Op-Ed: At The Crossroads by Supt. Paul Austin and Kerry Ni, School Committee Chair

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.

Respectfully Submitted,

Paul Austin, Superintendent of Schools

Kerry Ni, Chair, Hingham School Committee


6 thoughts on “Op-Ed: At The Crossroads by Supt. Paul Austin and Kerry Ni, School Committee Chair”

  1. Let’s go “long” execution of innovative and effective ideas, and “short” any unecessary administrative red tape. While I agree with your overall message, I have also not received any response to several emails going back to last year. I certainly do not expect that all my thoughts would be implementable, but with over 30 years experience in high impact positions, maybe just maybe some of these thoughts might be transferable. Such exchanges have been met with open minds in the past – former Superintendent Gallo, as well as other leaders within the Hingham School District.

  2. Thank you Chairwoman Ni and Dr. Austin. A Thoughtful important and necessary piece. You were both either elected or hired by this community and you’re working tirelessly to navigate an unknown world. Thank You.

  3. I have been horrified by many comments made by HPS parents since the pandemic began, especially during recent school committee meetings and information sessions. It is sadly getting worse as we inch closer to the start of the school year. I second Deirde Anderson’s comment. Thank you!

  4. As we have learned globally, our children are at minimal risk from this virus if they are free from underlying conditions. For those children at higher risk, online learning is probably most appropriate or grouped in person with other at risk children. In-person learning is vitally important to our children, especially where students can observe both verbal and nonverbal communication between each other and their teachers. This includes body language and being able to see each others faces.

    The reality is that most children have enjoyed their summers with very minimal social distancing and not wearing masks, especially when parents weren’t looking. Yet there were very few infections. Please keep this in mind when we open our schools. Also, protecting our teachers is probably much easier than trying to herd schoolchildren, keep them six feet apart and keep masks properly positioned. In fact our teachers are probably at greater risk of infection from each other than they are from the students. Lastly, are we sure we understand what the physical and mental health implications are of having children wear masks all day. Things to be considered.

    • The CDC has been muzzled (you can look it up), yet still has this on its website. Apparently kids will be guinea pigs of a sort as we watch for possible transmission related to back-to-school:

      “ Infections and Transmission Among Children

      It is unclear whether children are as susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2 compared with adults and whether they can transmit the virus as effectively as adults. Recent evidence suggests that children likely have the same or higher viral loads in their nasopharynx compared with adults and that children can spread the virus effectively in households and camp settings.

      Due to community mitigation measures and school closures, transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to and among children may have been reduced in the United States during the pandemic in the spring and early summer of 2020. This may explain the low incidence in children compared with adults. Comparing trends in pediatric infections before and after the return to in-person school and other activities may provide additional understanding about infections in children.”

  5. Are the air ducts clean? That’s all I want to know. Stop complaining parents. When it’s safe to return, students will return. You can thank your school system later for that delay.


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