Lots of new faces greet Rochester students on first day of school
Outside Roberto Clemente School #8 on Wednesday, yellow school buses pulled into the bus loop as some students walk up to the building, the younger ones holding a parent or guardian’s hand.
“I think everyone's excited to see the kids return in an environment that was different than we entered last year,” Rochester City School District Interim Superintendent Carmine Peluso said.
Peluso, who had been appointed to his role less than a week ago, stood with teachers and staff to greet students and families as they arrived. Former Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small resigned last Thursday.
“I've been a teacher and administrator in this district,” Peluso said. “So I'm hoping that that gives some stability and sense that someone that has been in the district for some time and has a long-standing commitment to the district is here to support them.”
The scene outside School #8 on St Paul St. was different compared with the past two school-year openings: just a few students are wearing face masks and there’s no sense of heightened anxiety over social distancing, plus, school is in-person.
Now, while the focus is less on spreading the coronavirus, the spotlight is on taking care of students’ emotional wellbeing and building a sense of trust among students and staff, said Chief of Schools LaJuan White.
"A lot of what goes on in schools sort of impacts what happens in the community,“ White said. “And that need for connection, I believe, is so necessary right now.”
At the city district, the first day of class also marked the end of a tumultuous summer. In the past few months, the administration faced a leadership shuffle and scrambled to hire more than 600 employees. That included teachers, cafeteria staff, and bus drivers.
Chris Miller, chief of human capital for the district, said his team worked hard to recruit people at job fairs, and through social media pushes and PSAs.
In particular, the district sought recent college graduates to join their teaching staff, Miller said, adding that new teachers were given a five-day training ahead of the school year and will be mentored by veteran teachers.
However, so much summer recruitment also means there are now hundreds of new faces at schools this year.
“Certainly, this year is going to be a fresh start,” Miller said. “We know that our teachers and our paraprofessionals and our other staff are working to build those relationships and connections to ensure a positive year, and that's part of what we do here is build a culture, build team in a classroom and ensure success.”
When it comes to preparedness for student social and emotional needs, middle school music teacher Brenda Richey said she’s got some training under her belt to meet students where they're at.
“I have learned a great deal at the school to just kind of ... say, ‘it looks like you're feeling maybe like this. Do you want to tell me about it?’ you know, kind of be gentle,” Richey said “And don't raise your voice, and just let them show you where they need to go next.”
Students, teachers, and staff have now begun the first school year not dominated by COVID-19 restrictions since the pandemic started.