Coping With Coronavirus: Keeping the Community on Course

An interview with Kristopher Harrison, Superintendent of Schools, Irvington Union Free School District 
(Interviewed by Lily Alig)

Irvington Superintendent Kristopher Harrison hosts weekly Facebook Live sessions. Photo: Irvington USFD

As Covid-19 continues to affect our communities, donations of time and resources have emerged from every corner of the county. With the crisis spreading unpredictably, when schools in the area closed, no one knew how long the shutdown would last.  

School districts faced the task of maintaining academic progress in a deeply uncertain time, as well as caring for the emotional well-being of their students. Fear and isolation became part of daily life as the coronavirus hit New York State. At the same time, school districts became an integral part of communal efforts to keep spirits up.  

“A school district is at the heart of any strong community,” said Kristopher Harrison, Superintendent of Irvington Union Free School District (UFSD). “I see our role to serve as a vehicle to support all needs that are present.” 
 
EQUAL FOOTING
Irvington UFSD has approached distance learning through open communication among all stakeholders — from students and parents to teachers and administrators. Resolving issues of inequity and access to technology were central to its strategy. The district distributed hundreds of Google Chromebooks and provided wifi/ cellular jetpacks to afford all students equal footing. 

The district has distributed hundreds of Google Chromebooks to students 

In April, Irvington UFSD rolled out regular, live instruction for each class, including support services such as speech and counseling.

Superintendent Harrison and his staff also explored hosting virtual district spirit activities: “We are very concerned about supporting the well-being and morale of all community members — students, staff members and parents alike.” 

COMMUNITY TRANSPARENCY
The Superintendent hosts weekly Facebook Live sessions to further engage with the community. Harrison uses the platform to pull back the curtain on decision-making.

“I strive to articulate our efforts and explain the rationale behind our thinking, as well as many of the difficult decisions being made daily,” he said. That personal touch, plus biweekly letters and Facebook posts that Harrison writes, keep the community connected and informed.

To combat the emotional strain of crisis, Irvington UFSD offers meditation sessions for students and their families.  

Said Superintendent Harrison, “Since we offer meditation and yoga during the school year, I felt it was critical to extend the opportunity.” Community member Jennifer Monness has been working with the district to develop on-demand meditation videos.  

GLOBAL CITIZENS
The Irvington district prides itself on teaching its students to be global citizens. To the teachers and staff, that means encouraging students to become agents of change.  

That guidance has had a noticeable effect on Irvington students, resulting in district donations of more than 1,200 sets of protective eyewear and 3,500 pairs of surgical gloves to Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow.  

The generosity and compassion shown by the entire Irvington district does not surprise Superintendent Harrison. He views it as a reminder of what he already knew: the strength and kindness of the Irvington UFSD community knows no bounds.  

Lily Alig is a writer and editor living in Tarrytown. lily.e.alig@gmail.com.

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About the Author: Lily Alig