As parents, we’re all now superintendents

Pandemic is turning homes into schoolhouses

I RECENTLY DECLARED a “snow day” for my school district.

I made the call early after my oldest son complained of a toothache and my younger two boys came down with a serious case of the wiggles. The forecast said the afternoon would be in the 60s, and after a long stretch of rainy, cold weather and tensions bubbling over after spending days cooped up in tight quarters, I used the new powers at my disposal as superintendent, teacher, principal, psychologist, lunch lady, and janitor of the district that consists of my home.

I am a brand new superintendent. Our district has three students.

Two of them attended elementary school and one went to middle school in pre-COVID-19 times. After a period of radio silence from their three teachers, our family has now been bombarded with email after email after email from teachers experimenting with Zoom, Google Classroom, and Google Hangouts. Some teachers are admitting their struggle with technology (I appreciate their honesty), while others are barking orders at me via email (they can’t call me?) to opt-in to the district setting up email accounts for my children immediately.

Does my first grader remember his log-in to the four different educational websites I’ve now been emailed? Nope. He likes Prodigy Math and reading Captain Underpants. We’re doing that plus some of the spelling words Superintendent Rodrigues found on the Great Schools website before his teacher figured out how to send them. He’s also helping his Nana in the yard, where he is learning grit, determination, and patience.

Matthew and David Lorenzo working on Prodigy Math in their home classroom. (Photo courtesy of Keri Rodrigues)

My second grader’s teacher isn’t so confident about Zoom, so now we’re switching to Google Classroom — but the class code isn’t working, so we still can’t log in. Luckily, he’s obsessed with the different systems of the human body. And Prodigy Math, so he talked Superintendent Rodrigues into buying the full membership. She bought the six-month package.

My almost 13-year-old son, who has autism and special needs, has completely retreated inside his shell of listening to music to cope with his anxiety now that he no longer has access to the emotional support systems and coping strategies that come with his IEP.

Is his IEP supposed to be honored? Who knows. His teachers are now trying, but this is week four. Guidance would have been helpful about two-and-a-half weeks ago. For now, Superintendent Rodrigues has decided we’re going to stick with keeping him emotionally fulfilled, take advantage of moments of curiosity, and try to avoid emotional breakdowns and impulsive behavior. Hopefully some reading too.

My home, and new school district, is not unique. In fact, it’s better than most.

As the founder and Mom-and-Chief of the education advocacy group Massachusetts Parents United, my colleagues and I are talking with thousands of families in 17 communities around the Commonwealth via Facebook Live channels in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, and Vietnamese.

Keri Rodrigues and David on a banana break. (Photo courtesy of Keri Rodrigues)

These are families who say their top priorities include paying bills after losing their jobs and their businesses while struggling to file for unemployment or making the choice to leave children home alone or with older siblings so they can hold on to their “essential” jobs as grocery store clerks and health care workers. Parents are struggling to secure resources for their children with special needs or to get information from school districts translated into their own languages. Others are attempting to find help to overcome digital literacy issues — if they can even manage to get equipment to connect to the internet — or simply gaining access to food, getting or keeping a roof over their head.

They’re doing all this while managing the expectations of being a brand new superintendent for the school district within their home.

Meanwhile, the state’s two teachers’ unions are trying to exploit this unprecedented crisis by aggressively advancing their anti-testing agenda. They aren’t even subtle about it.  Like Donald Trump so often does, they say the quiet part out loud. They admit their goal is to eliminate standardized testing forever, not just this year.

While families are struggling to stay afloat and thousands of classroom teachers are working hard to create new curricula for their students (while trying to care for their own children), leaders of the teachers’ unions are focused on their political agenda. It’s shameful.

It’s time to reconnect with reality.

Cancel MCAS tests this spring? Sure. But not permanently. In my new-found role as superintendent, I wish I had more information about my students to inform my work with them. I want my children’s classroom teachers to have data about their learning needs.

The 180-day requirement for schools this year? Absurd. As far as I know, there has been no guidance offered about what counts as a school day. Does every day count, even days when students have zero connection to their teachers?

It’s time to start thinking about developing a 360-degree assessment similar to those offered during the three-year evaluation process for special education students with IEPs. That process could incorporate direct feedback from parents who have guided their children during this period and thoroughly evaluate social/emotional regression and learning loss.

Lower your expectations. Find your humanity.

Our children and families are currently experiencing the greatest crisis our nation has faced in a generation — all while trying to hold on to our physical health, our jobs, our housing, and the fundamental emotional fabric of our families.

Meet the Author

Keri Rodrigues

Founder and CEO, Massachusetts Parents United
Support your new superintendents. We need it.

Keri Rodrigues is president of the education advocacy group National Parents Union and founder of Massachusetts Parents United. She lives in Somerville with her three sons.