THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
Danielle Giunta, Community Superintendent District 26
Contacting the District Office During Remote Learning
Due to the effects of COVID-19, while we are limiting office hours, we will be supporting our community remotely.
During this period, there are many ways you can reach out to the District Team:
call the District 26 Office
send us an email
call our Family Coordinators on their Blackberrys
(between the hours of 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM)
The Existential Flex of a Lifetime
No one will forget the 2019-2020 school year. Where were you when you realized that we were in a pandemic? What was the final thing you did with your classmates, students, and/or colleagues before “social distancing” became the break-away favorite for Word of the Year? What parts of your home became your classroom or office? How many of you had used the words Teams, Meet, or Zoom as proper nouns before?
In our letter at midyear we spoke of the need to steel ourselves for the existential flex towards developing an experience for all students that affirms their voice in their development by reimagining academic success, engaging cultural competences, and fostering critical consciousness. In bringing to light twin pandemics, it would seem the universe saw our gambit, and raised the stakes by pushing us into spaces of deep uncertainties. At that moment the choice became simple: adapt to the sudden shifts in reality, or leave our kids literally and figuratively in the dark.
Because of the righteousness of our work across the other components of developing an “Infinite” mindset, we have been able to weather the storms to this point. In reflecting on the work we have done to close out the year, it is our hope that you are filled with as much pride and admiration we have for the heroes that walk among us; and that their inspiration is fuel for you to continue to do your part until-and-through all students are able to come home to their schools.
Steering our Just Cause through the Storm
Yes, our world has been turned upside-down and we are only recently getting our bearings on what the path forward might be. At the same time, make no mistake: we have not lost sight of where we our headed. Our charge to Advance Equity Now has never been more relevant. The ability to continue in sustained partnership with NYU MetroCenter was a heartfelt casualty of this spring’s shifting sands. Nevertheless, we continue to ask the question they have challenged us with since last year: “how can I disrupt and dismantle the existence of inequity within my sphere of influence?” As such, our spirits were necessarily buoyed when Régine Romain and Ana Duque were able to join us for our Closing Circle for Equity Cohorts I & II at the start of June. Systemic racism is real. It is pandemic-agnostic, and it’s on all of us to work towards dismantling it. We’re all on our own journeys through this work. We are proud to say that no one is alone on this journey should you want company.
Work towards answering this essential question took on new meaning this spring. Our schools—the bedrock of our purpose—were taken from us and we were thrown into the sea of uncertainty. As the world sought to run as far as possible from the eye of this storm, there were those among us who ran towards the danger to ensure our children of essential workers and most vulnerable had what they needed to weather this moment. We could not have done this work without the selflessness of all those in our community who supervised, staffed, and supported our Regional Enrichment Centers at PS/IS 266 and PS 376. Nor can we heap enough praise and gratitude for everyone involved in the herculean task of ensuring our community remained fed through the supplying and operation of our feeding sites across the District. THANK YOU!
It has not been a perfect experience. We were not able to provide adequate redress for the lost time together, nor have we been able to ensure that all students have access to the same high level of learning experiences. But we can say that we are better at this than when we started. We can say that more students were able to remain connected to their schools in some way. We are committed to our WHY and we will emerge better warriors for all children because of the lessons we have learned during this time. As we build out our initial plans for next year, we are thinking about keeping the achievement-based priorities the same and redoubling our efforts to ensure that HOW we arrive at our goals is receptive to where our people are at, and how they have been impacted by the moment through which we are all living.
Reimagining our Trusting Teams
The core of the excellence that pervades our schools are our teams. We in awe of the strategic thinking employed by our school leaders for crafting their plans for their schools (through a team, no less) and developing the teams needed to execute their missions and visions. True to form, our leaders are wonders and their teams are incredible because when we shifted out of our buildings, our teams found new ways to keep their “Just Causes” centered. This work started even before we went remote with our teachers spending a blur of a business week coming together as teams to migrate their classrooms to the “Cloud.” In less than a fortnight, we went from 100% of our classrooms existing in a physical space to 100% of our classrooms having a course hub online so that learning might continue.
In March and April, teams were either repurposed or disbanded and reconstructed to meet the needs of the moment. We have over 18,000 students in our care. Within ten days of going remote, 100% of those students were accounted for. While are not so naïve as to confuse knowledge of students for their ability to be full participants in the school experience, we couldn’t begin to support or remedy their situations without knowing their whereabouts. Thank you to all of our school-based support staff who jumped into these new roles on these outreach teams to ensure that we could develop support plans for all of our students.
Now more than ever it is clear that #togetherisbetter. We want to take a moment to extend thanks to all of the teams that have supported our work since September, through the fire, until now. Thanks to the leadership of Executive Superintendent Mabel Muñiz-Sarduy, CDEC 26, and District 26 President’s Council, our team was able to remain the Queens North Star, serving as the beacon for our schools to navigate the demands of a year like no other.
Worthy Rivals as Facilitators of Essential Knowledge and Resources
At midyear we highlighted the exemplary practices of our spotlight schools, naming them as the exemplars for their peers to study so that they might move closer to what is next in their respective journeys. Sinek’s claim is that we “have to stop thinking of other players as competitors to be beaten, and start thinking of them as worthy rivals who can help us become better players.” We were able to retain some normalcy of this practice through the end of year shares at our Aspiring Leaders, Mega Math Meeting, Computer Science Lead Cohort, Go Pre-K PLC, and Kindergarten Summit. Thank you to all of the teachers, assistant principals, borough and district staff who saw these events as moments of opportunity for expansions of their toolkits for support of our students.
It is with the utter delight that we are able to make the claim that when District 26 entered into crisis mode, there were no adversaries in our work: every school across the district was there for each other. Best practices were shared and implemented at such a speed that we almost got whiplash. This is a testament to both the mindset of those tapped to share, as well as all learners who presented themselves as vulnerable in spaces so that they could develop high quality products and experiences for their children. Again we credit our school leaders who have been selfless in their sharing of ideas and best practices through our weekly Principal and Assistant Principal Teams calls. The insights gained through collective experience formed the curriculum for support that we were able to offer schools through this moment. Through the fantastic work of our D26 Borough Instructional Leads, we were able to develop Remote Learning Leads inside of every school to partner with assistant principals as each community grappled with unique (yet shared) demands of the times.
The Courage to Lead into the Unknown
“And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and woman are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must -at that moment- become the center of the universe.”
-Elie Wiesel, Night, Epilogue
As we close out this year and set about planning for whatever next year is going to bring us, we cannot cite the demands of responding to one crisis as excuse to not work towards the abatement of another. Creating brave spaces to engage in difficult and courageous conversations about race, health, law and government is critical right now. At our core, we know our actions (or inactions) serve as a model for what our adults will (or won’t) replicate with our children. We want to thank every member of our larger community for sharing and muddling through feelings, beliefs and perceptions as we have finished out the year. As we make plans to reopen (and eventually come home), we must continue to center our students (and all those in our charge), with plans that are anchored by space for them to process what they are going through. The insights and inquiries that our partner at NYU, Natalie Zwerger posted as we were going remote speak to both our WHY and our HOW for this planning.
Yes to all the amazing reimagining of learning spaces online, but school is deeply about community and relationships. How are we creating spaces to check-in, to story tell, to be there for each other— students, staff, and families alike—during this time of heightened anxiety?
The kind of leadership District 26 has shown, continues to show, and will show next year takes an unbelievable amount of courage. Amidst all of this uncertainty, we forge ahead because children grow and they deserve the schools that are going to be there for them to partner in their development. Nowhere is this more evident than in our pride to announce that our newest school, The CIVIC School of Bayside Hills (26Q390) is joining the firmament, becoming the 28th school in our constellation of greatness. We are so excited for what the future holds under the leadership of IA Principal Melody Leib.
Sadly, the arrival of one star does not balance out our equations, as four leaders are leaving their communities after a life spent in service of our students. Molly Wang (PS 173), Anthony Armstrong (MS 74), Lena Kim (PS 98), and Mary Alarcon (MS 172) have all been paragons of the heart, soul, love, and empathy that sustains us in the face of, at times, impossible odds. Thank you for your dedication to the craft, and for your humanity. Walking alongside you has given us strength—let’s hope it’s enough to sustain us in your retirement.
Indeed, it has been an unforgettable year in District 26! We have survived due to the commitment and dedication of the tremendous students, parents, community members, elected officials, and DOE staff supporting us. As a collective team, we continue to be the living embodiment of “excellence in education,” ever-ready for whatever the world throws at us.
Enjoy your summer and we look forward to partnering with you again next year!
Danielle Giunta, and the District 26 Team
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District 26 Office
61-15 Oceania Street
Bayside, NY 11364
Located inside of Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School (M.S. 74).