It has been approximately one year since the COVID-19 pandemic so dramatically impacted our community. Our collective heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones and we pray for the many who have been negatively affected and continue to struggle with this horrific illness.
While we are far from clear of the pandemic, we can take solace in knowing that the warmer weather, mitigation strategies, and introduction of vaccinations should provide significant relief moving forward.
The one-year mark seemed a fitting time for reflection on the pandemic and the impact it has had on our students. The pandemic was certainly not exclusive to students in Cheshire, but the community response has been extraordinary. Cheshire Public Schools (CPS) began remote instruction two days after closing schools last March while others took weeks to transition. We have provided the option of full-time in-person learning in grades pre-K through 8 for the entire school year. Cheshire High School returned in a hybrid model while many high schools in the state remained virtual. \
Cheshire High School was one of the first high schools of its size to bring more students back to four full-day, in-person days per week and are continuing to add more in-person learners. While other districts struggled to provide synchronous real-time learning for both in-person and remote learners, CPS has provided this from the start of the year. The result of these efforts is that our students have been exposed to dramatically more instructional time than many of their peers across Connecticut.
Our students are actually performing at or above where they typically would be on many assessments, which is amazing under the circumstances. They have also had the emotional benefit of more in-person time with peers and adults than most of their peers. This success should be a source of pride for our community.
The entire Cheshire community has supported us every step of the way. Our students have been amazing and I am proud of them. There was so much concern last August about whether or not the students would wear masks. We worried, “Maybe the masks would be uncomfortable or that perhaps students would simply be defiant increasing the chance of transmission.” Our fears were soon allayed. Our students have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to their peers, our community, and their own education by being so compliant with the mitigation strategies.
It’s been such a difficult year for our students on so many levels. I can’t imagine how hard it is for a child or teenager to lose so much of what they love in music, athletics, drama, birthday parties, travel, and more, and still be dedicated to school. Our students have been extraordinary and their flexibility and perseverance serve as models for our community.
Of course, our parents deserve a great deal of credit for the success of our students and schools. Hundreds of parents met with me and our Assistant Superintendent, Marlene Silano, in Google Meets last summer. They expressed their concerns, shared their feedback from last spring, and provided suggestions for how to move into the unknown. Since the start of school, parents have had to endure quarantine situations and schedule changes that can be extremely challenging. Most importantly, however, parents have done what they do best — provide unending support for their children.
Parental academic and emotional support has never been more critical for our students and staff. I thank every parent for managing so well during this most difficult year.
I am also so proud of every member of the CPS team. Our teachers and staff have demonstrated inspiring courage and commitment through the pandemic. It has not always been easy to swallow the fear of COVID-19 to come to work each day, but they did so with trust in our experts and dedication to their students. There isn’t any individual working in our schools who hasn’t had to cope with a substantial change in their work experience as a result of the pandemic. From bus drivers monitoring personal protective equipment (PPE) compliance to principals engaging in contact tracing, everything is different. Our nursing team led by Head Nurse Nancy Stanton has provided expert guidance, support, and stability necessary to meet the needs of students in an ever-changing pandemic landscape. Likewise, our maintenance team answered our call for stepped-up cleaning protocols and ensuring our learning spaces meet guidelines for social distancing.
Our technology support team has worked unceasingly to pave the way for learning. However, perhaps the greatest shift has been asking teachers and instructional assistants to provide instruction to students in person and those at home through Google Meet at the same time. There are still so many people I know outside of our staff a year into our remote world who continue to struggle on a Zoom call with family, let alone provide synchronous learning to an entire class mix of remote and in-person learners. The efforts of our staff have been Herculean and our community should be so proud to have this team of dedicated professionals teaching our children.
Last but not least in this effort has been the community itself. Maura Esposito and her team at Chesprocott are on the phone with me or our nurses daily. Their guidance has always been timely and their advice critical in managing the myriad of unique challenges we have faced. They have provided expert guidance to our Chief Operating Officer, Vincent Masciana, to ensure a safe environment and that we were only purchasing materials that would truly make our buildings safer.
Our district physician, Dr. Jim O’Connor, has provided meaningful guidance around mitigation strategies and case management. Our Board of Education (Anthony Perugini-Chair, Adam Grippo, Kathryn Hallen, Anne Harrigan, Andrew Martelli, Faith Ham, Tim White) has held countless meetings to monitor progress and provide opportunities to exchange information with the community. And of course, countless CHS alumni came to the rescue substituting in our schools, truly defining what it means to be a community contributor.
As I look back at this extraordinary year, I’m reminded of a John F. Kennedy quote. While speaking at the convocation of the United Negro College Fund, then-Senator Kennedy shared the following: “When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters — one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” While Cheshire has faced the danger of COVID-19, we have also leveraged the opportunity to grow closer as a community.
Thank you to all of you who have made the most of your opportunity to step forward and support our students over this past year!