Alexis Goldberg, Urban Assembly Managing Director of School Support
Right now, local and federal budgets are facing shortfalls and New York City schools are feeling the impact of economic constraints. With limited budgets, schools face staffing challenges that are devastating in a moment when more resources are critical, not less. Principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, and counselors are the frontline workers of the field, and those roles must be prioritized. As a system, we must not make cuts so deep that no one is left to provide coaching, expertise and professional development for our educators, especially since the demands and complexity of these roles have grown exponentially since the onset of the pandemic.
It is imperative that the public education system as a whole prioritize organizations that provide meaningful services to school based staff as they strive to support their students in this complicated moment.
The reopening of school has been a quagmire of logistical and operational challenges, each one more confounding than the last. As one leader confided to me, “you really want to know my ‘vision’ for the year? Survive. ” School staff are holding an enormous burden on behalf of their communities, and they must be supported as well. According to Education Weekly, “Principals are attuned to the social-emotional needs of their staff and students. But they also experienced the trauma of the last six months… They also need emotional support.”
Enter the school support organization. The Urban Assembly, a non-profit that works closely with the NYC Department of Education, has a long tradition of leveraging our community for collective learning and growth. In the last decade we have increased our graduation rate from 75% to 89% and across our schools and on average our students’ grow 50 points in proficiency in math and 68 points ELA between the time they enter our schools and the time they graduate.
The role of support organizations in creating the space and support for educators to prioritize equitable practices in teaching and learning is critical right now. The goal of this year should not be just to survive, but to use this opportunity — when everything we know about teaching and learning is upended — to do better. School Support organizations help ‘classrooms’ become fluid spaces for learning by providing school leaders and educators with the training, resources, and social-emotional tools they need to create learning environments in students’ homes and communities.
In this new landscape, it is even more critical to support school personnel. At the Urban Assembly, we are bringing together leaders to share and problem-solve on what high quality anti-racist school looks like in a pandemic. We are providing essential entry points to social and emotional well-being for students by providing robust social and emotional curriculum and support for adults implementing this curriculum. We are coaching teachers on adapting to the hybrid world and solving for student engagement when you don’t have your typical classroom tools. We are supporting guidance counselors with tools for virtual postsecondary education, and bringing our research on how higher ed and the job market are changing back to the K-12 space. We create channels for our communities to share and grow together, via listservs, slack channels, and zoom rooms. No one should have to navigate these transitions without a community.
The system has a responsibility to students and families to do all we can to support students during these challenging times. The DOE must provide the resources needed for support organizations to help schools. School support organizations have what it takes to help schools to meet this moment: the skills, tools and resources.