Milford School Board chair looks at clearing pandemic hurdle, bring kids back

Judith Zaino

MILFORD – Recently named school board chairperson Judi Zaino, who was elected to the board of education last year, is optimistic about facing new and existing challenges and said that getting students back to in-person learning is priority one.

“There is only one light at the end of the tunnel and that’s the students,” she said.

Zaino brings a wealth of life and business experience to the role of board of education chairperson. She can also tap into her professional background of being a former school educator.

“I think there is some wisdom that comes with maturity,” she said. “I’m at a place in my life where I can approach things with a degree of calm and a degree of respect for all of the stakeholders.”

With “much of the heavy lifting with organizing and getting things on track,” Zaino said that chairing the board with its inherent strengths will help the board to continue to move forward with individual and board initiatives. She acknowledged that the pandemic has had a complete impact on how schooling is conducted and how the board, in the process, has made every attempt to make strides.

“The last year for this board has been about living on the balls of our feet,” she shared.

“And we have tried to pivot with everything COVID has thrown at us. And we receive mixed messages from every direction.”

Of that, Zaino is referring to guidelines that have often differed on the state, local and federal levels.

“The state government was telling us one thing and we were hearing something different from the CDC,” she said. “And then we have to take into account, how parents feel about getting their children back into school. I feel that for the past year we have just been reacting.”

Zaino said that there were items with which the board wanted to move forward but was unable or deterred.

‘I’m sure we’re not the only ones,” she commented. “I’m sure the administrators wanted to move forward as well. We kept getting tripped up with everything that we had to respond to. It was virtually impossible to meet everyone’s needs and have everyone be pleased with the outcomes. It simply wasn’t going to happen.”

The issue of being able to allow students to return to school, or remote learn – or a hybrid of the two – was front and center. Zaino said one need only review emails in the board’s email boxes, ranging from praise for how student education was handled, to criticism for the same thing.

“We had every mutation in between,” she said. “I think we’re in a place now where our number one priority is to get students physically back in school full time. We need that educationally, psychologically and economically. We really need to get things back to some sense of normalcy. And we need to address remediation.”

Zaino said that Milford students, like students across the country, have lost important and valuable education time.

“We need to remediate that loss,” she said. “And we need to make sure that we don’t drop the ball and let students slip through the cracks. Because we’re going to have to do a lot of differentiation to see who is missing what.”

Like many educators and board of education members across the nation, Zaino believes it will take a couple of years before everyone involved readjusts to the normal.

“We’re going to be scrambling, like every other school in the country,” she said. “And this is fascinating – but there are students who have thrived with remote learning where in-person learning was less of a success story for some of them.”:

And now with every student stepping back into that physical classroom, educators have to determine which students were better suited to at-home learning versus those who need the in-classroom experience. Zaino said the results are definitely mixed.

“I spoke with a parent who had one child who was remote and one who was hybrid,” she explained. “They were both doing really well and every student has a different way of learning. And we’re going to have some of these students back, where the last year has just been a big giant black hole.”

Zaino said that most people have gone with the conventional wisdom that having a teacher engaging a student in their learning teaching in-person is the most effective way to learn.

“And it is for many a student,” she added. “But clearly we have now identified that this is not the most effective way for some of the other students.

At the Mar. 9 school board meeting, that topic was discussed: What to do with students who excelled while learning remotely so that they are not lost in the transition.

As a governing board, the hope is that the school board members can now, or sometime soon, see the forest through the trees.

“Yes,” she said. “That’s exactly where we are. We have addressed the pandemic, in terms of how we’re going to deal with the rest of the school year. And this will be a brand new start for us in the fall. It’s going to be the new normal with different challenges. But I think we as a nation are finally rounding the corner.”

Zaino said it’s time to put things back together again and the board of education recognizes that.

“I think that was our feeling as we transitioned into our new way of thinking in this new normal,” she said. “As I said, priority one is getting students back into school buildings. We have to figure that out.”