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Write every day: Redesign New York City schools with teachers at the table

In the product development process using design thinking and human-centered design methodologies, the very first stage is empathize. To create empathy for the people we’re creating for, a product developer like me talks with and listens to all stakeholders, and particularly to experts in the field for which we’re designing.

Teachers need to be part of the school reopening design process
I was shocked to learn from friends of mine who are teachers that this is not what’s happening in New York City schools, the country’s largest school system. None of them have been asked to participate in the design process to reimagine our schools in the era of COVID-19. The decision to reopen schools and the potential design of that reopening is being done by administrators, government officials, and, in some instances, parents. Teachers are not in the conversation (and neither are students), and yet they will be tasked with putting these plans into action. This not only lacks empathy; it’s also dangerous, inconsiderate, and setting the stage for damaging conflict.

Teachers are education experts
Subjects Matter Experts (known in product development by the acronym SME) are worth their weight in gold. They have insights that no one else in the process has. They are the center of making our strategy and plan a reality. Without their buy-in and advocacy, a product dies. Teachers (and students) need to be an integral part of the education redesign process, not just in New York City, but in every school district in the country.

How New York teachers are personally preparing for schools reopening
Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of this process to witness is that my teacher friends are preparing wills, power of attorney, and life insurance policies, and getting their documents like the location of passwords in order. They know that the chance of them getting sick is high if physical schools reopen. They have family members and friends to consider in this process, just like all other people. They are preparing for battle with an invisible enemy, all while trying as best they can to love, care for, and teach their students. This sad and desperate situation is their reality while they wait for the government’s decision.

Unity is still possible
Imagine where we would be now if New York City schools had spent all this time since March 2020 getting broadband to kids who don’t have it and figuring out how best to serve differently-abled kids. Instead, we have convoluted plans that are nearly impossible to decipher with little to no buy-in that are unlikely to work and even less likely to protect teachers, staff, students, and families from getting sick. After all we’ve been through in New York, don’t we deserve a chance to be unified in our efforts to protect one another as the school year begins? It’s not too late. Unity and collaboration with all stakeholders, teachers and students very much included, is still possible.

An open plea for collaboration with teachers
Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Carranza, and members of the New York City Council, I hope you will take ownership of this process and that in that ownership you will embrace the expertise of teachers to create a school system that is safe and productive for all. Here is my commitment as a concerned community member: I would happily facilitate the product development process to redesign schools in the wake of COVID-19 and I would do it for free. How to open our schools (in whatever capacity we do that) for the 2020 school year is one of the most important decisions this city will make. Let’s pull together as New Yorkers always do in times of difficulty. Let’s listen to one another. Let’s support one another. Let’s be unified in our efforts to keep everyone safe, healthy, and inspired. It’s possible, and necessary, for the sake of all our residents. I’m here if you need me.

About Christa Avampato

The short of it: Writer. Health, education, and art advocate. Theater and film producer. Visual artist. Product geek. Proud alumnae of the University of Pennsylvania (BA) and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia (MBA). Inspired by ancient wisdom & modern tech. Proliferator of goodness. Opener of doors. Friend to animals. Fan of creative work in all its wondrous forms. I use my business skills to create passion projects that build a better world. I’ve been called the happiest New Yorker, and I try hard to live up to that title every day. The long of it: My career has stretched across Capitol Hill, Broadway theatre, education, nonprofit fundraising, health and wellness, and Fortune 500 companies in retail, media, entertainment, technology, and financial services. I’ve been a product developer and product manager, theater manager, strategic consultant, marketer, voice over artist, , teacher, and fundraiser. I use my business and storytelling to support and sustain passion projects that build a better world. In every experience, I’ve used my sense of and respect for elegant design to develop meaningful products, services, programs, and events. While building a business career, I also built a strong portfolio as a journalist, novelist, freelance writer, interviewer, presenter, and public speaker. My writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, PBS.org, Boston.com, Royal Media Partners publications, and The Motley Fool on a wide range of topics including business, technology, science, health, education, culture, and lifestyle. I have also been an invited speaker at SXSW, Teach for America, Avon headquarters, Games for Change, NYU, Columbia University, Hunter College, and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. The first book in my young adult book series, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, was acquired by a publisher and launched in November 2017. I’m currently working on the second book in the series. A recovering multi-tasker, I’m equally at home in front of my Mac, on my yoga mat, walking my rescue dog, Phineas, traveling with a purpose, or practicing the high-art of people watching. I also cut up small bits of paper and put them back together as a collage artist. My company: I’m bringing together all of my business and creative career paths as the Founder of Double or Nothing Media: • I craft products, programs, and projects that make a difference; • I build the business plans that make what I craft financially sustainable; • I tell the stories that matter about the people, places, and products that inspire me. Follow my adventures on Twitter at https://twitter.com/christanyc and Instagram at https://instagram.com/christarosenyc.

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