Opinion

Commentary: Feedback on frustrations

It’s June — normally a moment to reflect on lessons learned this school year and plans for the next.

Instead, we’re reflecting on a devastating moment for our country and a moment of frustration for learning.

We want to hear about your frustrations. Going forward, we’ll be doing more to unearth them.

We know students feel disappointed to miss out on treasured experiences. Parents feel daunted by the sudden task of home schooling and concerns for their children’s future. Teachers feel dismayed by the many barriers that circumstances have erected between them and the students they love. 

As a member of the Lynn School Committee, I’m frustrated too. To be clear, my frustration is not with our team. From our cafeteria staff who have heroically been feeding the City since this started to our teachers who are bending over backwards while caring for their own families, our team has stepped up tremendously.

My frustration is with our systems. I don’t say that as an indictment of anyone’s planning at the Lynn Public Schools. No one saw this coming, in this way specifically. And our team in Lynn has a long record of speaking out loud and clear about how disparities create barriers to learning, most recently culminating with the push for the Student Opportunity Act.

Now, the LPS team is working furiously to set up a remote learning system. Something that, without a pandemic, could otherwise have taken years to design and implement.

My frustration is with more than just our school system. It is with our government systems.

I strongly believe that government is a force for good. We see now at our most vulnerable how important it is to have responsive, effective government services. 

We are lucky to have great people doing a great job in the City of Lynn. I am very grateful to Mayor McGee for his remarkable leadership in this crisis, as well as to Council President Cyr and his colleagues on the Council, my colleagues on the School Committee and our state delegation. City and LPS staff have been tremendous, most especially the essential workers who have put the City on their backs to carry us through these uncertain times. 

But for government to live up to its potential in today’s age, we need to rethink its relationship with the people it serves. Communication, access and transparency can’t just mean making information available. It has to mean getting the information into the hands of the people who need it. 

Two examples:

First, in a multilingual community, language access needs to sit side-by-side with everything we do. That requires a lot more investment in translation and interpretation.

Second, in a digital world, technology access and fluency have to be universal. We need systems that enable and encourage that.

Stepping up our engagement requires an investment far beyond what the City could implement on its own. Our society needs to rethink how government and the people interact and factor that into the design and delivery of services at all levels. At this moment, the federal government is where we look for the ability to make that kind of investment.

Still, the public schools will have a leading role in implementing these changes. Today by necessity, tomorrow by design, the Lynn Public Schools is rethinking how to engage with families. 

Even before the crisis, I’ve admired how genuinely open Dr. Tutwiler is to feedback. That’s hard for any leader, particularly in government, where everything is (rightly) heavily scrutinized. Dr. Tutwiler’s receptiveness to feedback has continued throughout this crisis.

So — to families: I invite you to please reach out and share your experiences, including your frustrations, in all this. We’re working on more formal ways to solicit feedback: an online open house, better technology for surveys, a robust online learning system, an advisory task force convened by the Superintendent that includes the family perspective. 

We want to meet you where you are at. Families reading Item op-eds are likely in a better position to engage to begin with. So we also invite your ideas on how to engage others.

Jared Nicholson is a law professor at Northeastern and a member of the Lynn School Committee.

 

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