Education in the Time of COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended public education in a way no one could have imagined. School districts across Massachusetts and the country were forced to adopt entirely new modes of instruction and curriculum delivery in an extraordinarily short period of time. As districts worked over the summer to develop their fall re-opening plans, difficult questions arose concerning equality of access to resources; safety of students, faculty, and staff; demands of remote education on parents; and negative impacts of remote learning on student mental health and learning. These challenges were compounded by mandates handed down by government officials without the funding necessary to implement them.

Tracey is proud of what Andover Public Schools was able to accomplish throughout the turmoil. In the spring of 2020, when other districts were laying off teachers and staff, Tracey supported retaining all staff and continuing to pay non-exempt staff (like instructional assistants) regardless of hours worked. Throughout the spring, Tracey advocated tirelessly for instructional consistency across the district. She also voted to continue to provide free and reduced lunch for food-insecure students even before the federal government promised to cover these costs and to provide devices for students and staff who needed them.

Over the summer of 2020, Tracey supported the herculean efforts of administrators who worked to balance feedback from many stakeholders with constantly evolving scientific data, in order to develop the three learning models required by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). She sought out experts in education, infectious disease, mental health, and HVAC to gather as much data as she could to evaluate the models being presented for Andover. She talked to as many stakeholders as possible to understand their concerns and their needs. It is no exaggeration to say the August 10, 2020 vote on which model to implement in the fall was the most difficult vote Tracey has taken since she was elected. After carefully considering the pros and cons of the models, Tracey voted to start the school year fully remote.

Tracey has never been so glad to be wrong.

The hybrid model and remote academy launched on September 17, 2020, and both have been more successful than Tracey imagined. In the hybrid model, it is clear the Andover Public Schools’ safety protocols work when everyone follows them. In the remote academy, students have significant live interaction with their teachers and a regular daily schedule. It may not be the school day most people are used to, but it is a vast improvement over the challenges of last spring.

Tracey knows there are pros and cons to each of these models — she sees this in real time with her two high school children. She is especially concerned about potential learning loss for special education, ELL, and elementary students, and about the serious mental health challenges adolescents face due to ongoing isolation from their peers. Tracey supports the district’s ongoing efforts to study the feasibility of bringing more students back to school buildings on more days, and remains committed to continuing these discussions on the School Committee.

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