Dear Waterbury Public Schools Community, the City of Waterbury and Community Partners,
Since March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged school systems around the world. The pace has been frenetic as educational organizations have had to implement successful remote learning platforms essentially overnight, plan how to reopen schools amid changing epidemiological circumstances and support students academically and emotionally. Through the pandemic, the world has also experienced many life-changing events from social justice issues, environmental challenges, weather and fires resulting in considerable trauma. The lingering emotional and psychological toll of the events left little time for deeper reflection. Waterbury Public Schools is committed to the time and effort necessary to reflect, redesign and reimagine our education system to best meet the needs of our students. With that in mind, we are engaging our school staff, community partners and city officials to reimagine education in Waterbury with the creation of a think tank.
In January, the ESSER II (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds were announced for school districts across the state. Waterbury will receive $41,651,124 for the expressed purpose of supporting students and staff in four distinct categories.
In collaboration with the think tank, I invite you to engage in the work ahead in reimagining education in Waterbury. I will be seeking your input in offering feedback to the action planning that will be performed by the think tank’s five committees. Please take some time to read Reimagining a more equitable and resilient K-12 education system. The reading is not meant to place a limit on our thinking but to stimulate our thoughts about the future.
The priorities outlined below by the Connecticut State Department of Education involve robust partnerships and support at multiple levels.
• Academic Supports, Learning Loss, Learning Acceleration and Recovery (Teaching and Learning within our WPS Strategic Plan): Equity and access in education for students in Connecticut remains a top priority. As we have worked to help close the digital divide through technology and connectivity, we must measure and plan to address learning loss. Our academic supports must be positioned to accelerate learning and facilitate recovery. It is particularly important that we measure learning loss and target resources for our students disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Access must be focused on our most vulnerable students, including students whose progress decreased, students with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness, disengaged youth, or those with barriers to remote learning. Targeted supports that should be implemented include but are not limited to additional classroom supports, high dosage small group tutoring programs including in school and after school, extended day programs and expanded access to summer school.
• Family and Community Connections (Family and Community Engagement within WPS
Strategic Plan): Direct engagement with families and the community, such as faith-based organizations, businesses, and social service providers, will provide added supports for our students while we continue this school year and adapt to the changing dynamics of this pandemic. Among other opportunities to increase initiatives that engage school, family and community connections, schools should engage “Family Academy” programs aimed at providing parents and guardians with the skills to support their children’s academic endeavors, including those skills necessary to support technology use in the home.
• School Safety and Social-Emotional Well-being of the “Whole Student” and of our School
Staff (Post Graduate Options/Students Services within WPS Strategic Plan): There is an unprecedented level of stress on both students and staff members which must be addressed, both through social and emotional support and also through continued emphasis on public health safety measures. One focus area should be on additional behavioral and mental health services delivered in-person or via remote/ telehealth access and social and emotional support mechanisms, so that these supports are available even for individuals who may have limited in-person access. Resources should also continue to be allocated to support the physical health and safety of our students and staff, (e.g., to ensure adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies, etc.).
• Remote Learning, Staff Development, and the Digital Divide (Teaching and Learning and
Talent Management within WPS Strategic Plan): We have successfully worked to close the digital divide in Connecticut. Resources should be allocated to (1) maintain or upgrade access to technology and connectivity for the long term; (2) increase robust professional development for staff to hone their skills in providing remote learning; and (3) provide technical assistance and/or training for families, so that students, school staff, and families are all prepared to use remote platforms to effectively maximize student learning.
• Fiscal Responsibility: All students have equitable access to a high-quality education. Increase the capacity of the district and decision-makers to build a budget aligned to its strategic priorities for increasing access to equitable opportunities for all students. Develop and consolidate long-range plans prioritizing programmatic, facilities and infrastructure needs in order to support a stable and sustainable district as appropriate and allowable using ESSER II funding and/or allowable through other funding sources.
I look forward to the exciting work ahead and collaborating with our multiple stakeholders to reimagine education in Waterbury. Thank you for your continued support. Stay safe.
Dr. Verna D. Ruffin, Superintendent