Guest columnists Andrea Egitto and Amy Hudzik: A recipe for school success in new future

  • A multi-ethnic group of students' hands raised in front of a classroom blackboard. There are 18 hands raised, visible to the wrist or elbow, and seen from the side of the palm. The blackboard is dark green and has been freshly erased. Rawpixel

Published: 7/12/2020 4:00:10 PM

Last November, our commonwealth celebrated the passage of the Student Opportunity Act, broadly supported legislation committing the state to a $1.5 billion investment in public schools over the next seven years to better meet the needs of all students.

That seems like a lifetime ago.

Our education landscape has fundamentally changed as districts grapple to keep students safe while we wait for a vaccination to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The traumatic upheaval brought on by the rapid need to transition to remote learning has further exposed the inequities within our public education system. And those inequities, especially hard felt in schools serving Black and Brown communities, are even more alarming as the country confronts its long, brutal history of systemic racism.

The problems that the Student Opportunity Act addressed not only still exist but are even more dire. Public schools will need more resources and personnel to successfully meet the needs of students as we continue to deliver lessons remotely and come up with strategies for a safe return to school buildings. And as protests have made clear, to us — those who educate your children — it is imperative that public education is at the center of the work necessary to create a more just, fair and caring society.

That means having more Black and Brown teachers in all our public schools. That means public school districts working with Black and Brown communities to develop socially and culturally relevant curriculum for students of all ages.

Now more than ever, we need a robust investment in the educational needs — from technology to nutrition — of underserved populations. Resources must be available to provide the appropriate opportunities for students along the entire educational spectrum, no matter where those students live. Necessary staffing and resources must be available not only for academic achievement, but also for students’ social and emotional well-being.

The Western Massachusetts Educators Action Network (WeMEAN), a coalition of more than 30 locals of unionized public-school educators from more than two dozen communities, recently shared its concerns with state legislators examining remote learning and planning for the safe return to school buildings.

WeMEAN believes that public education is the foundation of our communities and our democracy and demands that the necessary steps be taken for public schools to emerge from these dark times even stronger. First, we must recover, and then we must thrive.

To achieve that, parents, educators, community members, and leaders must all work together to secure the federal funding that will be necessary to stabilize our state economy hard hit by the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. And our state leaders must properly allocate funding so that our public schools are fully supported.

Understanding what that support entails will require the input from a broad range of stakeholders. This must include the often-overlooked input from teachers, education support professionals, counselors, nurses and school staff — and of course students and their families.

That is the only way to make sure that the myriad needs in our public education system are clearly understood by both decision-makers and those most closely affected by education policy.

Now is the time for all of us to resist the false narrative of failing schools; now is the time for all of us to seize the opportunity to create a public education model that is transformational and progressive in its inclusivity; and now is the time for all of us to be vigilant about providing students with the education that they deserve and taking collective action to deliver that.

As we move through a period of transitions toward an improved, revamped model of public education, it is also important that authentic teaching be allowed to flourish and that rigid standardized testing be placed on hold, if not outright dropped once and for all.

Above all else, educators want our students to succeed and thrive, and that process looks quite different from student to student. Student success relies on teacher expertise, not on standardized test scores.

We need a public education system that recognizes the unique needs of individual students and places more value on the personal relationships that spark learning than on tests that measure narrow skill sets.

Now more than ever is the time to create public schools that are academically strong, socially just and universally equitable.

Andrea Egitto is president of the Northampton Association of School Employees. Amy Hudzik is co-president of the Hatfield Teaching Association. They write on behalf of the Western Mass Educators Action Network.

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