It is no secret that one of the largest and most highly rated school districts in Western New York has struggled mightily in attempting to deliver a school reopening plan that meets the needs of all of its students and families, while providing a quality education at the same time that meets the 180-day standard mandated by the New York State Department of Education.
These struggles reached a critical point a little over a week ago when shortly before 5 p.m. on a Friday before a holiday weekend, then Superintendent Scott Martzloff sent out a message indicating that remote learning for all students in grades 5-12, approximately 1,400 people, would be delayed indefinitely with no indication as to when those students would be able to start receiving their education.
As a parent of four Williamsville School District (WSD) students, I, like so many parents, found this announcement to be infuriating. As a senior level education administrator who has spent the past six months doing little to nothing else but ensuring that the institution at which I serve would be able to open safely and provide quality, equitable education to all of our students, the ineffectiveness and callousness with WSD’s planning lit a fire under me.
While I applaud the board for placing the former superintendent on administrative leave and conducting an investigation into his administration’s reopening planning, or lack thereof, and acknowledge that they had limited options for an interim, I have spent these last few days increasingly angry as I see history repeating itself with not a “new day in Williamsville” as the acting superintendent indicated, but the same song with a different beat.
Showing a video where you gleefully welcome students back to in-person instruction at the same time you virtually address a room full of angry parents whose kids could not have a first day could be described as tone deaf at best. Two days later, moving all students to online learning, regardless of their choice or why they made it, with a proposed return to class date of January, is not a decision made for equitable education, but one that is ignorant to the diverse needs of students and families.
People chose hybrid models based on their need to work or to ensure that their student with accommodations could keep up with the work and/or because they did not have the resources or support at home to assist in their student’s education in an online format.
To move everyone online under the guise of equity speaks to the same concern with the opening video – senior leadership and the School Board do not really understand equity, diversity and/or access. They have just compounded an already difficult situation.
While I appreciate the board holding the former superintendent accountable, who is holding the board accountable for this mess: for not demanding more updates through the summer, or properly vetting a plan that was shown to be poorly constructed for months, or for appointing an interim superintendent who was formerly in charge of HR when one of the major failures was the lack of understanding the hiring needs of this situation? Or, for putting teachers, who are the only saving grace of this district right now, in an untenable situation?
At this point, we need to try to salvage a lost year for our students and their families, but we must demand better from our school leaders and the board. We must demand that we see the results of this open investigation to the failures of this reopening plan and conduct a broad search for a new superintendent that does include internal candidates from the central office.
Greg J. Nayor, Ph.D., currently serves as a vice president at Daemen College.
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