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Department of Catholic Schools still helping educators

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The Western New York Catholic took some time while working at home to ask Erica Aikin, assistant superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools, how her department is working with parish elementary schools during this unique stay-at-home period of our history.

What is the Department of Catholic Schools doing to help the schools at this time?

The Department of Catholic Schools is working with the schools on finding funding to help them sustain themselves, including finding ways of taking advantage of the new state and federal funds being made available in response to the COVID-19 emergency.

We are working on making sure that any virtual learning is being done legally and safely. The principals are in constant contact with our department to answer any questions they have in regards to teachers, parents, students, with questions, complaints, internet issues, picking up student work, the list go on and on.

We have pushed out various links to virtual learning, kept them up to date with vendors that are offering free resources to help keep learning moving forward. We sent out curriculum and instruction ideas. We’re working on math textbook adoption ideas, doing “school visits” by phone. This is a talk with the principal to check in on their needs and how we can move forward in helping with those needs and wants. Professional development is still being planned. Some will be virtual now. Sports is working on a plan to have the kids do some sort of play when and if we return. This way they didn’t miss their entire season.

We are also helping schools to connect students in need of either free school lunches or special education services with the public school districts so that these resources can be made available.

Is there more or less communication with the schools than normal?

In some areas I feel like it may be more as this is such an unusual time. We are all working diligently with the principals to keep educating the students along with guiding the principals and teachers. We always work diligently with the schools, but this seems a little harder as we can’t meet with them face to face, and some of this is a learning curve as we never had to teach/guide/support from a distance. Christian Riso, assistant superintendent for government programs, and I have continued to “visit” our school principals via phone or Zoom videoconferencing for our regularly scheduled spring meetings. Also, our department has already held our April principals “Executive Council” meeting via Zoom. I do feel all is working pretty well considering.

In general, what is the role of the Education Department with regards to the individual schools?

We are a support system for our schools. They come to us with any needs and we help guide them in finding funding, making decisions, government services/projects, advocacy, curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, athletics, counseling help, grant writing, STREAM Schools, engineering briefs, academies for the classroom, as well as assisting them in interpreting state and federal school and employment regulations.

What is the relationship between your department and the schools? Are you there in case they need something, do you regularly meet with principals and
teachers?

The schools know that they can go to our webpage and find our curriculum links to get curriculum, and curriculum maps, standards for all subject areas. We meet with the elementary principals four times a year. We have a retreat for them once a year, and four or five executive council meetings (this includes eight principals elected by four geographic regions. These regions then hold monthly or bimonthly meetings that are attended by one of our assistant superintendents. The high school principals have a meeting once a year with the bishop and our department.

We also host professional development sessions (STREAM, Thoughtful Classroom, Mystery Science, Social Studies, eDoctrina, etc.) for the teachers and work with the teachers directly during the textbook review process. We are always available to our principals via email or phone and try to respond within 24-hours, depending on the complexity of the question. We send out a bi-weekly WED and are always forwarding pertinent information to them.

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