Colleen Michaels via shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic is giving educators an opportunity to reinvent educational systems and redesign schools, according to the keynote speaker at a Bridgeport-based education symposium held Wednesday.

Sara A. Sneed, president and CEO of the National Education Association Foundation, addressed nearly 70 educators and community leaders as part of “Redefining the Future of Public Education,” an online event co-sponsored by the Bridgeport Public Education Fund and Connecticut Education Association.

“Will we return to normal or will we seize the moment to rethink what schools can be?” asked Sneed. “We must harness this moment and not return to our old ways.”

Among Sneed’s specific proposals was the development of a new digital infrastructure that would ensure every student in America has both a computer and connectivity. The total cost is $6 billion, she said, which she said represents just “one-half of one percent of the total federal dollars” dedicated to COVID recovery so far.

In addition, Sneed addressed the other pandemic facing the nation, from which schools have not been exempt. She said our country “must come face to face with racism, especially in the educational arena. Why is it acceptable for some kids to attend ‘brass and glass’ schools while others attend decrepit facilities?”

“Justice is standing at the schoolhouse door, knocking and knocking,” she said.

Sneed’s keynote address was followed by breakout sessions that addressed topics including the future of digital learning, children’s social/emotional needs, special education, educational policy, and the role of community organizations.

“We need all the stakeholders at the table,” said Katy Gale, a CEA board member and one of the symposium’s organizers. “It’s the beginning of the conversation to drive change.”

Along those lines, Sneed promoted the concept of “children’s cabinets,” a collaboration of local public agencies responsible for education, health, and housing. To help students overcome the challenges they face outside the classroom, Sneed said these groups must work in an interconnected fashion. 

Regarding digital education, several participants noted that the current hybrid model in which groups of students are simultaneously in class and online is unsustainable in the long term.

“I see a great deal of stress from educators, both young and old,” said Donald Perras, a classroom management consultant from Stratford.

However, all the feedback about digital learning was not negative. Among the positives is the way it has facilitated collaboration among colleagues and also between educators and families that just wasn’t possible before, according to Chris Clouet, an adviser to Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona.

Sneed ended her address by noting that President-elect Joe Biden has stated his intention to ensure his federal education department focuses on special education and children’s mental health. She pointed out that his marriage to Dr. Jill Biden, who is also an educator, may provide teachers with the best access they have had to a president.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink and reimagine school systems,” concluded Sneed.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 31st year as an English teacher and 16th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

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