Challenges can take on many forms, but who would ever have imagined the one we are all facing right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in drastic measures to socially isolate and take precautions to limit the spread of this dreaded virus. School closures are just one of the many casualties of this battle against an invisible enemy. The unexpected but necessary shift to distance learning is at the forefront of every educator’s mind to keep learning going.
At the Gordon W. Mitchell school in East Bridgewater, it’s an all hands on deck situation. The school’s principal, Andrew Gentile, is leading through collaboration and in support of his teaching staff. “I mainly try to support teachers in my school through trusting their judgement and trying to support their ideas.”, stated Gentile. He explains the many opportunities he has had to see what a talented staff he has. “We have teachers and other staff that are committed and skilled educators. This makes it easy for me as a building leader to support staff,” said Andrew, who believes no one person has all of the answers. To this end, he has taken a team approach and does his best to be a good listener.
A Challenge Like No Other
“The COVID-19 crisis has presented a unique challenge, which none of us had expected,” states Gentile. “ I do feel we are in a unique position in that we have a 1:1 program at our school. This has allowed teachers to develop their skills in integrating technology, and students to become accustomed to working in a largely digital environment.” Many staff, including Gentile, are now facing the challenge of managing being an educator while also managing a family of at-home learners. “I’ve tried to remain in contact with staff to offer support and feedback throughout this, and I am hopeful it’s helping,” said Andrew. While 1:1 devices are commonly used in his school, Gentile’s first challenge was to provide access to those students who did not have it at home. He arranged for multiple pickups of devices, as well as district-provided hot spots for families with no Internet access. “The challenge right now is ensuring student participation and checking in with families.” Andrew is also aware of how overwhelming this experience is for everyone, and stresses the importance of balance for teachers and families alike.
The Impact of COVID-19
When asked how the COVID-19 crisis impacted his role as a school principal, Gentile said it has completely changed it. “I’m usually hustling around the building and interacting with the school community throughout the day. This is very different and isolating,” he said. “ I am concerned about some students and families that I know rely heavily on the school each day and are facing challenges in this new environment.” Gentile is working to support learning and ensure communication with families. “We have used Google Classroom as our hub of information for classrooms, students and families, which has been effective,” states Andrew. Teachers are also looking at utilizing grade level assignments and expectations to help streamline things for families, and relieve some of the burden on teachers. In terms of parent communication, Gentile sends out a weekly email and phone message to parents with some words of encouragement and some weekly reminders. He has also collected feedback from families through a school connectedness survey to gain understanding of both the parent and student perspective.
“This is new and challenging for everyone: Teachers, parents, students, and administrators. We all need to recognize that this experience is not going to be the same as if we were in school. We are all doing our best to try and keep students progressing and engaged, while understanding that the time we are in is stressful for many different reasons. The health and well-being of our school community is paramount, and must remain in focus as we traverse the path ahead.”
MassCUE would like to thank Andrew, and all educators who are blazing new trails in these unprecedented times.
Andrew Gentile is the Principal of the Gordon W. Mitchell School in East Bridgewater, where he has spent the last 12 years of his career. Prior to becoming an administrator in East Bridgewater, Andrew was a social studies teacher in Brockton. While in East Bridgewater, he has focused on developing a culture and climate that is welcoming for students and encourages teachers to take risks and think outside the box. Education runs deep in the Gentile home – Andrew’s parents were both educators, as is his wife Kimberly. Andrew’s greatest treasure are children Jack (15), Lily (12) and Drew (9).
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