In their recent letter to families, the mayor and chancellor committed to a “stronger” September than ever when school re-open. I, like many parents, long for that day when children can return to their schools. My son misses his friends. He’s getting tired of his parents day in and day out. Of course, we all want a stronger return in September.

But what does a strong September take?

There are several characteristics of a strong return, assuming we do actually return to “normal” in the fall. I’ll explain later why that might not happen. But first, here are some of the key things officials should be focusing on right now that parents should know.

  1. Emotional support for schools. There shouldn’t be any academic work for the first week upon return. Call it Unit Zero. Everyone needs a chance to reconnect, to share stories, and to acknowledge that something unreal and potentially traumatic has occurred. It would be a mistake to “hit the ground running” with academics to start.
  2. Give baseline assessments. All schools will need to determine how much students learned in the previous year, and what they need to learn next. Rather than schools developing these assessments locally, I suggest developing them centrally so DOE leaders can see clearly the contours of the need and resources can be properly allocated.
  3. Map curricula, instructional models, and assessments. Too few schools have detailed maps of what their students are learning, how, and via what assessments. These kinds of tools will be essential if teachers and parents are to be on the same page about what learning should look like.
  4. Invest in differentiation. More than ever before, it will be imperative that teachers differentiate instruction next year. In addition to being aware of how to support students with special learning or language needs, next year all teachers will need to differentiate based on content knowledge and skills from the PREVIOUS grade-level. That's a big ask, especially of secondary teachers. They will need help.
  5. Formalize digital learning models. Every school, from this point forward, needs to have a meaningful digital learning model for face-to-face, blended, and remote instruction. This is where city officials can really help more than they have heretofore. (And, appointing a digital learning deputy chancellor would help get this moving already.)

No matter what September looks like, the above needs must be addressed. But it’s also possible that we don’t return to normal in the fall. It’s possible that this pandemic doesn’t fade away on our terms, that public health officials determine it’s not wise to send 1.1 million children into overcrowded schools. In that case, we might see more remote learning or other creative models where only half the students attend school at a time. (For more, listen here.)

It would be prudent for officials to keep parents abreast of their planning process in this regard, and to solicit input authentically and frequently. Planning for September starts now--for us all.