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School officials: Pandemic forced changes that are 'new tools' for learning

Local educators and experts discuss the latest challenges to keeping schools open, what the future may hold and answer your questions.

Now that Long Island schools have reopened, some district officials say they’re still adjusting to the varied needs of students taking classes in person, remotely or through a hybrid model.

And some officials said they don’t see that three-part model of learning going away.

"I see the use of technology improving, not only for remote or hybrid learning but within classrooms," said Glen Eschbach, superintendent of schools at the North Babylon School District. " … I’m not necessarily sure that we need to make school look exactly like it did before the pandemic because there’s a lot of great things coming out of these changes and that I believe we’ll land at a new normal."

School officials spoke about their experiences during a Newsday Live panel on Tuesday titled "Lessons Learned: How is School Reopening Going?"

Erin M. Hynes, assistant superintendent at the Sachem Central School District, said "everybody was nervous" about the days leading up to school reopening, but it unfolded without difficulty.

"All of the holding of the breath, we were able to release a little bit and now we’re doing a little of proactive diving into issues, ours being remote learning for us," Hynes said, adding that 1,700 students are learning remotely. " … We do not have separate remote teachers and we’re working toward livestreaming and or building out carving time during our day."

Dr. Christina Johns, senior medical adviser at PM Pediatrics, said that while families and students are still worried about getting sick from COVID-19, they’re understanding what they need to do to stay safe such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distance.

Richard Hasse, president of the Half Hollow Hills Teachers’ Association, said that while teachers have come up with new tools to teach kids, it will not replace face-to-face learning.

"I think we all have 1,000 new tools in our toolbox, new ways to deliver content, new ways to collaborate with colleagues, new ways of servicing kids, communicating with parents, but there is still nothing better than having our kids in our classrooms. …," Hasse said. "I think that is something we all learned through the closure and what we’ve been going through."

But as school continues, hiring could be an issue, especially as the New York City Department of Education looks to take on new teachers. Tom Rogers, superintendent of schools at the Syosset Central School District, said there’s been difficulty finding candidates for teacher substitutes and support staff.

"We didn’t see an elevated level of retirements … But like everyone we’re finding some difficulty hiring the people who fill in around our teachers," he said. "It’s been challenging to keep those positions staffed."

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