Claubentz Dieujuste is the School Principal at New Visions for Public Schools. He has over 15+ years of progressive experience in oversight and leadership of academic programs and schools. His field of expertise include consulting, classroom management, educational technology, digital engagement, differentiated instruction, and relationship management with solid experience of directing staff and key stakeholders in the education sector. In addition, he also has senior leadership experience with the ability to cast vision, plan strategies, create branding, launch new programs, and efficiently lead a team to reach organizational goals. Claubentz is a specialist in innovative teaching methods and curriculum development utilizing fresh technology. He is also a passionate advocate for student success, coupled with knowledge of education administration and has proven track-record of leadership excellence, integrity, problem-solving, and teamwork.
72 Hours! That’s the timeframe New York City school leaders had to transition their schools into virtual learning spaces. In March 2020, the pandemic forced us to abandon our school buildings. We needed innovation.
One of the reasons students were initially missing from virtual classrooms was a need for more access. Not all students had a device. In some cases, there was a device in the home but a lack of connectivity. Some households were also sharing devices among several members of the family. While the city was able to leverage strong partnerships to procure enough devices for every scholar, it took a while to have all students pick up their laptops or iPads to begin working on assignments and joining their classes. This endeavor required an excessive number of phone calls to students and families. We quickly realized that the needs of all our students are far greater than academics. Social-emotional learning became more of a priority. Our students and staff were grieving the loss of loved ones to a deadly virus and needed our support. We did SEL checks routinely. I am grateful that my school had an advisory model. Advisors served as point persons for small groups of students. They maintained constant contact with their advisees and families daily to keep them engaged and informed the school community of any needs. My students received encouraging words from me daily in my attendance email. By noon, I compiled a list of absent students and shared it with advisors for outreach. I also routinely sent out video messages to the seniors to keep them engaged. This period was particularly difficult for them as they were about to miss out on all the typical senior activities such as trips, prom, and even graduation, which ended up being virtual events. I remember recording my commencement speech days before so it could be ready to go live on YouTube.
Some of our teachers started realizing how project-based learning allows students to have the freedom to be creative. In the virtual classrooms, traditional pen-and-paper tests were nonexistent, and teachers needed to give students other opportunities to demonstrate their content understanding. Student-centered classrooms, differentiation, student choice, and once complex ideas to some teachers were naturally becoming standard practice as all students needed to be engaged in learning. Like our students, some teachers thrived in the remote learning space while others struggled. It was important for the leaders to check in and support. I was consistently scouring the internet for instructional resources and sharing them with teachers. This was new territory for all of us and we needed to be empathetic toward one another. I enlisted the help of one of my friends who happens to be a motivational speaker, and an advocate for urban education reform, to come to speak to my staff. I had to be very creative in celebrating teacher appreciation week, another opportunity for me to show love and support to those who took care of our children.
While remote learning came with many challenges, it opened our eyes to new possibilities to improve teaching and learning. It exposed inequities that plague our school system. A school is an extension of our students’ families. Students will fall through the cracks without proper support systems like advisory. Developing relationships and prioritizing their social-emotional learning needs must remain at the forefront. School leaders must lead with empathy, compassion, and humility. As we move towards a sense of normalcy, let us not revert to what was and completely forget about the lessons learned over the last three years and miss out on these opportunities to innovate in our school buildings in service of our students and their families. We need to develop the capacity of our teacher leaders.
Educational policies must also shift. Over the last couple of years, there has been a moratorium on testing requirements. There is an opportunity to rethink assessment practices to include more authentic and performance-based assessment options. Due to their living conditions, many of our students begin working as soon as they legally can to help out at home. Preparing for an interview and getting and keeping a job should be part of the high school experience, a seamless partnership opportunity with local businesses to teach life skills and help combat poverty. Some young people got jobs during remote learning and worked on asynchronous instructional days. Work-based learning opportunities allow students not to feel as though they have to choose between school and work.
The return to school buildings has added enormous pressure and anxiety on educators. Like other industries, education has also been affected by the great resignation. It has become harder to fill vacancies. School leaders have been instrumental in keeping their school communities together. They are responsible for the welfare of all stakeholders. However, many of them feel their needs still need to be met. Who checks on them? The psychological effect of the pandemic on school leaders is profound. As a lifelong learner, I believe that I am a better school leader, and innovative problem-solver because of this experience. There is so much more that needs to be done in our schools and I am determined to continue developing meaningful partnerships to enhance the experience students have when they enroll in my school.