The Trailblazer

Update on Reopening from Superintendent Erik Gundersen

July 21, 2020

Dear Students, Parents, and Staff,

We would like to thank all who have taken the time to complete surveys, serve on committees, and provide constructive feedback as we develop plans for reopening our schools.  As you might imagine, this is an enormous task, and we are happy to have “all hands on deck” helping.

In this letter, I will provide a brief summary of where we are in the planning process and the next steps.  A more detailed explanation on our progress and plans can be found below my signature.

Since the State released “The Road Back,” a 104-page document that provides guidance for school districts on how to develop plans and processes for the safe opening of schools, we have done the following:

  • Established three priority goals for reopening schools:

    • Focus on the health and safety of all staff and students

    • Maintain high academic expectations

    • Establish meaningful connections between students and the faculty

  • Our 40-member Restart Committee, which includes Board of Education members, administrators, faculty, support staff, parents, and students, has collaborated to develop surveys, review the guidelines, analyze survey results, and most importantly, provide feedback regarding various concerns.

  • Begun the process of writing a formal plan, to be submitted to the Bergen County Superintendent of Schools by the July 27 due date.

There are many items we are still working on, including the schedule.  As required by the State, we are developing schedules for the following scenarios:

  • All on-site classes.

  • A hybrid solution, where cohorts of the student body come to school on a rotating basis to assure we can maintain proper social distancing.

  • 100% remote learning.

Whether or not we can physically be in schools will be determined by the Governor, Bergen County Executive, or local health officials, based on conditions at the time, but each of these scenarios will be shared publicly no later than July 31 as required.

Throughout this entire process, we are maintaining open lines of communication with parents, students, staff, faculty, the Board of Education, local health officials, other school districts in the County, and the Department of Education, to assure we are making the best decisions possible in this unprecedented time.  As decisions are made and procedures are established, we will provide you with timely communication so that you, as a family, can plan accordingly.

Thank you for your continued support and cooperation as we work through the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

Sincerely,
gundersen signature
P. Erik Gundersen
Superintendent of Schools

Detailed information:

Below is information with regards to the work we have done, and the work left to be done.  By July 31 we will supply families with schedule options so they can plan accordingly.  All other details will be sent as the information becomes available during the month of August.

Organization

The Restart Committee is overseeing and working with six sub committees, which include:

  • Health and Safety

  • Building Operations

  • Facilities

  • Governance

  • Instruction

  • Technology and Communications

Each of these committees is tasked with establishing recommendations and procedures for their respective areas of responsibility.  All of their recommendations are to be in line with the district priority goals and “The Road Back” guidance from the State.

Health and Safety

We are currently working on a plan for student and staff screening prior to the start of each day.  This plan is being worked on in conjunction with our school physician, school nurses, and the Restart Committee, assuring we are inline with CDC and New Jersey Department of Health guidelines.  In addition, we will provide all families and staff the requirements regarding Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to be worn while in school, but at a minimum, all people in the buildings, including all students, must wear masks.

Building Operations, including Schedule

We realize no one plan will solve all the issues or get school back to the “normal” we all so desperately want.   We share the same frustrations as many of you who want both to keep yourselves and loved ones safe and also reopen schools for quality instruction and interactions. As educators, we especially want to see our students as often as possible and maximize instructional time with them. Under normal circumstances, our student schedule accomplishes that and much more; however, these are not normal circumstances, and for now we know the schedule will not be “normal.”  With that said, our teams continue to develop plans in these very fluid environments that are based on research, current guidelines, and best practices for student and staff health and wellness.

With the Governor’s current intention of opening schools in September, but with the requirement of maintaining social distancing, we will most likely begin the school year in a hybrid model.  This is a design most schools in the State are exploring as building capacities will not allow for proper social distancing when all students are in the building.  Based on our capacities, half of the students will come into the building, while the other half will work in a structured remote environment on that same day at home.  The next day it would switch.  As an example, on Monday, group “A” would come to school while group “B” stays at home.  Group “A” would have instruction with their teacher and half the class, while group “B” would work in a structured asynchronous remote environment.  On Tuesday, group “B” would come to school while group “A” would work/learn remotely.

In-school lunch was a major concern for many who answered the survey as well as the restart committee.  Currently, the district is working on a plan where students attend school for a portion of the day and lunch would be available as “grab and go” as students leave for the day.  We are awaiting further guidance from the State regarding protocols for in school lunch and recognize that if conditions improve during the school year that we may be able to offer a full day with in-school lunch option in the future.

Nearly 25% of our students qualify for bussing.  Our initial survey found that many prefer not to take the bus during the pandemic, offering to waive bussing and transport their child(ren) themselves.  A more specific survey for bussing will go directly to these families so we can best contract and schedule busses to meet State safety requirements.

Facilities

We have installed, and continue to install, hand sanitizing stations throughout the school buildings.  We have a schedule in place for a deep cleaning of the entire building each night, including the use of electrostatic sprayers to disinfect common contact surfaces and high contact surfaces throughout the day.  We are also working to determine how we will conduct the required safety drills in a way that promotes safety in both the intended sense of the drill, while addressing the concerns of the pandemic.

Our Principals and building administrators are also working on classroom spacing and  hallway traffic flow to determine the safest paths for students to travel in an effort to maintain social distancing.

Governance

This effort is led by our Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent.  For the purposes of reopening school, governance is overseeing all aspects of the reopening and establishing procedures, while assuring we are working collaboratively with various regional partners including our K-8 sending districts, the County Executive Superintendent, the Bergen County Association of School Administrators, local Boards of Health, and teacher and support staff associations.  In addition, the Governance committee is responsible for surveying parents, students, and staff, as well as working with our various associations to address their concerns and needs.

Instruction

Our supervisors of instruction are developing plans to assess student learning at the start of the school year and provide supports for students who need them as well as improving the instruction and curriculum delivery model.  Our supervisors are also working on the remote learning plan, whether we are hybrid or fully remote, to assure greater structure, support, and accountability for students as well as an increased level of interactivity between teachers and their classes.  To make all of this a reality, the district will be providing training and professional development for all our staff members in topics related to school reopening.

Our special services and counseling departments are working to ensure that students who require support (IEP/504/ELL) are able to access such assistance.  In addition, our Athletic departments are working with the NJSIAA (New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association)  to address how students may safely engage in our athletic programs.

Technology and Communications

Our preliminary results (survey is open thru today, 7/21) indicate that the technology itself worked very well during remote learning.  In addition, students, parents, and staff indicate that technical support was responsive and effective.  There are a few points that we can, and will improve:

  • Zoom was difficult for some students to manage during remote learning, particularly with updates as students were trying to install Zoom updates on their own as opposed to using Self Service.  To address this problem, the district will be purchasing and standardizing on the enterprise version of Google Meet.  Google Meet does not require any software installation, and the enterprise version will provide both students and teachers nearly all of the features Zoom has to offer if we have to transition to remote learning during the year.

  • Technical support in the early days of the pandemic was only on-site one or two days per week.  Assuming school buildings are open, technical support will be available daily from 7:30 to 3:00 pm.

Survey results indicate that overall, students, parents, and staff were satisfied with the level of communication with regard to remote learning.  During the summer, we will continue to communicate information in a timely manner so families have the most time possible to make important decisions.