WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange School District administrators gave the public and Board of Education members an update on distance learning at the virtual BOE meeting on April 20, saying that they are beginning to outline a plan for students’ return to school when Gov. Phil Murphy approves the measure. Murphy has said schools will not open until at least May 15, and Superintendent Scott Cascone said at the meeting that it’s the first time the possibility of returning to school this year has been discussed.
“While some might think that’s unrealistic and not particularly likely, the fact is that it appears the door has been opened to potentially do that,” Cascone said. “We’ve begun to shift our focus to what reopening might look like, just in terms of best practices. Of course, we would need further guidance from the state as to what that would be. We don’t want to wait until the decision is made to start at least thinking about these things and starting to communicate it.”
The district purchased thousands of face masks, just in case schools are able to reopen and social distancing guidelines still need to be followed.
“Obviously the return to school raises many, many questions,” Cascone said. “But we don’t want to be left flat-footed in the event that the governor opens the opportunity for students and staff to return to school.”
Assistant Superintendent Eveny de Mendez described the measures that have been taken to make distance learning easier on the whole community. Teachers have office hours for about three hours per day and must respond to emails within 24 hours.
“At the same level that we’re employing flexibility with the students, we’re trying to be mindful of our staff,” de Mendez said at the meeting. “Our staff have families of their own and losses of their own. Their own children are also home. This will help protect their home and life balance and will make sure they can give themselves over to the planning of the instruction for students.”
During the month that classes have been held online, de Mendez said there has been a great variance in the speed at which students are completing their assignments. Some are taking longer to complete work at home, while others have been working more quickly. Teachers at the elementary school level have been asked to adjust their assignments so that they don’t take longer than 30 minutes to complete.
“We’re not assigning assignments daily, so students don’t have to turn something in via the Google Classroom daily,” de Mendez said. “That was proving to be overwhelming for the student and for the teacher to provide meaningful feedback, so they’re providing multiday assignments.”
English–language arts classes have been reduced from 90 minutes each day to 60 minutes each day; social studies and science classes have been reduced from three times a week to twice a week. Elective classes are now being held once a week.
If students complete all the work they have been assigned, they have the option to log on to WOSD’s e-learning platform to find enrichment activities, school library resources and extra work from elective classes.
“This reminds me of being a first-year teacher,” BOE Vice President Terry Trigg-Scales said at the meeting. “When you’re planning for the first time, you’re going to either underplan or overplan, and it takes a while for it to all even out so you understand what your students can do and what’s really appropriate. I think that’s what everyone is doing, not just here in West Orange, but everywhere. This is uncharted territory, and I think we’re doing a fabulous job here in West Orange with listening to our parents’ feedback and responding to it.”