Supt. of Chelsea Schools Dr. Almi Abeyta participated in a Boston Globe/Harvard Graduate School of Education conference titled: All in This Together? How to Minimize Harm in Reopening Schools [during the COVID-19 pandemic].
Boston Globe reporter Sarah Carr moderated the discussion while Sarah Dryden-Peterson, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, delivered the opening remarks. Dr. Abeyta was joined at the conference by fellow panelists, Patricia Callan, a Beverly parent, Kwame Adams, program manager for the Office of School Transformation in the Boston Public Schools, and Kyhmani James, a senior at Boston Latin Academy.
James stated the importance of education in a person’s life, later expressing an appreciation for the work that all teachers do for their students. An outstanding student representative for his school in the widely viewed conference, James said the students “who should be prioritized first in the district’s plan for reopening schools should be those with greater academic needs, those with IEPs, and just overall students that need more attention that other students may need to be really been successful in the classroom.”
Before her opening remarks, Dr. Abeyta praised James’s eloquent presentation, telling him, “I recommend that you become a superintendent.”
In her opening comments, Dr. Abeyta said that her most important priority in the reopening of schools are the safety of school staff and families.
“And the second most important thing is mental health,” said Abeyta. “I’m very concerned about mental health, so I look at my budget, I’m thinking of increasing social workers and how can we increase family and community engagement. With a full remote start in Chelsea, the critical need and the question that I have is: How do I engage my families? We need to connect better to our families.”
Abeyta told the audience that the Chelsea school district is reaching out to community members to assist students and families during the coronavirus through a initiative called “trust visits.”
“It’s bringing communities together,” said Abeyta. “We solicited volunteers for the community for roles as interpreters – former students, some School Committee members, and our local partner organizations. It’s important that we reach out to our families during this time.”
Responding to a question from Carr, Abeyta addressed the topic of teacher safety and parents solidly in favor of an in-person return to the classroom.
“At this point in time, the reopening of schools really is controversial because you have the safety issue, which is at the forefront in my mind and you’re also thinking about education,” said Abeyta. “For a superintendent, you’re in the middle and it’s a no-win situation in any decision you make. So being in that predicament, it’s tough, but at the end of the day at least for us in Chelsea with or [coronavirus] percent positivity rates, it boils down to safety and what is going to be most safe for everybody in our community to stop the spread of COVID.”
Abeyta, representing the voice of superintendents in the forum, came across as knowledgeable, professional, and engaging during the conference, helping educators and students prepare for the safest and most effective delivery of education during these unprecedented times.