, Mr. Vicente Muniz. As you walk into your classrooms and the hallways, you can see the result of his work. Thank you, Vicente.
I would also like to thank the collaborative team of faculty and staff, Children’s Village Administrators, Board President, Lisa Tane and all the District Office Staff for their contribution, suggestions and feedback in developing the reopening plan. Although we could not agree on all the details, we reached a consensus on the plan.
I would like to thank Elton Thompson, Emmanuel Glasu and all the Clerical Staff for their work this summer.
Finally, I would like to thank all of you, especially the Board of Education, for trusting me with this important task of leading the district for the past 9 years. The district in a good place and the new leadership will continue the good work we have begun and build on it, including the impending capital improvement project.
I would like to ask you all for a favor. If while performing my duties as a Superintendent, I offended any of you in any way, I ask for forgiveness. It was never my intention to hurt anyone. Sometimes, in upholding district policies and procedure and following educational law, my actions may have caused undue and unintended harm and pain to some people. If that happened, I am sorry and ask for forgivingness.
As for me, there is no room in my heart of resentment and grudges. If any of you did anything to hurt me deliberately or unintentionally, I don’t even remember but I forgive them anyway.
It has been a great experience serving you as your Superintendent.
I wish you all and the district success in this and all the years ahead.