September 10, 2020 Op-Ed submitted by Paul Austin, Superintendent of Hingham Public Schools and Kerry Ni, Chair, Hingham School Committee
Labor Day weekend is usually a time to celebrate the final full weekend of summer; family cookouts, a last trip to the beach, or a final quiet weekend at the lake are cherished family traditions. It’s usually a time of excitement in Hingham Public Schools, as we await the return of students for the start of a new school year. Traditionally, that excitement is shared by students and their parents and guardians. But this past Labor Day and the coming start of the school year are like no other. With the first day of school less than two weeks away, there are many questions; uncertainties still loom. Hingham, like the rest of the country, is at a crossroads.
This global pandemic is the greatest challenge our country has faced in generations. Our economy was paralyzed, resulting in the highest unemployment rate in decades. Countless businesses have closed. More than half of all adult children under the age of 30 currently live back home with their parents, a phenomenon not seen since the Great Depression. In just six months, more than 6,000,000 positive cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the United States and nearly 190,000 Americans have died from this terrible disease. COVID-19 has affected all of us and changed our lives for the foreseeable future.
While we cannot control the virus, we can control the way we manage through this extraordinary time. Today, we ask our community to seize the opportunity to manage this crisis in the unified and respectful manner for which Hingham is so well known. “We’re all in this together” has to be more than a slogan. It has to be how we approach the challenges the pandemic has created.
Over the past six months, many parents and teachers have reached out to the Superintendent, School Committee, and Administration. Some have shared ideas and support, while others have shared their frustration and criticism while they awaited answers to questions about schedules, cohorts, technology, transportation, building maintenance, cleaning protocols, sports, music and myriad other topics that are the nuts and bolts of running a school district. In some cases, we were able to provide answers. In many cases we have been as frustrated as HPS staff and parents that we are unable to provide satisfactory answers because circumstances, science and guidance changes daily. We want you to know that we hear and care about all of you.
We understand and share your frustrations, but we are increasingly concerned about disparaging remarks we have seen and heard, particularly on social media, about our HPS teachers and administrators. We know well the commitment of our teachers and administrators-- their mission--their passion-- is the education of Hingham’s kids. We cannot tolerate their life’s work being denigrated within our own community.
In addition to the uncertainty and anxiety we all share, COVID-19 has highlighted the many ways that our communities rely on our public schools and our teachers. The Hingham Public School system is the pride of our community; many families move here each year so that their children can attend our schools. Our teachers are the heart of our schools. That became especially clear over the past six months as teachers volunteered their time to serve on the school re-opening committees and engaged in professional development to ensure that they are prepared to teach in an entirely new way this Fall. Similarly, our Principals and Administrators have been working around the clock to ensure that students and staff can safely enter our buildings, and that students receive the best education possible under these very challenging circumstances.
There are many conversations around education happening right now that are beyond Hingham. While we welcome voices of disagreement and respectful debate, we are mindful that disparaging remarks and outside agendas could scar our community, our staff, our children. That is not who we are and that is not the Hingham we want for our kids. We must not allow the frustrations with and fears of COVID-19 to tear our community apart.
The pandemic is pushing Hingham to decide who we want to be. Here is what we are asking of our community:
- Grace. Please remember that we are redesigning education during a global pandemic-- with few additional resources. Things will not be perfect on September 16th or on September 28th. Our teachers and administrators need space to adjust and readjust as they figure this out. Please know that everyone is committed to getting this right for our students, and is proceeding with the best intentions.
- Partnership. As we redesign how education is delivered, and as more students learn from home, we have a unique opportunity to work together-- parents, teachers, and as a community. Please keep communicating and be open to communication from our schools.
- Please remember that our children are watching and learning from us as we react to the pandemic and all of its consequences. As parents, teachers and community members, we can teach our children to proceed from a place of anxiety and fear, which can undermine their trust in their community. Or we can model resilience, we can coach our children as they learn how to react when life does not go as planned, and we can teach them how adversity can spur growth.
We are all in this together, and we are at a crossroads and must decide as a town, and as a school system, who we want to be. If we work together, we are certain that Hingham and its public schools will emerge from this crisis better and stronger than ever.
Paul Austin, Superintendent of Schools
Kerry Ni, Chair, Hingham School Committee