Looking At ‘The Future Of Education’ Through A Local, National Lens

Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue shared her thoughts this week about the state of education locally and at large. Her observations by lei came days after The Hill hosted a March 17 “Future of Education” virtual event that included some Connecticut connections and representatives highlighting the current state of education across the nation.

The Hillaccording to Wikipedia, is an American newspaper and digital media company based in Washington, DC that in 2020, was the largest independent political news site in the United States.

Moderated by The Hill’s Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons, the event asked participants to speak to what states have been doing in the wake of two years of virtual and hybrid learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how federal funding is being used to advance education. Equity, pandemic learning loss, and the ways issues are being tackled were all part of the discussion.

US Secretary of Education Dr Miguel Cardona, who served as the Connecticut Commissioner of Education, said during the event, “I’m more concerned with complacency than I am about COVID.”

Cardona emphasized a need to focus on recovery and making education better than it was before, adding that American Rescue Plan grants from the federal government can help with that.

Cardona said “we can’t go into this passively” regarding diminishing gaps and providing students with a great educational experience, one in which they see themselves in the resources.

Connecticut Commissioner of Education Charlene Russell-Tucker also participated in the event, as did Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (D-CT), who is a member of the Education and Labor Committee and former National Teacher of the Year who taught in the Waterbury school system.

When asked what Connecticut is “getting right,” Russell-Tucker highlighted the state prioritizing family and community investments, mental health for students and staff, strategic use of technology, and making sure buildings are safe for students and staff. Leaning on a collaboration with public colleges and universities, Russell-Tucker said the state is also working on looking at what investments work.

Today’s high school students, Russell-Tucker reflected, are “our future leaders,” so investing in them is a community investment.

Later, Hayes said making sure teachers are supported is important, especially following the last two years. Hayes highlighted legislative efforts to raise pay for teachers and bolster the education pipeline and to make sure educators have all the supports they need. And until higher education is more affordable, Hayes said a way to make affording the required education for teachers sustainable is important.

In a phone interview with The Newtown Bee March 29, Rodrigue spoke about the impact the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) I, II, and III grants have had on Newtown. Some of the money was used for software and technology, personnel funds for support positions, and support to impact anticipated learning loss. Public input was collected in regard to uses for the ESSER III grant.

According to a presentation shared with the Board of Education in August of 2021, ESSER II budget funding included roughly $ 137,000 for special education teachers at Newtown Middle School, other special education teaching positions, and funding for multiple math interventionists. Other funding included more than $ 155,000 for technology and digital licenses, $ 25,000 for improving air quality, and more.

Following the last two years, Rodrigue said this week that Newtown’s biggest challenge is learning loss, which she said was an obvious and anticipated challenge. Another challenge is the last two years have made educators reflect on practices and how students are inspired to engage with the content. While she said hybrid and virtual learning may have left a “bad taste,” it also offered ways technology can be used as a tool to augment, support, and enrich student learning.

“Education is social, and we believe that firmly,” said Rodrigue, reflecting on the importance of having teachers and students present together in buildings.

And the last two years left an impact on socialization, Rodrigue shared, adding that it is important for schools to continue working with families to support students.

“We also gained a lot in this period,” Rodrigue said. “We learned a lot about how to engage students that might not be in the traditional way that we have done it in the past.”

Rodrigue said it is important to look at where students are and what types of jobs will be available for them when they graduate.

“We should be meeting students to make sure they are equipped for that,” said Rodrigue.

The pandemic’s affect on learning has brought funding and the impact the federal government can have on education to light, the superintendent reflected.

Rodrigue also shared the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) “Blueprint to Transform Connecticut’s Public Schools,” as an example of the efforts being made to impact education in the long-term.

According to the blueprint’s outline, which is available online at capss.org/capss-blueprint/capss-blueprint-to-transform-connecticuts-public-schools, “CAPSS chose to undertake this work seeing the urgent need for fundamental reform of Connecticut public education if the state is to serve equitably and responsibly every student in its public schools. “

Rodrigue said the CAPSS blueprint is just one plan to fundamentally transform schools, and efforts like it need to happen in order for that transformation to work.

She is hopeful for Newtown’s educational future.

“We have all the right staff, structures, and leadership in place to make up for whatever challenges are a result of the pandemic, perhaps revisions to programs we have to make, everything is in place. We just need to move it forward with a level of integrity and urgency. These are students moving forward into the world, and there isn’t a lot of time, ”said Rodrigue.

Education Editor Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at [email protected]

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