An Open Letter to PJSD About Distance Learning

An Open Letter to PJSD About Distance Learning

File photo by Elana Glowatz

This is an open letter to the members of the Port Jefferson board of education, Port Jefferson Teachers Association and Port Jefferson Administrators Association.

We hope this letter finds you well and healthy. On behalf of Port Jefferson PTA, PTSA and SEPTA we are reaching out to share our thoughts as the district prepares to re-open in the fall. First and foremost, we would like to thank each of you for your time and dedication to maintaining the excellence we enjoy at Port Jefferson School District. We also want to take this opportunity to express our support for the teachers and administrators as they have navigated distance learning during this unprecedented global pandemic. We feel it is important as the representative parent/teacher organizations in the district that we share with the board of education our, as well as many of our members, thoughts and concerns that have arisen regarding the education of our children under the constraints of this pandemic. We hope that by doing this we can come together to create solutions that will allow our district and children to shine as we face the monumental challenges of reopening and keeping everyone safe and healthy.

As you know, without a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19 there is a high likelihood that the next school year will be impacted by the pandemic as well. We are aware district administrators are currently planning for this new “normal” and are discussing the possibility of returning in the fall to a “hybrid” model that includes some component of distance learning. In the event this is the case and the district is forced to continue to employ some component of distance learning, we are urging the board of education to ensure that any model employed during the 2020-21 school year provides our students with consistent daily virtual interaction and live instruction. Our children need their teachers to teach them. We understand that some school districts on Long Island delivered “live” teaching district-wide and believe that going forward this would be the best way to maintain the excellence in education that Port Jefferson School District has always provided.

We understand that our teachers and administrators were faced with an enormous challenge to develop and provide a distance learning program on very little notice. We understand that it wouldn’t be as comparable to a regular school day. We have all done the best we could, given the circumstances. However, despite everyone’s efforts, the model employed by the district during the spring translated to an inconsistent educational standard/experience across the

district. Teachers were given the discretion to “host synchronous and/or asynchronous

instructional activities.” This primarily led to little live instruction and an uneven learning experience across the district. While some teachers offered live and/or pre-recorded instruction, many did not and instead only posted assignments to Google Classroom (or various other platforms) which then placed the burden of teaching those assignments on the parents. As parents, we of course want to educate our children, but we are not trained educators and many of us still have our own jobs to perform. Being forced to become a teacher and work at the same time becomes an impossible task. 

This scenario creates an inadequate educational experience for our children putting our kids further behind on the competitive world stage. In addition to the decreased educational standard that has occurred as a result of this crisis it is also concerning that some teachers had weekly “check in’s” and worse still some had no virtual live interaction with their students during the entire length of the school closure. For the few teachers who provided live instruction we applaud their dedication, creativity and adaptability in continuing to deliver excellence in education during these unprecedented times. We are now calling for all of our teachers to provide education at this level of excellence during the next school year in the event the district is forced to employ some sort of hybrid model that includes distance learning.

For many parents, the current mindset is that 2019-20 was a lost school year. Were it a limited event affecting the end of a single school year we understand the crisis of the situation and can accept a lower standard that emergencies demand. However, the reality of the situation is that this pandemic will sadly go on for longer than any of us hoped and we cannot completely let go of the standards our children deserve. This pandemic has forced many changes upon us. All industries have had to adapt. As we weathered the initial crisis, we must now begin to prepare so that the 2020-21 school year is not a lost educational year as well. Given the great educators the district employs coupled with the advances in technology we believe that Port Jefferson School District can excel at this challenge. Let us be the district that leads and that other districts strive to emulate.

We urge the board of education, the Teachers’ Association and the Administrator’s Association to approach the 2020-21 school year as an opportunity for Port Jefferson to become recognized as the gold standard in distance learning to the extent the school is not able to return to a traditional school day. As parents, we believe that any distance learning plan should include, at a minimum:

• Live virtual and/or pre-recorded teaching that matches the amount of active, teaching time provided during a regular school day.

• Daily/weekly “office hours” for any teacher not utilizing “live teaching” so that students can ask questions regarding content.

• Daily check ins for all classes — “attendance” including lists of what is due, when it is due and a way for students to check off that they read and understand.

• Support services such as speech, OT, PT and counseling offered in the amounts specified in IEPs through online platforms and teletherapy.

• A clear schedule for students to follow with time built in for outdoor time for exercise and play.

• Weekly emotional/educational phone call check ins with each student (use teachers, TAs, support staff).

Rethinking the way education is delivered is obviously a monumental task. We are confident, however, that our administrators and educators, working together and in consultation with our parents can come up with a plan that continues to deliver an excellent level of education to our students. We here at PTA, PTSA and SEPTA are eager to support the district in any way we can and would love to be involved in the process going forward, sitting on any committees that are convened of stakeholders. To quote high school Principal Dr. Robert Neidig, “[w]e will get through this and we will persevere, after all we are Royals.”

Sincerely,

Port Jefferson PTA, Port Jefferson PTSA, Port Jefferson SEPTA

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