Stand Down on Sales Pitches During COVID-19

Conversation with Susan Enfield Superintendent, Highline Public Schools near Seattle

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Susan Enfield is the superintendent of Highline Public Schools, near Seattle, one of the first regions where life was upended by the coronavirus outbreak.

She has a message for education companies offering their services: They can help her district by going quiet for a while.

Enfield says she’s been inundated with inquiries from vendors touting products they believe will meet her 20,000-student district’s needs during these bewildering times. In a recent Twitter post, Enfield told them she’d heard enough.

“It’s 9:00 pm & I finally have time to send this message: to every vendor, solution partner, researcher, education advocate, etc. please stop. Just stop.” she wrote. “My WA superintendent colleagues & I confronting school closure need to focus on our communities. Let us do our jobs.”

Enfield says her 20,000-student district will be out of session at least until the end of April. She’s wrestling with a variety of far-reaching challenges, including how her district will provide meals to disadvantaged students, what kind of child care it might be asked to provide, and how it will deliver academic lessons, remotely or in print.

EdWeek Market Brief Managing Editor Sean Cavanagh caught up with Enfield and asked her about vendors going too far with their product pitches during the coronavirus outbreak, and about the challenges her district will face in the time ahead. —Sean Cavanagh

I gather from your social media post that you’ve been overwhelmed with companies reaching out to tell you about their products.

It’s been overwhelming, but I think everything here is overwhelming now, given what we’re facing.

I would say what they’re saying falls into two camps. There are those that are truly just wanting to say, “We’re here. Whatever help you need, just let us know.” Then there are the others who are just unabashedly, shamelessly hawking their service. In some cases, they’re framing it as, “We know you’re facing these challenges, but we can be the solution.” I think I speak for my other superintendent colleagues when I say, I know where you are, who you are. If I need you, I’ll reach out. But for now, I just need some grace and space to focus on my community.

What separates the messages you want to hear from those you don’t?

I appreciate those who are just saying, “I’m here for whatever you need, I’m not trying to push anything.” But I really resent those who see this as an economic opportunity for themselves. I respect that everyone has to make a living, but being so tone deaf when people are really, really scrambling to meet the basic needs in their community, is pretty appalling.

That said, have you received help from the companies already serving your district?

Yes, absolutely. And that’s a distinction I would make. It’s one thing for someone I already have a relationship with, reaching out and saying, “Hey, we’re here, what do you need?” It’s the cold calls I find so offensive. ... There will certainly be a time when we have room to breathe ... and figure out what our needs are.

By contrast, what are the companies your district already works with telling you?

They haven’t said, we can do this-and-this. It’s more that they’ve said, we’re here for whatever you need. And that’s the message I’ve appreciated the most. I’ve gotten that message from organizations like Finalsite and Gaggle, and others we have a relationship with.

To what extent is virtual or remote learning an option for your district?

Every decision I make as a superintendent has to be through a lens of equity, and it has to be about solutions and strategies that are scalable, equitable, and provide opportunities for all kids. We don’t have a 1-to-1 device program for every kid. And even if I did, not every kid has reliable internet at home, and not all of them have an adult at home who could help them.

Remote learning at scale in a district like Highline is just not an option. And so we’re not pretending that it is.

So your options for providing students with lessons are what?

We’re [not] just closing up shop and doing nothing. We are providing a robust set of online resources for those families who do have access [and print-based options for those who don’t]. And we’re providing hard-copy packets for our younger learners though middle school.

And so when our families show up [in the weeks ahead] to pick up meals, because we’ll be providing breakfast, lunch, and snacks across 12 of our sites, we’ll also have curricular resources for families to take home to work with their kids. We’ll also make them available at all the sites where we have food. We’re also contemplating deliveries, too.

How would you pull off making deliveries?

Our state has assured us that we will get our apportionment for staffing, so my staff is getting paid through all of this. That means I do have bus drivers I can call on to make deliveries—of materials, food, what have you. We don’t know yet, but that’s something we’re considering going forward.

What are your other top concerns?

We’re going to need to be incredibly patient with ourselves and one another as we respond to this. I believe our looming challenge going forward will be providing child care. Our state has asked that we provide child care, but we’re not exactly sure what that looks like yet.

Vol. 39, Issue 27, Page 10

Published in Print: March 25, 2020, as Stand Down on Sales Pitches During COVID-19
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