To view a video greeting message from Dr. Susie Da Silva, Ridgefield Superintendent of Schools, click here.

“It’s a new situation for families, for children,” Susie Da Silva said of the virus-halted stay-at-home world in which she’s taken over as leader of the Ridgefield Public Schools.

“All children, they thrive on routine, structure, and social interaction. As a school system that’s what we have to work hard to do, is to try to bring those experiences back to kids, to establish some sense of normalcy,” she said.

“We know that social interaction is an important part of learning, if not the most important part of learning.

“My goal is to try to find ways we can engage in, ways we can socially interact with one another and build that communication.

“There’s a lot of care and patience that’s required because family situations are dynamic, meaning there could be one parent that’s working, both parents working, just a single household. It could be many children at many levels, it could be many children at one level — which is harder if it’s elementary level,” Da Silva said.

“There may be someone in the family or someone close to the family that’s fallen ill, and understanding what that means for the family and the child.”

Da Silva, who started last Wednesday, April 1, has been impressed with how Ridgefield’s educators are handling the extraordinary circumstances created by the novel coronavirus — there were some 110 known active cases of COVID-19 in Ridgefield when she spoke to The Press on the April 5, and the disease had taken 13 lives in town.

I noticed right away how in tune our leadership team is to that,” she said, “...to this public health crisis.”

She was grateful for the work of her predecessor, interim superintendent JeanAnn Paddyfote.

“Dr. Paddyfote did a lot of heavy lifting before I got here,” Da Silva said. “Dr. Paddyfote made the transition far easier.”

Intense transition

With the coronavirus, and all the schools on distance learning, the transition has been intensified.

“In a typical time there’s a transition period where you have an opportunity to get to know people, facilities — it’s not necessarily that fast paced,” she said. “But in this process, it is. It’s a hustle. There’s a lot to do and a lot of learning.”

And the learning involves not just procedure and process, but people.

“It’s a little bit of hustle with heart, as I shared with my leadership team,” Da Silva said.

And in her short time on the job, the people who are the heart of the Ridgefield Public Schools have impressed her.

“I would say we have a committed group of school leaders, for sure,” she said. “And it’s clear that our teachers have really worked quickly and hard to make the transition from physical school to a virtual school in very, very little time.

“People aren’t falling down,” she said. “This is a group of folks that are committed to this experience for children and for families.”

The people she works with know well what they need to do, and they understand there are things she may not know yet.

Me jumping aboard in April 1 and having a staff that’s ready to go, understanding that there’s a lot for me to learn, they’re very supportive and accepting,” Da Silva said.

“I think what I’ve noticed is that the school-based leaders are really in tune to the needs of families. They’re really responding to what works for Ridgefield families — which is great,” Da Silva said.

“I’d say that an important aspect of how we move forward just to decide to bring energy and focus to the work that we do with kids.”

Wellness focus

The new superintendent has liked seeing town educators have students’ “emotional wellness” foremost in their approach to the unusual situation.

“This is scary for many of us, and certainly children. How do you speak to your children about this change? It’s not that there’s a long transition period to make adjustments to this,” she said. “You can imagine how young children developmentally can receive everything that’s happening in our world, differently.”

She’s looking for ways to increase her engagement with students — despite the current situation,

“I hope to connect with the kids soon, over next week and a half or so,” she said.

With reality on lockdown, students and teachers in their separate homes, technology — the internet, social media, Google platforms — has become the medium through which education must take place.

“Right now, I’d say we are primarily functioning through Google— whether Google Meet where we have most of our virtual live meetings. We’re using Google Classroom,” Da Silva said.

“There’s a lot technology tools out there but we’re trying to be as clean as we can, trying to keep to the same tools, so parents don’t have to learn lots of different things and kids don’t have to learn lots of different things,” Da Silva said.

“We’re trying not to overwhelm anyone, because there’s a lot going on in homes.”

Do good

She feels the current crisis prompted by COVID-19 can be taken an a opportunity for some soul searching, and a commitment-making.

“An opportunity to take a step back, understanding how fortunate you are, and figure out what you can do to help those who are less fortunate,” she said.

That might be an elderly neighbor, someone who’s living alone, or has mobility challenges, or financial problems, emotional difficulties.

“We have to step back and say where can we do good in this situation? We’re in our houses with our children and able to work. And others have so many barriers.”

Da Silva has three school-age children herself — a son and two daughters..

“I have elementary, middle and high school,” she said.”One at every level.”

They live about 45 minutes from Ridgefield.

“I will be commuting. Right now, I’m working at home, like everybody,” she said.

“I’m in the same boat as everyone else, learning how to really engage in the same work that we’re committed to in the physical world now in the virtual world.”

“If there was one challenge working from home, it’s not so much the kids for me, but it’s my dog,” Da Silva said.

“Dogs, they don’t get it — you’re in your virtual work,” she said. “Keeping him quiet when he wants to go out or wants to play when you’re having a virtual meeting, it’s not easy.

“He’s used to those walks, and playing when he wants to play.”