It has been some three weeks since schools across New York closed. In that time, it’s been a steep learning curve to carry on remotely. We get one view of how it’s been to run a school district during the COVID-19 pandemic from a superintendent in Ulster County.
Kingston City School District Superintendent Dr. Paul Padalino says the district has had to reinvent everything it does.
“So I think, we look at my food service people. And I think that’s one of the things that we keep focusing on is that they’re out there every day. They’re providing lunches and breakfast for our students,” Padalino says. “We’ve provided, distributed about 7,000 meals so far, and we’re continuously getting better at it. We added three new locations last week.”
He helped secure protective gear for the food service workers Monday with more to come. Padalino spoke during a Facebook Live Town Hall Tuesday with Kingston High School graduate and Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, who posed a question.
“We had pizza Fridays, at least in high school. Is that still a thing?” Ryan asks.
“Yes, it is, it’s still a thing,” says Padalino.
“So are people getting pizza now or what’s the deal with that?” Ryan asks.
“Again, that’s one of the other things about changing how we do things. We’re a hot food preparation service. That’s basically what we do is hot food, so to change gears and go to a cold lunch, bagged lunch kind of thing… One of our first struggles early on was we didn’t have enough bags because we don’t, we’re not a to-go facility, so gearing up and making those things happen,” says Padalino. “But yes, during the regular school year, we will go back to pizza Fridays.”
“Everybody’s excited about that. That’s the light at the end of the tunnel,” Ryan says. “
“The crust is now whole wheat instead of…” Padalino says.
“Oh wow, fancy, alright,” says Ryan.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently extended school closures to April 29th. The Facebook forum allowed for questions, one being how likely does Padalino think it is that students will return to school at all this year? Vermont and Pennsylvania have already canceled classes for the rest of the year.
“I’d say that’s probably the number-one question I get every day is when are we coming back. I wish I knew. This is something that we watch the governor, everybody watches the governor every day, every morning to see what he’s saying about what things look like. Right now, I just go by what we’re told. Right now we’re planning to come back on the 29th , but we’re also putting our plan B in place for if we are extended beyond there. I think I talked a lot about thanking people but, our tech department has been amazing setting up all the distance learning that we’ve set up. We’ve set up hotspots in neighborhoods so students can get access to their devices. We’ve handed out about 1,500 devices to students so they can use them at home,” says Padalino. “So we’re gearing up to be ready for the long haul but I’m hoping that we don’t need to be.”
The Regents tests have been cancelled, and one resident wanted to know how students would be evaluated. Padalino says he received guidance from the state Department of Education Tuesday about how to establish criteria for graduation.
“We’re working on that now. Within the next couple of days, we’ll have a parent, a letter out to parents explaining what we’re doing but this is, again, totally reinventing the way we do things, taking away the Regents exams, looking a little more at the local measures and the performance of the students in the classroom,” says Padalino.
Another resident asked how grades are being handled and if the district would move to a pass/fail system.
“We are staying with the regular grading process. We’re not going to go to a pass/fail. We did extend our marking period a little extra time so students who had missed work that they could get that done and we could, again, actually have some grades there, but we’re trying to stay as close to our regular school year, and as close to our regular school procedures, as possible,” says Padalino. “And I think it’s about… I think one of the things lost in this also is the teachers know. The teachers can assess students. We don’t need tests every, state tests and Regents exams. The teachers know who’s ready to move on. They know what the students need to give them the support to help them to move on. And so we’re relying on their expertise and their professionalism, and they’ll do that.”
Padalino says parents have lots of questions about navigating the technology for remote learning. There is a tech helpline (845-943-3020, option 1) as well as a number to reach bilingual family workers for families where English is a second language (845-943-3939).