A note of thanks as we close a challenging school year

A head-and-shoulders photo of Superintendent Adams

To all members of the City School District of Albany community:

As we come to the end of this very unique and often challenging school year, I would like to take a few moments to say thank you. 

Thank you to the Board of Education for all of the leadership and support it has provided throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Thank you to all of our administrators, faculty and support staff who pulled together to help our students and our families, and each other. 

To everyone within our organization, thank you for your willingness to change direction at almost a moment’s notice when we were forced to close our buildings in March. We pulled together to completely rethink the way we do business – from instruction to food service to technology to maintenance and operations. 

Your daily messages to students, school- and district-level communications, read-alongs, videos, parades and reverse parades, virtual promotion ceremonies and all of the other out-of-the-box ideas helped keep our students connected to school.

Who will ever forget “The Masked Dancer,” the virtual field day, the beautiful virtual rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing” and the insightful daily Perspectives in Online Learning?

Thank you again to our teachers, support staff and administrators for your commitment to our students and delivery of quality instruction. This work could not have been done without you.

Almost every aspect of our professional lives changed due to this pandemic, and I am grateful for the way we responded. No matter how we move forward under the precautions that are still so necessary due to this disease, we know that we will never be the same. 

The times we are experiencing will be the subject of history and economics and social lessons for generations to come. The work we are doing every day is groundbreaking, and it will continue to be. 

Out of necessity, yes. 

But this crisis also has provided us with the opportunity to think about all aspects of our work differently. It has allowed us to examine how we can take advantage of technology to be more flexible in meeting the needs of every student.  

Nothing will ever take away the need for, and the value of, the personal connections that are so vital to the work we do. However, the creativity you have displayed in sustaining that work remotely has been exemplary.  

That is not easy, and you have been more than up to the task.

I also would like to thank our students and families. 

The pandemic has stressed all of us in every aspect of our daily lives. From an educational perspective, it took away the reassuring custom of a daily physical gathering at school and the comfort that came with that. 

Suddenly, in its place we had a solitary and sometimes isolated experience. Aside from the serious health concerns of COVID-19, this may have been the biggest challenge of all. 

Our students and families faced it with courage and resilience. I am grateful for that strength.

I would like to express my thanks to our community partners as well. Whether it was organizing a team of volunteers to support our meal distribution efforts, or donating thousands of bags to help us deliver Chromebooks and return materials to our students, our community was there in our time of need. As it always is.

I would like to thank all of the nearly 11,000 Albany residents who returned ballots in this year’s very different budget vote and board election. I am thankful for the record-setting participation, and the overwhelming support. We are so very appreciative of the tremendous support of our community. We do not take that support lightly as it is a direct indication of the confidence placed in our school district to ensure that we are adjusting our program and delivery of instruction and support to meet the needs of our students and families.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the collective efforts of our district leadership team. Each division has been critical in the success of our transition to our online platform, and now in the process of planning for re-opening in the fall. 

I begin with our support team in the Superintendent’s Office: Paula Tibbitts, secretary to the superintendent, Tanya Bowie, board and district clerk, Kahla Kuchta, administrative secretary for the Elementary Division, and Brittany Pierce, administrative secretary for the Secondary Division. These women are the backbone for the amazing work you are about to hear about.

I extend accolades to the instruction unit, comprised of Cecily Wilson-Turner, Ed.D., and Lori McKenna, for their leadership at the school and related department levels whereby all state and local guidelines were adhered to regarding the leadership of our building and departments to ensure that resources were allocated and utilized in the best interest of our students. Their leadership was unmatched through weekly academic check-ins and daily updates to keep our administrators abreast of the many requirements that needed to be met. They have been diligent in mentoring and working alongside our building leaders to coach them through the challenges of meeting the needs of faculty, staff, students and families. They have been instrumental beyond the walls of the school building in connecting with various families who may need additional wraparound support and connections to community services.  

I acknowledge Karen Bechdol and the instructional supervisors. Without their commitment to professional development and ongoing support to our coaches and teachers, we would not have been able to sustain the delivery of quality instruction and resource materials sent directly to our families via mail and/or pickup at our food distribution sites.

Many times, technology is only visible when things go wrong. In the City School District of Albany, Kent Baker has led our Assessment, Accountability and Technology Innovation Division in a manner that put them in the spotlight as things are going right. Under his leadership, we have distributed more than 3,600 Chromebooks to students who needed devices and more than 200 hotspots to households where there was no Internet support. His division has provided professional development both instructionally and technologically while maintaining a Help Desk that responded to nearly 7,000 tickets for assistance during the COVID-19 school closure. He has ensured that our board meetings, hearings, town hall meetings and budget vote were handled in an extremely professional manner. Kudos to bringing technology into the “light”.

I also acknowledge Eileen Leffler, who has been on the job with securing grant opportunities during the COVID-19 crisis. Through her work we have been able to fund summer school and provide learning opportunities that otherwise would have negatively impacted our budget. Her role is even more critical as we move forward with a limited budget. The grants we secure will provide opportunities for our students where funding is limited. During this time, we have had to address many concerns that impacted the well-being of our employees.

Matthew Petrin, our human resources administrator, has worked very closely with our legal team to address these matters through labor management, civil service and partnering with each division leader to ensure that the appropriate supports were made available for our teachers, support staff and administrators. We all understand the stressors on our students and families; however, we must be here to take care of the grownups. Mr. Petrin worked with his team to respond to questions about COVID-19, healthcare, insurance, benefits and retirement to facilitate the processes needed.

To our newest member of Cabinet, Kimberly Rohring, deputy superintendent of business and finance, I express my sincere appreciation for accepting the monumental task of reorganizing the Business and Finance Division by restructuring the practices and processes in all areas of her supervision in a single year. Her commitment and attention to detail in the areas of payroll and accounting, purchasing, facility management, food service and maintenance and operations has been a heavy lift. However, the revamping of the entire division has put in place the necessary structure and accountability needed to ensure the organization operates in a fiscally sound manner. We know that we will need to continue to tighten our belt as we move forward, and with our enhanced checks and balances we can and we will continue to implement quality programs in a fiscally sound manner. 

Last but not least, the face behind the district that makes us visible in our community at large -- Ron Lesko and the entire Communication and Operations Division. From every daily update, video, Perspective in Online Learning, website story, Facebook and Twitter post, flyer, mailer, postcard, SNN, bus shelter advertisement and more, the time and attention to ensure that our district is informing our public, engaging our families, and representing us for whom we really are is outstanding! 

These last few months have not been what any of us planned for. They have challenged us and offered us new opportunities every single day. Together, we have responded to the best of our ability and in the best interest of our students.

I can think of no better example of what it means to be “All in for Albany!” For that, I am beyond grateful to all of you.

Kaweeda G. Adams