Superintendent’s Corner: A Phased-In Approach To Reopening Schools

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Verona public schools

Dear Verona Parents, Guardians and Staff,

The past several months have presented significant challenges, and I want to thank you for your flexibility, dedication, and professionalism as we navigate this public health crisis and the reopening of school through our collective efforts. Since my July 24th communication, we have continued to participate in countless discussions with staff, parents, committee members, our Board of Education, district physician, and public health officials. We continue to be guided by the information we have available to us as we strive to develop a plan to safely reopen our schools.

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As you are well aware, Governor Murphy has directed school districts to reopen this fall under the NJ Department of Education Road Back guidelines. It is also no secret that the recommendations from State and public health officials continue to change. Since June, over 150 Verona stakeholders including staff, parents, students, and administration have engaged in meaningful dialogue as we face a myriad of constraints and challenges in our bid to prepare for September. Staff and student safety remains our top priority which makes designing a plan so challenging.

Thursday night, members of our administrative team presented the Verona School Reopening Plan in public to our Board of Education as we engaged in a virtual town hall via Zoom. The video of the presentation and Q&A session may be viewed at the following link located on our district website. The slide presentation may be accessed on our district website or via the following link. We encourage you to review the slide presentation and video which will provide answers to most questions.

Our school reopening task force was comprised of 5 committees with 12 action teams who examined the areas of Curriculum & Instruction, Technology, Wellness, Facilities, and Governance & Operations. The insight shared from committee members provided important feedback that enabled us to finalize the development of our plan. Some of the more salient recommendations included new technology equipment and scaling of implementation, the requirement of masks at all times, minimum safety and social distancing standards, coordination of schedules, as well as logistical and operational protocols.

Our referendum projects have been a bevy of activity this summer. As you know, the school construction required an adjustment to our calendar thereby delaying the official first day of school to September 14th. This fact afforded us the advantage of slightly more time in the finalization of our reopening plan as this situation continues to evolve. As you can imagine, the review of all stakeholder feedback, coordinating numerous discussions, and responding to all of the competing demands while striking the perfect balance to ensure staff and student safety continues to be a moving target in this public health crisis.

We recognize that there is no one plan that will satisfy everyone’s personal interests and we understand you may have questions on what the new school year will look like. Currently, the Verona Public Schools reopening plan is predicated on the idea that opening our schools will be safe for staff and students. As of today, our plan incorporates beginning the school year with the Stage 3 Hybrid-B Instruction per our school reopening plan.

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The proposed hybrid school schedule calls for 4-hour instructional, in-person school days on an alternating basis. The hybrid elementary model is able to accommodate an AB schedule with 50% in-person class attendance each day in adherence to social distancing recommendations. VHS and HBW must operate on an ABCD schedule with 25% attendance in order to safely maintain a minimum of 6 feet of social distancing. This is necessary because of the diverse course offerings available to students, unique programming needs of many members of our student body, and the changing of class periods.

I would be remiss if I did not share that it is inconceivable that this public health matter will not worsen as time marches on. We all want to open our doors to our students and return to school as we once knew it. Disappointing as it may be, I grow more and more disillusioned with each passing day that school will return to normal anytime soon. We have not lost sight of the eventual likelihood of that possibility. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, our plan establishes additional contingencies for both full and partial remote, virtual learning options. It is reasonable to expect that we may be contacting you at a moment’s notice informing you of a shift to a more virtual model (i.e. Stage 1 Virtual Instruction or Stage 2 Hybrid-A Instruction) in the coming weeks as circumstances and challenges continue to unfold and present themselves. As discussed in our town hall, challenges to opening school continue to present themselves. The various stages in our plan will enable us to quickly adjust in the coming month. We will provide as much advance notice as possible but now is the time for every family to prepare for that possibility if you have not done so already.

Our staff have been spending time reflecting on what teaching and learning may look like next year. Our teacher’s focus will be on designing the most robust, virtual learning environment for our students given the current state of affairs. All teachers will deliver synchronous, live instruction on a regular basis in conjunction with in-person instruction. These times will require a readjustment of our expectations with how we deliver instruction, manage a virtual classroom, and assess student learning. I am confident that if we maintain a positive attitude, our inherent resilience, and unique adaptability that we can be successful during these uncertain times. Our team is currently working on professional development opportunities, additional training sessions, and protocols for our faculty prior to the reopening of school. New technology devices have been ordered and staff development is being planned to support our faculty. There is still much work ahead of us that is necessary which our team will continue to work on over the next several weeks. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate these uncharted waters.

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We have a responsibility to proceed with our best collective efforts to ensure our staff and students are safe under the most unique and challenging circumstances. Please understand we are working as expeditiously as possible to effectively address all concerns in our return to school. As of today, there still exist too many unknowns, and I cannot share with confidence what school will look like on day one. We will continue to assess the situation as we approach the start of the official school year. Stay safe and be well.

All my best,

Dr. Rui Dionisio
Superintendent of Schools

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