Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa & State Education Department Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe told Spectrum News they have asked Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign an executive order waiving this year’s Annual Professional Performance Review. APPR is the vehicle for principal and teacher evaluations.  

“I think at this point we all recognize it may be difficult to have APPR this year, so we have extended and requested Cuomo to do an executive order to override it,” said SED’s Tahoe.

Cuomo hasn’t yet responded, but the commissioner told us the request was just made. If granted, it would be one less thing for superintendents to worry about.

In interviews Friday, four school superintendents in different upstate regions told Spectrum News they have enough on their plates as it is. Their two primary concerns are the mental and emotional well-being of their students and the financial toll the shutdown will have on their ability to deliver a sound, basic education.

“It’s fair to say it’s been the most challenged I’ve felt since being a superintendent,” said Dr. Ray Sanchez, superintendent of the Ossining Union Free School. “This is every challenge times 10.”

Sanchez pointed out families need even more support now that students are home. They need “foundational items,” he said, like food, technology, school supplies, and support.

Cuomo's incremental approach to school closures has also been a challenge.

According to WBFO, Buffalo City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash has been critical, saying, “It doesn’t really ever let us go into full planning mode for the remainder of the year and into next.”

Cuomo announced on Monday schools would be closed another two weeks, until April 29. Not everyone agrees with Cash.

“I don’t share that same perspective,” said Dr. Kevin McGowan, superintendent of the Brighton Central School District and president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. “The two-week framework is based on decision-making by a Governor and a Health Department that are knee-deep in this crisis.”

Dr. Lori Kaplan, superintendent of the Watervliet City School District agrees.

“The two-week approach is a hardship for some, but I appreciate [Cuomo’s] conservativeness. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” Kaplan said.  

Of far greater concern to Kaplan is the health and well-being of her students.

”Most of my students, the seven hours they’re in school with us, is the safest time of their day,” said Kaplan. “The kindness we show our students might be the only kind words they hear all day.”

Ossining’s Ray Sanchez said pretty much the same thing.

“My greatest worry comes from the inability to see my 5100 kids,” Sanchez said. “I heard a quote once, ‘Kids may not remember the content we teach them,’” he recalled, “’but hopefully they remember how safe and loved they feel during this time.’”

All the school leaders we spoke with were hopeful that schools would open before the summer break.

“If we can come back at the end of May, just for a minute to see the kids, to see their faces, and for a little pomp and circumstance, that would be a gift,” said Kaplan.

Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe and Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa agree that would be optimal, but not likely. Rosa told Spectrum while she’s hopeful, “given the conditions that we’re all under, I assume we will not (be returning).”

Ithaca City Schools Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown is already thinking about what he calls “re-entry”; he hopes State Ed won’t miss this “opportunity to innovate.”

“For example, perhaps we could look at decoupling mandated seat time from funding; look at how we can create a much more blended experience for students and bring the experience to families in an authentic way,” he said.

Commissioner Tahoe says that’s definitely on the agenda.

“One thing about this crisis is that it’s bringing a lot of things to light that may be good to change in the future,” she said.

Next week: A look at how schools are preparing to deal with the financial insecurity caused by the pandemic.