In her role at NOLA Public Schools, alumna Dina Hasiotis worked with school and system leaders to navigate the pandemic, from providing technology to safely reopening schools.
November 12, 2020
On March 12, 2020, school leaders across the country began hearing announcements that schools would be closing for at least a month to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. As students, parents, and school leaders grappled with what this meant for them, Dina Hasiotis, the chief school support and improvement officer at NOLA Public Schools, and her team began getting into action to ensure that students across New Orleans could continue learning through the pandemic.
Dina joined Teach For America in 2002, and taught seventh grade math and social studies at Edna Karr High School in New Orleans.
“I joined TFA because I was passionate about public service and was unsettled by the inequities present in our public education system,” she says.
After leaving the classroom, she held several roles in education and education policy before taking on her current position at NOLA Public Schools in 2016. In this role, Dina focuses on addressing these same inequities that have been brought into the spotlight with the current pandemic.
“Given how terribly unsettling and disruptive COVID-19 has been for all of us, I have felt fortunate to have a job that requires that I remain focused and steadfast on solving problems,” Dina says.
The individuality of charter schools means that they can plan and respond quickly, but this presents a challenge in areas where systemwide coordination is needed. Dina’s team focuses on identifying and responding to systemwide challenges. They quickly mobilized, alongside school and CMO leaders, to address families’ immediate needs—launching distance learning, coordinating a community feeding program, and problem-solving around connectivity and technology needs.
“[Internet connectivity] was never a topic we at the district discussed as an issue that needed broad systemic solutions,” Dina says. “Now, we are gathering data and information on connectivity citywide so that we can advocate to the city and broader business community on the urgent need to implement long-term, sustainable WiFi solutions for our families across the city.”
Later, she took the lead on issues surrounding safely reopening schools, including the challenge of providing COVID-19 testing to schools across the city as part of their safe reopening plans.
“To ensure equity across our system and help support our teachers in feeling safe to return to work, we now have partnerships with every major local health system, along with national partners, to help us build and implement a robust COVID-19 testing program,” Dina says.
“We now have partnerships with every major local health system, along with national partners, to help us build and implement a robust COVID-19 testing program.”
One of the greatest challenges for decision-making and planning was the lack of a coordinated federal response and guidance at the national and state level, especially around issues like when and how to reopen schools.
“Whatever decisions we make, families and educators are directly impacted and conflicting messages can lead to mistrust,” she says. “For example, we were the first school system in the state to require mask wearing for all students and staff in our reopening plans. We had to take that 'bold' step weeks before it was a statewide mandate. District leaders shouldn’t have to set such standards, but we have had to, in order to serve our communities during such trying times.”
“We were the first school system in the state to require mask wearing for all students and staff in our reopening plans. We had to take that 'bold' step weeks before it was a statewide mandate.”
As we move forward, however, Dina remains concerned about the impact that pandemic and the lockdowns, school closures, and ongoing transitions will have on New Orleans’ students, and educational equity across the city.
“The majority of our families have had to disproportionately carry the burdens of working on the front lines and suffering from limited and weakened public health and other public infrastructure,” she says. “Additionally, we know that well-resourced families can bring in supports to fill the gaps that are inevitable when having to learn from afar, yet the majority of our NOLA-PS families won’t have the ability to so. Therefore, we know that our students are going to require significant intervention once school buildings reopen.”
Despite the challenges, Dina remains optimistic about what we have learned from this experience. “Our schools now know more than they did in July about how best to connect with their students, what’s difficult, and what works when it comes to distance learning,” she says. “The sooner we can start work directly with our families, the sooner we learn what’s needed to better serve them and our community overall. When presented with immense challenges, we have to continue to find ways to move forward.”