NOTE: This column from Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed was written in April while school was still in session. It was included in the May 2020 edition of the Update newsletter.
Dear Hopkins Community:
This surreal time brought on by the spread of COVID-19 has been trying and presents a need for reflection. If you’re like me, the respect I have for our teachers has risen exponentially. Working long hours from home while doing everything in my power to ensure my two children are engaged in Distance Learning is a task that reaffirms the awe and deep respect I have for our educators.
In Hopkins, we are asking ourselves and each other, “What will school look like in the fall?” That’s likely a question all of us are asking. There is a lot of conversation about whether we will return to “normal.” Before the pandemic took over our lives, public schools across the country were entrenched in educational practices that have existed for decades.
As your educational leader in Hopkins, the perspective I have on the successes and failures of the public education system are informed by years in the field working on both coasts, as well as four other school districts here in Minnesota. I imagine a different educational system, and I wonder if we can leverage what we’re learning during COVID-19 to inform the way we return to school. During Distance Learning, students and teachers have more choice. There is far more flexibility around working independently, signing into a group activity (or watching a recording of it later), and learning. Students and teachers are also assessing what’s valuable and meaningful about the content being received or provided. Students have described having less tolerance for “busy” work; they yearn to dive deeper into critical thinking and contemplate real world problems and issues. A global pandemic powers our desire for meaningful experiences.
How will we decide what parts of "normal" served all students well, and what parts of "normal" kept all students from excelling? To best answer this, we need the voices of students, teachers, and families. How has COVID-19 and Distance Learning changed us? What do we desire more or less of, and how can we organize our education system differently to ensure that we chase the successes and confront our failures? We have students who prefer a distance learning model and who are succeeding more in this environment. How might they have more choice in how their learning is organized moving forward? We have students and families who were isolated because of income or race before the pandemic, who may feel or be even more marginalized, ignored, undereducated because of the pandemic. What factors of in-person school will we adjust to more effectively meet the diverse needs of all of our families?
There is so much to contemplate as we organize ourselves for post-pandemic learning. My hope is that we have the courage to do things even better than we did before we got hit by this storm. Our students and families deserve our determination to create a new normal that works for all, rather than revert to the old normal that only worked for some. Let this be a call to action for all of us to ensure every student and member of the Hopkins community is part of our new normal.
Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed, Superintendent