East Longmeadow School Committee candidates share priorities ahead of election

May 27, 2021 | Sarah Heinonen
sheinonen@thereminder.com

EAST LONGMEADOW – On June 8, voters will decide whether to re-elect Sarah Truoiolo to the East Longmeadow School Committee or support Aimee Dalenta in her bid for the seat. Reminder Publishing asked each of the candidates several questions about their ideas to support district students, staff and the community.

Reminder Publishing (RP): What are the two most important issues that the school committee must tackle in the next 12 months?

Aimee Dalenta: Over the next year, East Longmeadow will be feeling the substantial effect that the pandemic has had on the social/emotional and academic wellbeing of our children. This is not just an “issue to tackle.” It goes way beyond that, and the effects will last longer than 12 months. It is, in fact, a consequential moment in the history of education.

Thus, we must rise to meet the moment and invest in our youth to help them overcome and move through the emotional distress that was brought on by the pandemic. Additionally, we must support students as they work on strengthening academic skills that were delayed during the pandemic. As a school district, we must prioritize and invest our resources on high-quality curricular choices, personnel and programming to support our students and staff during this time of transition.

The East Longmeadow public school community is comprised of a beautifully diversifying student body. We as a community must provide a safe and welcoming environment for all students to thrive both academically and socially. Over the next 12 months, East Longmeadow will face the issue of effectively communicating the mission of the Diversity and Equity Steering Committee to the entire ELPS school community. Right now, our town has made various commitments to assure that we are dedicated to moving conversation and practices forward as they pertain to inclusion in our schools. However, I believe that more can be done to foster open dialogue such as listening forums, ally groups, and family support opportunities. If elected, this issue will be personal for me. My work as a community college professor has been dedicated to learning from and respecting individuals of all backgrounds, and empowering people through education. I will bring my passion for this mission to a role on the school committee.

Sarah Truoiolo: One of the most critical issues that faces the school committee annually is our budget. The entirety of the school committee and the leadership team know that being able to provide educators and students with the tools that they need is paramount. As a school committee member, I have to strive to provide those critical resources while balancing the needs of the taxpayers. I will always work to collaborate and think creatively alongside of my fellow committee members and the Town Council to ensure that a healthy sense of balance is struck. We are one town and a path forward that respects the needs of students and taxpayers will always remain if we agree to compromise and think creatively.

Additionally, the work of re-engaging students in the academic and social aspects of school is beyond critical. As we close out this academic year and strive to open in as typical a fashion for the 2021-2022 academic year we need to listen to the story of the data and the voices of our students, families, and educators so we can build a strong path forward for East Longmeadow Public Schools.

This will require our committee to monitor the health data so we can adjust policies and practices accordingly, discuss trends in social/emotion data, and deeply understand the academic data. With this information in hand, the committee can better support the district and building administration with resources, professional development, additional learning opportunities for students, and funding.

RP: How should the school committee help close the achievement gap between students who did well remotely and those who struggled?

Dalenta: In every single classroom across this district, our incredible teachers take on the challenge of teaching students of differing skill and ability-level each and every day: this is nothing new. The new learning gap describes the wider academic discrepancy from student to student that was brought on due to the pandemic. To best support positive student learning outcomes, we must first assure that we are supporting our teachers with opportunities to participate in targeted professional development opportunities, to collaborate with one another, and to receive training necessary to provide instruction that bolsters struggling students while continuing to challenge students who are meeting grade-level standards.

The school district is offering a robust summer program here in town to address some of these needs; they should continue to offer such services to support students who need it, such as after-school tutoring and in-school academic support. Some of the most recent data on this subject indicates that in every state, Massachusetts included, students have fallen further behind in math than in language arts over the past year.

In response to this, East Longmeadow should invest in a robust new elementary math curriculum that addresses the changing needs of students.

Truoiolo: The period of remote learning offered students different opportunities to learn and achieve. During this time undoubtedly some students struggled, and some students thrived. While not all students may have acquired each of the academic standards they are expected to, many students did bolster the soft skills that are necessary for success in school (i.e. time management, advocating for oneself, organization skills, etc). While this period of remote learning was not ideal all was also not lost, and we need to build from some of those successes.

As we look forward, we first need to assess what the unfinished learning is. Deep analyses of data will let the district know where to allocate further resources, professional development, funds, and staffing. We will need to be flexible with our thinking and supportive of the building efforts to continue to teach grade-level content while balancing the need to teach standards from previous grade levels. Some of the key levers for this change that the school committee can utilize to support schools with their efforts are the budget, the academic calendar, and supporting with district-wide professional development efforts.

RP: What policies and practices developed during the pandemic should the district carry into in-person learning. What should be left behind?

Dalenta: One of the most effective shifts that the majority of school districts made over this past year was to online parent-teacher conferences and open house nights. Going forward, parents should now have the option to attend these events either virtually or in-person. Offering this option helps parents who work long hours, have young children at home, or otherwise may not be able to attend these events to be more included.

Another effective practice that teachers nearly perfected over the pandemic was the ability to build online resources for their students. Many teachers created videos, linked lesson plans to practice pages, created websites and supported students in their web-based adaptive learning programs, all through a computer screen for many months. While it will be welcomed and refreshing to transition to fully in-person learning, maintaining some of those practices will better prepare students for 21st-century learning, expand the materials that students have access to, and reduce the amount of paper needed at each school.

While several educational practices should carry on post-pandemic, we will be happy to put some of them behind us. One such practice that will be important to examine is on-screen learning for in-person learners. While it has been critical for teachers to utilize this practice with many students still learning remotely, this fall will likely bring a new landscape.

Our amazing educators in East Longmeadow will likely be rethinking once again how to deliver the most effective instruction to students – and although it will be critical to keep an online component to each learning environment, we will likely be looking to shift student’s gaze off the screen, and towards the front of the classroom once again.

Truoiolo: During the pandemic, many of our schools and educators increased their communication efforts with families. This practice should move forward so we can continue to foster strong home-school connections. Additionally, remote learning in many cases provided increased collaborative time for educators. As we return to more traditional scheduling it would be terrific to maintain opportunities for educators to collaborate and plan for student needs.

Remote learning also provided students with flexible learning environments. Thinking critically about how we differentiate learning opportunities for students is a practice to be maintained. Our collaboration with members of the health community ensured that we had current local health data. This practice allowed us to make necessary adjustments. As we enter the fall, this practice should be maintained so the committee and the community can monitor and adjust practices based on the data available.

As we move forward, we need to prioritize student-to-student learning opportunities and using technology to support these efforts and not in place of them as was required during remote learning. Technology will and should play a role in the educational offerings we provide students; however, we need to ensure a healthy balance especially next academic year.

RP: Why should East Longmeadow residents vote for you?

Dalenta: East Longmeadow residents, I ask for you to place your confidence in me during this transitional time in the history of education. I can be trusted with the enormous responsibility of serving on your school committee.

My expertise in the field of education will serve as my foundation; my integrity, leadership skills, professional competence, and compassion for others will allow me to fulfill the duties of this role with the kind of collaboration and communication that leads to positive results for all of our children and families.

The school committee will benefit from a new perspective and a more transparent approach. I am someone who is a thoughtful, measured advocate during a time where decisions are complicated and opinions may be divided. I am a strong leader that is skilled at negotiating with many different viewpoints to work towards a common goal. I will bring this skillset to the school committee.

People care so deeply about this committee because it directly relates to the most precious people among us: our children. I am someone who will consider the unique needs of each and every child in this town – and always keep them at the center of the conversation. I respectfully ask for your vote on June 8.

Truoiolo: I remain grounded in the belief that the decisions I have made and will continue to make are in the best interest of our students. The knowledge and experience that I have been able to bring to the table for the past three years and that I will continue to bring forward if re-elected will ensure that we have a steady hand at the helm as we continue to navigate educational experiences like no other. I have listened to the community over the past three years and have engaged with multiple departments and constituents all in pursuit of what is best for students.

These conversations, the data, and our budget have grounded the decisions that I have made and the actions that I have taken. I encourage you to continue to learn about me through my Facebook page (@truoioloschoolcommittee) and to reach out to me directly via Facebook or email (sarah.truoiolo@eastlongmeadowma.gov). I continue to humbly ask for your vote on June 8.

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