By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
NAUGATUCK — As public schools in Naugatuck navigate the uncharted waters of educating students during a pandemic, teachers and administrators alike say open communication is key.
“I think the pandemic is obviously an unprecedented event that schools are learning how to navigate,” said Emily Carr, a sixth-grade humanities teacher at Cross Street Intermediate School. “As we’re learning how to navigate, I think the most important thing we can do is listen to the people on the front lines who are there every day in person.”
Carr was one of 27 borough educators who gathered outside the Board of Education office on Dec. 3 in a show of support, as representatives from the Naugatuck Teachers League continued an ongoing dialogue about what educators are facing with the school administration inside.
“I think this is a good, frank discussion, and this gave teachers an opportunity to ask some questions that their colleagues had and they shared it with the superintendent and assistant superintendent,” said George Macary, an applied education teacher at Naugatuck High School and president of the teachers union following the roughly three-hour meeting.
Macary said the union and administration have been meeting weekly for about a month to discuss concerns teachers may have and to receive updates on the coronavirus situation in the district.
“I feel there’s a lot of anxiety from teachers,” said Michael Harte, a special education coordinator at Naugatuck High School. “There’s a lot of unknown and I think if we can just have transparency, have these kinds of discussions. I think they’re so important to relieve our stress, which will in turn relieve the students’ stress because we can only do for our students as good as we’re being treated.”
Macary said the meetings haven’t been contentious. He said the purpose is to obtain as much information for teachers as possible to help them understand how the administration is handling education in the pandemic.
“It’s a tough time,” he said. “It’s new for all of us.”
Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini said the administration has been meeting with union leadership to maintain an open conversation for feedback and questions.
“We value the input and voices of our teachers and staff and are happy to meet to answer questions and receive feedback,” Montini said. “Continuous improvement in all that we do is central to our vision and mission.”
From the first day of school Sept. 2 to Dec. 3 there have been 82 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the school system, according to data provided by the district. As some districts switched to full distance learning through Jan. 19 due to rising coronavirus cases in the state, Naugatuck schools are moving ahead with a hybrid model of learning that mixes in-person and virtual instruction.
K-6 students attend school in-person Monday through Thursday and have an early dismissal on Friday. High school and middle school students attend in-person two days a week and every other Friday, which are early dismissal days. Students remote learn at the home when not in school.
Naugatuck High switched to full remote learning on Nov. 17 and will continue through the winter break due to recent coronavirus cases among members of the school community. In-person classes at the high school are scheduled to resume Jan. 4.
Macary said there isn’t a need for the district to switch to full remote learning until the numbers justify it.
Educators emphasized that transparency and communication are vital to everyone’s safety.
“I think I want everyone to feel safe,” Carr said. “I want everybody to feel that their voices are being heard. I know that things aren’t going to be perfect because you’ve never done this before but being heard, I think is the most important.”
“As long as we know that we’re being heard fairly, I feel that’s the best we can do,” Harte added. “This is all brand new, there’s no roadmap for it.”