It’s worth taking a moment to consider what is taking place right now: the start of a school year like no other. It’s like no other because it follows a school year like no other, a year in which schooling was dramatically altered by the coronavirus pandemic. We know now that we were able to get through that most challenging of school years, but we also have to acknowledge that much was lost. Put at the top of that list the absence of in-person learning that for some teachers and students was not just a challenge, but a debilitating experience.
Those now starting the school year in Meriden appear to have a clear view of the challenges ahead. The school system, as the Record-Journal recently reported, starts the new year with 200 new staff members, a number that is significantly higher than usual. Some of those new hires include staff brought on board to help counter the loss of learning experienced by students because of the pandemic.
“We weren’t able to do a lot of things last year,” said Gail Kelly, the new principal at Thomas Hooker Elementary School. She said it’s important to meet the needs of students “socially, emotionally and academically.”
Orlando Valentin takes over as assistant principal at Hanover Elementary School, returning to Hanover after teaching at Pulaski Ellementary School for the past five years. A first-generation college graduate, Valentin is a valuable role model, with roots in Puerto Rico and having grown up in a single-parent housheold. “I’m going to be out and about, in the classrooms, shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers and students,” said Valentin of his new role.
There’s obvious excitement about being able to hold instruction in-person. Other new leadership positions include Christine Laferriere, as principal at Pulaski, and Jessica Hodum, now one of two assistant principals at Lincoln Middle School.
“It’s so exciting to have our kids back in the classroom,” said Laferriere, who started as a kindergarten teacher in 2000 and has also taught first and third grades.
One thing last year taught was how well schools can persevere through extreme challenges. The new leadership in Meriden appears well positioned to take on the challenges of this year.