Were Schools Ready for a Pandemic ?

Were Schools Ready for a Pandemic ?


Was anyone ready for this pandemic?


Are schools getting ready to serve children in the pandemic?


Our American public schools have to be ready for just about any eventuality and sadly in recent history, even for school shootings. For years, those of us who lead schools work to plan to create safe environments where children can learn and develop as human beings and citizens. The work we do and planning is ever changing as the needs and contexts change in society.

The recent pandemic has set us into action getting ready to keep children safe while supporting their learning and development. We will meet this challenge by planning, learning, engaging the community, iterating, innovating, and caring deeply about the work we do. 

I think it’s important for the public to know how we are planning as well as the dynamics and conditions that we are required to respond to as we plan. Each school District in California is working with their board of trustees and community to meet the challenge at the same time as responding to regularly changing guidance, budgets, and requirements from state, federal, and county governmental agencies. These governmental dynamics are evolving and changing weekly. In this context, school Districts are planning for safe learning models and re-planning each time the dynamics change.

This planning environment is similar to war planning but it is very unfamiliar to most people who have families and children and want to know now how things will be so they can plan their own lives. As such, school Districts are planning and looking forward to the time and moment when federal, state, and county guidance will be more concrete and clear. This time may come very close to the beginning of the new 2020/21 school year and even more problematic, is likely to be susceptible to change at any time that the pandemic outcomes change. The virus, it seems, does not cater to calendar or schedules.

School leaders recognize this state of affairs is stressing and challenging for everyone involved, most especially families and children. We want all children and families to know and count on us to provide the safest and best possible learning environments and processes. We will make this happen and we will work diligently all summer to increase the quality and quantity of our communication with everyone so people can know as much as possible about what to expect for the coming school year. 

We will be ready in 2020/21. We will provide safe, quality learning environments and opportunities. We know that the school-student-family relationship is even more critical for children in these pandemic times but we also know that our community is strong and caring and resilient and will rally together with teachers and school leaders to do what is right for every child. Our goal is to provide a clear plan to the community by August 3, 2020 so families have a few weeks to consider their next steps in educating their children during these pandemic times.

What’s it take to be a great School Principal?

The list of answers to this question is likely very long. Books are written about the role. Many points of view will answer the question differently. Teachers, parents, students, community members all will have their opinion. Principals, themselves, are worthy of a good listening after being asked this question. I asked a couple principals recently during our end of year evaluation discussions and they shared the following thoughts.

Vulnerability –  principals need to know what they know and what they don’t know. They need to be Lifelong learners and need to learn community and organizational contexts while building on their own strengths and experiences.

Work Ethic –  principals need to have a can do, never say die attitude and know there is always a way but you might have to find the way.

Building or contributing to a school identity.

Building collaboration

Aligning staff for strength and success

Know your staff and team

Create a supportive environment for staff for organizational development.

Patience – with oneself and others. Including being a good listener and problem solver and being empathetic. In order to help solve problems you really have to understand them.

Serving families and knowing the community and culture of the school.

Know how to reach, speak, and engage the community for who they are.

Leading by example as a teacher and human being.

Being out and about with children and staff regularly.

Rio’s school leaders are diverse in experience and style. They are all dedicated educators who carved their educator teeth as teachers and who find the work of teaching and classroom culture as central to their work. 

Principals are the middle managers of the Local Educational Agency (LEA) usually known as a school District. Middle managers usually have the most difficult job in administration as they work in the in-between-realm of responsiveness to students, staff, and families as well as higher level hierarchies in the organization.

This 2019-20 school year was one for the ages and we thank all our school leaders for leading well and finishing the school year strong and with hope for the challenges that are to come.






Since I can remember, which is probably as a four year old, I have always looked with an artist’s eye. I have always seen with my outer and inner eyes. I am fortunate in this way. This way of being likely emerges from both nature and nurture. Burnt into my DNA and nurtured by my parents and community.

The way it works for me is basically a process of having an idea, seeing it as a fuzzy or sometimes very clear picture or video clip and then beginning to backwards map the process of realizing or actualizing the image into an actual human construction whether its a piece of art, music, text, or organizational function.

Since I can remember, I too, have imagined, along with others, how my human life can imagine and act to actualize a better America and global human society. When I was four, 1965, this type of thinking and doing was developing into full bloom. From my perch, my times were connected to past times doing the same and to this time in 2020 doing the same.

This said, every imagination and action happens in its present moment. The moment it is actualized it becomes the past. The moment before it is actualized it remains in the future. 

These 2020 times are filled with imaging our nation. Imaging our world. Many and dare I say most, imagine a world where the fallacy of race is subordinated to a relic of the past and justice for all is elevated to the moment and the future. Many, and dare I say most, imagine a world and nation in which justice includes addressing and repairing the injustices of the past. These imaginations are cloudy and filled with things to do to make them clear and real in the moment, but they must be actualized in action in the moment for them to move from whatever an idea or image actually is into tangible and realized outcomes.

Every person is an artist. Every person imagines and realizes. 2020 is a year for collective imagining, yes, and for collective and deeply collaborative making. 

With large and open eyes, our children are taking in everything we do as I did in 1965. They are carving their imaginative and active teeth in the models they see and don’t see. Some will follow our models, others, thankfully, will seek new models beyond the seen. 

Life is creative. All organisms are creative. Life is a creation. In these pandemic times ahead, our schools can find a way to THRIVE by recognizing what some of our instincts to standardize, commodify, and normalize can sometimes quell, suppress, or quiet, we can develop our schools as safe places for children and educators to fully develop their creative selves in order to learn the literacies we need as well as to develop the imagination needed, both individual and collective, to truly make a more perfect nation and better human society and planet for all life. 


What is America?

In this Spring/Summer of the year 2020, we can ask ourselves as educators and community members many questions. One comes to my mind most recently, What is America? 

In the last few weeks I have been working with students and teachers online and doing math/art activities and lessons with colleagues. The way we work is very open to student voice and experience and as such, children have shared many things including their artwork, stories, or just thinking about a variety of subjects. Recently, a student asked to share a piece of artwork she did after attending a “peaceful” protest as she called it. It was a picture of herself with her hair covering half of her face (a self portrait) and the words “No Justice.” She spoke eloquently and briefly and slowly about the beautiful artwork she had created and then we moved on easily to the next part of the activity which was providing students a chance to share and talk about their geometric art work.

After we signed off, I said to myself, That is America.

The class was made up of a diversity of children from a variety of ethnic origins and mixtures, That is America.

The class and the relationships among students, teachers, and parents engaging in free American public school were clearly an important part of the lives of the children and a part, face to face, that they missed greatly but were dealing with well, That is America.

Recently, I wrote about 1968 when I was a 7 year old visiting Washington D.C. with my father and seeing the impact of Riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., That is America.

Today, in 2020, when many things have changed for the better in many ways, but many things in our society persist or re-awaken, That too is America?

Public schools used to be separate for peoples of color because of De Jure segregation.. Written into the law, That is America.

Public schools are now more segregated in many areas due to De Facto segregation (via real estate), That is America.

Public schools matter, That is America.

Who teaches matters and how they teach matters. That is America.

America is an idea about freedom and the pursuit of happiness. It is an idea about democracy. It’s a country that has been developing for 244 years and hopefully many, many more. America is made up of people from every part of the earth. America was founded on manifest destiny and the elimination or subjugation of the peoples that were native to the lands before Europeans arrived. America was founded on kidnapping and enslaving workers from Africa to create an economy and culture. America is an idea and a country. 

America probably means as many different things as there are people to have thoughts about America. This is where the challenge exists. The others, others, people other than our own individual selves, the others, how will we live with them, even in our own families, how will we treat them as we want to be treated or even more importantly as American core principles suggest we should treat them. 

Freedom is what America is all about to me. Many suggest that Freedom in Europe is focused on Freedom from while Freedom in America is focused on Freedom to. Many Americans want their freedom to be and do because they feel safe from. In these times in 2020, we are being forced to realize and remember what many Americans feel every day and wish and can’t help but remember, that they want an America that is Free from…. Where they are free from.. Not the alien hordes coming to vanquish, but rather their own fellow Americans and the American government. 

This is hard to swallow for those who feel free to…..

First, we must acknowledge the simple idea that there are as many Americas as there are people to think of America. When we move on from that, we have to ponder our own individual and collective roles and responsibilities in helping to create an America for others other than ourselves and in doing so, insure that That America will be good for us to be both Free from and Free to….

Free to go to school.

Free to play.

Free to walk outside or be inside safely.

Free to do anything and be anything in the way everyone else in America does.

Free to live and keep living.

American public schools have always played a role in both constructing and being constructed by America. We can thank John Dewey for this frame. Dewey is a great one to examine in these times if you are given to reading to help America be better by helping yourself be better. I can think of many other authors from many different walks of life and perspective, certainly James Baldwin and Langston Hughes come to mind from my past reading but the list is too long to remember because there are so many books and articles I have read and continue to read to help me understand the question, What is America? 

Ergo, the importance of reading. In these pandemic and civil unrest times, among the things I will do, is work to make sure every child learns to be interested, fluent, and meaning making readers. This is one thing we can do as educators and while it is easy to write or say, as of 2020, it has as yet not been accomplished for every child in America. 

What is America?  For me, America is a country of immigrants and indigenous peoples. It is the country that my parents’ parents came to from Italy. They had nothing of value in belongings. They had the stuff in heart and mind that lives through and in me today as well as in my children and now grandchild. For me, a child of the turbulent 60s, America is a country that is struggling and has always struggled with the deep hypocrisy of its greatest core principles many written and conceived or synthesized by slave holders. For me, America is a tussle between Adams and Jefferson. Both who went to their grave around July 4th and knowing that so goes America, so goes the human species or at least that’s how they felt. 

To end, I can only reiterate what I shared in a recent post, I have faith in the children and families of 2020 and in teachers and the Deweyan notion of public schools. In these times, me thinks, that American public schools need to do a lot more constructing of society than being constructed by it.



Each week for the last several weeks I have been meeting on line with Rio School District Music Teachers and our artists in residence. We have been talking and planning about how we adapt to the pandemic school closures and keep our THRIVING music programs going. We know how important this is to children and community.

We have also been planning Rio Music Festival 2020: The Show Goes On. This year’s online music festival will be held Saturday June 13th and will be available online after the first streaming. I have been inspired by how the music teachers are confronting the challenges they face by adapting, learning and looking for the upsides of these school closure experiences. At today’s meetings after doing a go round on what kids have uploaded music festival videos etc…. I asked them to talk about things that have been positive during these times. They shared some great stuff even though many of them are clearly feeling the loss of live face to face performance and teaching.

Among their many uplifting thoughts were the following;

  • The closures were causing music teachers to learn and explore new ways of teaching
  • Students have more time to play and practice.
  • Many engaged students are more introspective about their music.
  • Many engaged students are getting private online lessons they didn’t get before
  • Musical doors are being opened for many students.
  • Many engaged students are practicing more.
  • Some students who are more shy in regular class are blossoming.
  • Teachers are coming to know their engaged students better.
  • Engaged students are pursuing music for the love of music.
  • Students are hearing themselves more and learning from the video feedback.
  • Opportunities are being made for teachers to be more empathetic.
  • Kids who are engaging are easy to work with.
  • Teacher ideas of teaching music are changing.
  • Kids have the chance to play it again and again.
  • Teachers are learning to speak Spanish and interact with parents more.
  • Being part of the Rio Music Teacher community has been much needed.
  • Making Instructional videos has really developed.
  • Some logistics of physical spaces have been eliminated.

Music, as Stevie Wonder might say, is the Key of Life. In Rio we know that the arts and all of human creativity are not an extra, they are essential and critical to what separates humans from other animals. Rio will continue to support our students by making sure the arts are part of their learning experiences. We hope everyone will tune in to Rio Music Festival 2020: The Show Goes On which will air at 1:00 pm that Saturday, June 13th.


What are we to do?

When I was seven years old I often took rides with my father as he worked as a sales associate for Whitman’s Chocolates. He would go to different stores, we called them drug stores back then, and would talk to the store managers and would look at the candy on the shelves. His territory covered parts of Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. where he was born and raised as a child. In 1968, I’m not sure why, he took me with him to visit a drug store after the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. The store we visited had metal accordion gates in front of the storefront and was one of just a few stores that were not burned down or seriously damaged.

I’m not sure why he took me with him that day, my father was not one to make political or even moral lessons out of anything except maybe on the fields of play of various sports because in his heart, his job was really father and coach, his salesman gig was what he did to make money.

Growing up in the 60s I was very aware of society changing dynamics, that is, as much as a curious and always reading and listening to music kid could be. Today, I think about why my dad brought me that day. I don’t remember the discussion but I easily remember the images and maybe even little video clips of what I saw. That’s how I mostly navigate reality, in a visual way. Those days the TV screen included daily body counts from the Vietnam War and some incidences of civil unrest related to both the war and civil rights.

Now 52 years later, we are living with a pandemic and once again we are experiencing and visualizing civil strife in our city streets. We are seeing or experiencing protests and riots, however you define these or separate these. The world seems topsy turvy to us and we can only wonder how 2020’s seven year olds are experiencing these upheavals. Fortunately, I had great caring parents and my teachers to rely on. I also had my friends to share the experiences with and I often interacted with older children and other adults who helped shape my experiences and points of view. 

So what are we to do as educators and parents in these times? This is a very big question.  No one has exactly the right answer to this question regardless of our desire to share platitudes and words of wisdom. Words do not meet this challenge though they are deeply important as we – the human race – are so tuned to and by language. We are equally tuned to and by visuals. We see the actions about us. We are also tuned by the spirit, the as yet, un-objectified, unscience explained nature in us all. 

As educators, in these times, I can only say that I have great belief in parents and teachers to continue to do the things that matter most to children and to learn to do some new things. Caring is the number one focal point in these times that children will look to for reference points. Who cares for me? Who should I care for? These questions are among the things that may have been destabilized or for some fortunate children, accentuated for the positive. 

Our recently gathered thought exchanges and survey responses are yielding information about how teachers and parents are experiencing these coronavirus times. A common theme that has emerged is that children and families need more and different ways of being connected to their teachers and schools. 

So what are we to do? Keep doing the things we have always done that help children be safe, feel well, and learn. Start doing and learning to do things that help children make sense of the world and society that we ourselves are trying to make sense of. As is usually the case when we have children in our physical spaces with us, when we get them involved together with us in making sense together, we find the best balances of what teachers will do, parents will do, and children will do.

I am fortunate to have had the chance to work with so many caring educators, parents, and children these past 34 years in public education work. They have shaped me to see the world as far more filled with loving, curious, creative, optimistic and intelligent human beings than with the small minority of often tragically life-scarred people who behave in these times or any other times in ways other than lovingly and caring for others. 

I think of these times as a great big fire. What are we to do? We have to figure out together what to put on it, or whether to put anything on it at all so we can get to the post fire times and then think hard and long and act so this fire is less damaging to the planet and to the human species when it raises its head again.

My father was a man of few words with me. He loved me but didn’t really say it. His caring for me was ever present. His children and children in general were his life’s work, though I don’t think he thought much about his life’s work or if he did he didn’t tell me. My father was great in an emergency. In crisis. He was born to it, experienced many, but led by example. Now more than ever is the time to ponder our actions in relation to a big fire and how our actions, our words, our beings impact and affect ourselves and others. 

Imagine a Time…….

Imagination is what humans have and do naturally. We make pictures and sometimes video clips in our heads. In these coronavirus times, our school organizations are tasked with imagining and then planning for re-opening and redesigning the ways children attend and learn in schools. Our challenges are many and they reside in the space between our imaginations and what we actually learn and are able to do or implement come August 2020. 

This post is less a detailed plan…. It’s an imagination and may help us think about the emergent future in ways that can help us all – educators, support staff, families and children work together to meet the challenge created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Imagine a time when some families will choose to learn in the stay at home independent learning model until there is greater understanding of the health issues of coming to school.

Imagine a time when children learn by coming to school two or three days a week for shorter periods of time than usual school days and then learn at home online and in other ways on the days they are not attending school in person.

Imagine a time when children come to school and when they enter they are screened for health issues and have to wear masks. When they attend learning sessions and classes with less students and social-distanced in both outside and inside learning environments.

Imagine a time when parents, teachers, and children are communicating in new ways and much more often than they used to in normal school days.

Imagine a time when educators, support staff, families, and children realize that we all have to work together (collaborate) by being much more flexible and innovative in creating ways to learn and be safe that work for every child and educator.

Imagine a time when planning and resources need to be allocated carefully so that families and children who already struggle to have equitable access to learning and safety are even more challenged by these corona times.

Imagine a time when families, children, and educators have more choice and more personalizable educational opportunities.

Imagine a time when we find new ways for children to enjoy and learn from social interactions with their friends.

Imagine a time when children play in new ways.

Imagine a time when the arts and freedom of expression are prioritized.

Imagine a time when children get what they need to survive, be resilient and ultimately THRIVE.

Imagine a time when all the people in the community find some peace and the ability to care for themselves, each other, and all children.

Imagine a time when patience, acceptance, empathy, character, courage, and a call to action and learning are the norms.

Imagine a time when children have joy in their lives.

Imagine a time when being outside and learning outside is more healthy and better for learning.

Imagine a time when hope rules.

Imagine a time when the pandemic is over and we have learned to educate children better than we did before the pandemic.

Imagine a time when the role-job-vocation of teaching is more valued and understood than ever before.

Imagine a time that values families, parents, children, and the elderly more than before the pandemic.

Imagine a time when imagination rules.

Imagine a time when creativity is deeply valued and developed.

Imagine a time when caring is the main thing.


Nicole (Niki) / JP Collaborative MIT- Rio Blog # 4

Nicole (Niki) / JP Collaborative MIT- Rio Blog # 4

It was great to hear from a local student today who has made her way to MIT – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology – a world class university and seat of science on the planet. From Oxnard to Boston, this blog connects a superintendent of the Rio School District to a freshman (1st year woman student) at MIT who reached out to the District to help in these coronavirus times. Here is the second edition of the Q&A post;

Read the PDF below of Blog # 4.. Its worth the Read!

Niki _ JP Collaborative MIT- Rio Blog # 4

To the 8th Graders…… and Graduates

To the 8th graders.. Going to high school

The High schoolers graduating

The college graduates…. Of 2020

As I’ve been observing these last few months I’ve noticed that many people have been focused on the loss of the end of the year celebrations.. Milestones. Rituals. Ceremonies… I can feel the loss of much more than these events in the people’s dismay as well as their rallies to create unconventional versions of these events. I can feel and see people wanting to make sure their values are being expressed.

People love their family, their children, their promoters, their graduates. They want them to know it. They want them to feel special. They want them to feel accomplished. These feelings are deep in many cases, and for others they lend to a chance to have a party so people can enjoy life and each other. 

After working in schools for the last four decades I know that the end and beginning of life phases, while celebrated and potentially fun, can also be times of great stress and uncertainty in good times. In coronatimes? Well I imagine that’s amplified.

One thing about staying in educational organizations over decades is the opportunity to develop a long term perspective. For me, I see the constants and the similarities, and also the evolution of students, families, and learners over time. Students have so much information access these days, so many valuable skills and practices, they care so much and easily and creatively find ways to express their care. 2020 students at every level, are the best our society has ever produced ( sorry- “greatest generation”).

My message to all the 8th graders and school graduates out there is to believe in yourself, your family, and your community and move through the phases of survival, resilience and on to thriving. In these times, only a few are thriving, but each of us can see things in ourselves that are coming to the forefront. We hope these aspects of character, courage, and clarity are focused on helping yourself feel ok, helping yourself get on a learning and making path, helping yourself help your family and community and ultimately to find ways to build strength and joy for the gift of living life.

Your Rio friends and teachers and support staff believe in you, we miss seeing you in the normal ways, but we know you are ready for the next thing, the next stage, the next school, in whatever form it takes. We celebrate your learning and past accomplishments and we equally acknowledge the struggles and challenges you go through to get to this point in your life. 

Some things never change. Working hard, caring for people, dreaming of things you’d like to do and taking actions in that direction – these remain constants. We ask that you be mindful of the new safety precautions during these pandemic times so that you can stay well and you can keep others well. We will see you soon in person, until then, the art of being your most full self online is the next great challenge for the students and graduates of 2020 and you have a long lead in this race already.  


From Compulsory to…..

From Compulsory to….. eh…

From Extrinsic to Intrinsic Motivation

Engagement and Love and Drive to learn

These days teachers are experiencing a great differential in every classroom and learning context. Differentials between students and their engagement and completion of assignments. Differentials between student behavior before coronatimes and during these stay at home times. Even when and if we return to physical school spaces these differentials are likely to remain.

What explains them? Many variables are at work.

Perhaps we can look to the students who are doing well or relatively well with their learning during these coronatimes. If we ask them and their teachers, what would they say?

The Rio School District is getting ready to ask those questions and start Thought Exchanges to explore these ideas. Meanwhile, I think these times are exposing the vulnerabilities and problems of every human organization. Schools for sure. Public school in grades 1-12 is mandated by state law in every state of America. There are extrinsically imposed negative consequences and penalties for non-compliance for both child and parent. Attendance, grades, grade promotion, etc are all elements of this compulsory nature of our schools. 

Our schools are garden/prisons. They function from opposing metaphors. Since the evolution of standards based learning we have struggled to have non-contradictory forces in our learning environments. We have succeeded in many cases in increasing the garden aspects including having actual gardens themselves. Still, kids have to do this, have to do that, or else…

We preach and aim to develop intrinsic motivation while maintaining a plethora of extrinsic motivational structures including both reward and punishment. We do all this under the legal concept of parens patriae…. the state as parent and under the premise that the individual right to not partake in education is abridged by the need of the collective right to have educated citizens which are seen as better for the economy and the rule of law.

Then comes the virus. School Closures. Kids not connecting, disappearing, connecting and disconnecting, connecting but not doing, doing but not connecting and every other possible variation.

Summer loss in reading and academic learning is a battle we educators have designed for for years. Summer? What about virus loss? Who is losing and who is really losing? No one is winning but by virtue of others losing more there are those that will benefit from the growing gap when economic function and academic function returns. Equity the word has been a buzz and its buzzing now more than ever.

Kids who love to learn, who are in the Must learn category. Kids who love and must make things and explore, kids who love and must read and find ways to express their meanings, kids who love to solve problems and who love challenges, kids who are resilient and who have the emotional support and internal resources to deal with war-like conditions, these kids will go on learning. They will lose many opportunities for sure, the greatest of all, the social interaction and learning from their peers, but they will rely on themselves and their families, friends, and remaining school connections to try to thrive rather than survive in these times. 


Deficit models and examining the tragic consequences and conditions will surely yield useful information and compel us to make things better for all, however, these times can be informed by the children and students of every age who are doing ok and learning and developing and adapting. Perhaps, as we listen and learn from them we can infuse our designing for the future with things that will help every learner.


Along these lines, I suspect that we need to design less for compulsory dynamics and more for individualizing learning plans for every child that encourage their intrinsic ownership of their learning as well as supporting their families to develop along these lines.