Public education remains the nation’s great equalizer, giving every child the best chance for success in life. A chance that can turn into an assurance if school districts provide a solid foundation at every step in a student’s path toward graduation and beyond. Unfortunately, too many children right now are standing on shaky ground.
As the superintendent of Meriden Public Schools (MPS) in Meriden, Conn., I can tell you not one of our 8,500 children emerged from the pandemic completely unscathed. The academic and emotional fallout took its toll on everyone. However, it’s been especially hard on students who need extra support, including English learners, students in special education programs, and those who have been disenfranchised from or disengaged with education in general.
Over the years, MPS has developed strategies to help our administrators, teachers, and staff become stronger advocates for their students and to more effectively engage community partners and families. Our goal is to ensure education works for every child, regardless of their circumstances.
1. Start with student data, focus on the child. At the MPS central office, we review attendance, discipline, and referral data as well as Getting to Know You surveys to identify students performing below proficiency, at risk for behavior issues, or over-aged and under-credited. From there, we send indicators to the educators with boots on the ground, helping teachers and instructional coaches build one-on-one relationships with students to address their specific education needs, provide assistance through academic accommodations, and guide them on the right path toward graduation and eventually college or trade school or competitive employment.
Just as important as it is to prevent struggling students from slipping through the cracks is to support those with greater potential. School-based mentors who understand their students’ goals can recommend AP classes or dual-credit courses that provide the challenges they need while preparing them for the next step in their education.
Educators and administrators have to understand not every child has the luxury of an advocate at home. For many of those who do, their caretakers want to do more, but may not be aware of the options available or are burdened with challenges of their own. We need to be there for students who don’t have anyone saying, ”What reading interventions are available for my child?” or “My child should be in a higher math class.”
2. Support the teachers who are supporting your students. Educators strive to ask our children the right questions to determine if they’re struggling with their mental, emotional, and physical health so they can be connected to services. Many of us ask similar questions of teachers who hide their own stressors to care for their students.
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