A Silver Lining

Kevin Casey, SAANYS Executive Director
January 2022 News & Notes

When looking back to March of 2020 and events since that time, it is easy to focus on the negative, in part because there is so much of it. First and foremost are the deaths that occurred due to the pandemic. There is no recovery from that, and the impact on affected families can be devastating.

There are also any number of other hardships so many have had to endure. Illness with uncertain long-term impact. Lost employment, personal financial stress, housing disruption, education disruption… The hardships are not limited to adults, and educators are in a unique position to witness the adverse impact the pandemic has had on both students and educational structures.

The use of technology as a substitute for in-person instruction produced mixed results. It did provide a measure of safety from exposure. There are those that thrived, those that checked out, and for most (a pure assumption on my part) it was a poor substitute for in-person instruction that at least mitigated the adverse impact of not attending school at all.

Once students were back in school, it became clear that the return to school was not a return to pre-pandemic normalcy. Student behavioral issues became more widespread. The pre-pandemic expectation of learning progression was widely delayed and mental health issues became more prevalent. Transportation issues, a shortage of substitutes, physical testing, quarantines, masking, and distancing all served to disrupt the educational routine.

The impacts are not limited to students. Staff have been stressed to the point where substitutes and bus drivers are hard to find. Teachers and administrators struggle to keep up with an ever-changing regulatory construct and this all occurs in an environment of increasing incivility and hostility among adults. Is it any wonder that a recent survey of principals conducted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals found that approximately 45 percent of those surveyed were considering accelerating their retirement plans?

 So, in the face of rising rates of infection, what is the silver lining? After an extended period of scrambling to develop responses to the circumstance of the moment, it seems to me that there is more and more evidence of intentionality in methodically addressing needs. At the SAANYS annual conference in October, the highest rated session was conducted by neurologist Dr. Romie Mushtaq, which focused on personal stress management. I know some might say the need for stress management assistance from a medical professional is hardly cause for celebration, but I think that having so many administrators taking affirmative steps to deal with stress in a positive and appropriate way is a healthy sign. Self-care is a condition precedent to the care of others.

The State Education Department has been using its regulatory authority to do what it can to be responsive to the real-world environment in our schools. It recently canceled the January Regent’s exams, and have modified, at least temporarily, a variety of regulations in recognition of the realities faced by educators, and recently submitted a school accountability waiver application to the United States Department of Education. Perhaps last in the numerous details is the very intentional focus of SED to be supportive of educators. Its efforts to be a customer service focused agency is described by Commissioner Rosa in her column in the fall 2021 edition of SAANYS Vanguard magazine, and I can speak from personal experience that it is working.

SED is not alone in seeking input from educators on how to create a school environment that will support both students and staff while continuing to address the realities of the pandemic. Just days before officially becoming governor, now Governor Hochul held a Zoom call with several educational advocates to hear our position on a variety of pandemic-related school issues. Just before the calendar year end, Governor Hochul conducted another Zoom session with superintendents and building administrators on similar issues given current circumstances. The individual reader may agree or disagree with the governor’s positions, but we are being included in the conversation, which in the past did not always happen.

I am very well aware that SAANYS members, as well as other educators, have been working in a stress factory since March 2020. Burnout is real and 24/7 availability has been the norm. Educators have risen to face this challenge, and there now seems to me to be a greater recognition of, and sensitivity to, your efforts. There is a greater effort to be responsive to your needs, which in turn can only help your students and staff. It may not be an extensive or dramatic silver lining, but I believe it is a real one.