Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are writing first to check in on your health, safety, and well-being. Over the last week, we have spoken with many school system leaders about how we can all create and navigate a new “normal,” how we continue to lead our systems while also managing our own personal challenges, whether taking care of and homeschooling our own children, caring for an elderly family member, or keeping ourselves healthy and safe.

We are in awe of how leaders are doubling down on their work on the frontlines of education when those lines have shifted so dramatically and so quickly. Of utmost concern to us at the NYC Leadership Academy is making sure our most vulnerable and historically marginalized students do not fall further behind academically during the transition many are making to virtual learning now that so many schools (92,000 of the country’s 132,853 as we write this) have physically closed. Schools are a lifeline not only for student learning, but for many social supports to students, families and the greater communities they serve in terms of meals, care and support. As this health crisis has shut down schools, it has exposed and, in many communities, worsened the inequities in our education systems.

Education leaders are telling us their greatest concerns are ensuring

1) inclusive, rigorous, and equitable access to learning during this interruption

2) students return to school academically and emotionally whole

3) staff have the capacity to make these shifts and return to school professionally and emotionally whole

At the NYC Leadership Academy, we are working hard to innovate and expand our professional learning experiences to virtual without sacrificing the personal nature of the work so that we can support school and school systems leaders with those adaptive challenges as they arise and grow.

We are committed to providing virtual executive coaching and strategic re-entry planning to school and school system leaders to help minimize inequities and forward the health, safety and learning of all students. We are expanding current and developing new online resources and services that will serve leaders now, in this time of crisis, and for years to come.

A lot of education leaders’ immediate work is technical — making sure students have access to computers and Internet connections for online learning, and that educators and administrators are getting the support and professional learning they need to meet their students’ new and unexpected needs.

But the adaptive challenges of school in the time of COVID-19 will hit hard and fast.

As we support each other through this unprecedented crisis, here are a few equity-focused moves to keep in mind:

Keep equity at the forefront. You are going to be charged with many decisions and adaptive challenges. As you consider your available resources, such as staff time and funding, what can you do to give the greatest access to those resources to the students who need it most, to lead through equity rather than equality?

Make student-centered decisions. As you consider how to deploy your teachers and principals, consider having them call students at home to ask them what they need. Are their basic needs being met? Food? Shelter? What do they need to support their learning? Access to a computer, books, Internet connection? Incorporate student voice into your crisis planning.

Treat families as co-educators. While parents and guardians may not be trained teachers, they are our students’ most consistent teachers, and right now they are their only in-person teachers. Find multiple ways to connect with every family and offer varied resources that support their homeschooling efforts. Take time to reflect on what it means to truly partner with parents and consider how you can shift your practice in ways that will extend well beyond this crisis.

Ensure an academically and emotionally whole return. We may not know exactly when school will return to school buildings, but we do know that when it does, disparities will be greater. Some of our students will have experienced hunger, trauma, discrimination, and loss of learning, while others will have had an enriching homeschooling experience. Create active plans to ensure that every student returns academically and emotionally whole.

Keep yourself whole to be your best leader. Leadership matters today more than ever. Your students, your team, your communities need you to stay whole, stay inspired, and stay hopeful as they look to you for guidance. To be the leader they need, it’s crucial to take care of yourself, make the needed time to rest, eat well, get fresh air and exercise.

Please let us know how we can support you and your team. And if you are using innovative strategies to address the extreme challenges we all face in our systems, please share those with us over email or on Twitter by tagging @NYCLeadership and #HowILeadforEquity. We are all learning together.

By your side,

The NYC Leadership Academy team

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Jill Grossman

Senior Director, Strategic Communications & Policy

Jill Grossman is the Senior Director of Strategic Communications and Policy. In this role, she has overseen the publication of numerous op-eds and articles in national publications and the production of videos on school and district leadership. Jill also co-authored “Still in the Game,” a research paper and policy brief on the impact on ongoing leadership coaching. Previously, Jill worked at New Leaders, where she helped write Breakthrough Principals: A Step-By-Step Guide to Building Stronger Schools, a book outlining New Leaders’ framework for effective principal and school practices. Jill also co-authored “Ambitious Leadership,” a research paper and series of case studies on the practices principals have used to effectively implement new college- and career-readiness standards. She has conducted research for other nonprofit organizations and school districts on principal training programs, school autonomy and teacher teams. Before working in education research, Jill spent 15 years as an editor and writer for several New York City news outlets, examining the challenges and achievements that urban communities experience, particularly around housing, schools, and politics. Jill has taught graduate and undergraduate journalism courses at New York University and Columbia University, as well as GED classes at community-based organizations and community colleges. She has also served as president of the board of directors of a Montessori preschool in Brooklyn. Jill holds an MA in education policy from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a BA in sociology from Vassar College.