Remote Learning: An Interview with P.S. 234 Principal Dana Rappaport

P.S. 234 Principal Dana Rappaport works from her home in Brooklyn. Photo: Rebecca Chaqor

Apr. 24, 2020

This week the Trib interviewed Dana Rappaport, principal of P.S. 234 in Tribeca, for her perspective on remote learning for her school. She spoke to us by phone from her home in Brooklyn, where she has been working.   

You only had about three days to prepare for remote learning. What sorts of issues were you trying to resolve?

What was important to me was that we think about each grade as well as the whole school. A kindergartner has a different level of independence than a 5th grader. So the way we constructed the [non-live] Google Classroom instruction versus the live teaching depended on the grade.

We also thought about morning class meetings. If you’re in kindergarten your family might also have a second or third grader. So we tried to stagger the morning meetings in case parents didn’t have multiple devices to work on. You might have a device for an older kid. But who has a device for a kindergartner? And we knew that parents were also going to be working remotely and have to give priority to their work. We also made a commitment to record any live meetings so that if a parent with their child couldn’t look at it til 5 in the afternoon, they could still participate on a given day.  

Because of a directive from the Department of Education, schools have had to stop using Zoom for live teaching and transition to Microsoft Team or Google Meet. Was it an easy transition? 

No! Not at all. But we’re working with it. That’s the thing about our staff. Even if there are glitches, even if it’s hard, they’re going to work their way through it. Today was the second day on Google Meet and it was already a little better than the first day.  Children have to mute and unmute themselves and when you’re five years old it doesn’t always work. But it’s fine for a 10-year-old.

I know parents are really worried about their kids, and we want to make sure we’re doing the best we can. The live instruction is important in terms of connection and the Google Classroom is important in terms of being able to give kids independent practice and content and we have to do it in combination. 

Can you gauge how the kids are progressing?

There’s no way that remote learning and learning in school can be the same. You can’t equate the two. I don’t even think you should try, although we are trying. I think that assessment isn’t going to be the same either. It’s really hard. The teachers are doing the best they can. They review work. They comment on work. They’re doing small group instruction. They’re doing individual instruction. Nobody learned how to remote teach, so we’re trying to figure this out. And remote teaching was never designed for children this young, either. But we are using the best practices that we know about in order to do everything with the children. Deliver instruction, assess them, check in on them, all of it.

What is your day like?

I probably start my day…I don’t even want to tell you when I start my day. I’m waking up early. My sleep cycle is not great. I look through any emails that have come in and get an overview of things, and then by 9 when the teachers start doing their live instruction, the assistant principal and I spend time going from classroom to classroom just like we would do if we were in school. It’s the only way that I can gauge how things are going. I do this not because I’m observing the teachers so much as I’m looking for best practices that we can share across the teams of teachers. And we’ve found a lot of them.

(Rappaport went on to list a mind-numbing number of video conference meetings that she attends, some daily, others weekly or bi-weekly, with the assistant principal and  parent coordinator, teacher “teams” from different grades, the PTA presidents, office staff, paraprofessionals, the district office and more.)

I look at the Google Classrooms to see what’s being assigned and the different kinds of work that kids are doing so I can get a sense of how remote learning is going. Then I do follow-ups to any of the meetings that we had. 

Sometimes I’ll take a break and take a walk and then come back and do more work. The days are long. But I work really long hours when I’m at school, too. 

Are you more exhausted than when you’re at school?

Yeah, because I feel like it never ends. It’s different. First of all I’m not a person who is accustomed to sitting all day. It’s not the way I work. I spend a lot of time at school going to classrooms and being present aroun the school. I don’t spend so much time in my office.

What are the special challenges for the teachers?

They are working extremely hard. They’re trying to figure out not just how to deliver content but how to connect with kids and how to assess children. We’re throwing all of these new learning curves at them all of the time. But they’re quick. They have figured out ways to record lessons; is it better to record a read-aloud or do a read-aloud live. And how do we check in on the social-emotional side of children, and how do we do that in a large group lesson? Fortunately, my staff is pretty tech savvy. They’re willing to try new things, and if it doesn’t work they figure out a way to make it work. But it’s really exhausting. That’s why I meet with the teachers every week. Right now I feel like it’s my job to check in on them and make sure they’re ok.

Have you started thinking about what it’s going to be like next September?

By December, principals are already thinking ahead to the next school year. The thing that’s different here is that we can only plan so far ahead because you don’t know what’s coming. So you learn to live with a little bit of uncertainty while trying to prepare as best as you can. So I have a plan, but I have to be ready to shift plans. I have plan A, B, C, D and Q. And it will probably be plan Z.

How is this experience changing you as an educator?

I’ve been thinking about how the digital world can help us more in education. For example, if you have lessons that are recorded, kids can preview or review their learning. And it’s a way for kids to work at their own pace and differentiate instruction in a very powerful way. So I’m trying to take from this experience what can have a positive impact on our educational life when we get back to school. I also feel that I am communicating more with the parents. And as part of that communication there needs to be just so much empathy. It’s not something I didn’t do before but I feel like the need is so much more acute now. 

Wed like to hear from you—parents, students, teachers and school leaders—about your experiences with remote learning. Please write to



This crisis brings home the extraordinary work of our teachers

As every parent in NYC (and America no doubt) are saying, this current Covid 19 crisis has really brought home how much extraordinary work and teaching our teachers do for our children every day. And the support and oversight of the dedicated and hard working principals, such as Ms Rappaport's, is an amazing thing to be a part of and/or observe and read about.

Monica Forrestall