Superintendent Pitches Radical Idea For Fall School

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Verona public schools

Verona parents want their children back in schools. Today, Superintendent Dr. Rui Dionisio pitched a way to make that happen that breaks with the neighborhood elementary school model that has been the foundation here for a century.

In a letter to parents entitled “Every Child. Every Day. Safely,” Dionisio explores what Verona could do in September if New Jersey does not reduce the 6 feet of space now required between students. He has said, in meeting after meeting of the Board of Education, that distancing, while necessary, is a key hurdle in getting all Verona students back in classrooms.

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His alternative is, for one year only, to send the entirety of one grade to one elementary school, rather than have every school have every grade from Kindergarten to fourth grade. Dionisio believes that that would allow Verona to create smaller, uniform class sizes that would let every student in that grade learn in person. While all Verona students once all attended school in the center of town, Verona began to create neighborhood schools with the opening of Laning Avenue School in 1919.

Dionisio recognizes that the reorganization would be a departure for Verona, so he’s asking parents to share their thoughts about it in through this online form.

The letter does not say what would happen at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School and Verona High School. At the last BOE meeting, the four elementary school principals said that 85% of their parents had opted for in-person learning. The percentage drops to 70% at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School and 50% at Verona High School, but only 30% of VHS students are actually reporting for in-person school.

You can read the full text of Dionisio’s letter below.

Every Child. Every Day. Safely.
March 4, 2021

Dear Parents and Guardians:
 

I want all students to safely return to a full day, every day, in-person school by September of 2021. To accomplish this goal, the Verona Public Schools District is in the process of collaborating with staff, school-based reopening committee members, and community health experts to develop comprehensive plans for a return to school.
 
To date, we have not yet received updated guidance from the State of New Jersey and our local department of health regarding school COVID safety recommendations for September 2021. Once we receive that guidance, we will review our plans and make the necessary adjustments to safely maximize in-person learning for our students. 
 
In the event that the State of New Jersey does not reduce the 6 feet of social distance by September, a major hurdle to returning every student, every day to in-person school at the elementary levels (grades K-4) is class size. The more students that need to fit into a classroom or learning spaces, the more difficult it becomes to return every student to school every day. This is why we are exploring all options.
 
Verona has always prided itself on its small, neighborhood schools. However, by structuring our schools by neighborhood, grade-level class size exceeds classroom capacity while maintaining 6 feet of physical distance. This fact inhibits our ability to return to school every day for every child. A potential area of exploration by the administration and staff could be to organize schools by grade level instead of by neighborhood. For example, one of our district elementary schools could teach all students in grade 4 instead of K-4. Similarly, all of our elementary schools could be designated with a specific grade level(s). By restructuring the schools by grade level(s), class size could be reduced which may allow our elementary students to return to in-person learning for every child, every day. Therefore our current neighborhood school model would be suspended during this time period.
 
We share the community’s sentiment to return our elementary students to more in-person learning. This is why I would like to hear your feedback regarding the restructuring of our schools as we explore all available options in our planning for September. We kindly ask that each family complete the survey in your Genesis account by Wednesday, March 10, 2021. The results of this survey will inform our next steps for exploration of restructuring our schools for the purpose of increasing more in-person learning at the elementary grades if it is supported by the community. 
 
We recognize that this option would create some difficulty for parents who have elementary students at multiple schools. The District would explore staggered drop off times should this proposal be a viable option. Please understand that the option to restructure our elementary schools would only occur if the public supports restructuring schools at this time so that our students could return to in-person learning every day for every child to address the current constraints during the pandemic. 
 
Another option being discussed to increase instruction at all levels of our school district is centered around exploring teaching students in-person, full day in our current cohort schedule. Conversations are occurring with staff about how to continue in-person instruction after lunch for this spring by allowing students to go home for lunch and then returning in the afternoon. 
 
We recognize that these are difficult times for our students, families, and educators. We are concurrently developing strategies with our administrators and teachers to address the unique constraints at HBW and VHS and we will communicate with staff and families once there is more information to share. 
 
Please submit any questions, comments, or possible solutions by clicking the following link. Our staff will review these submissions and respond accordingly and as appropriate. 
 
Thank you for your continued support of our schools as we work to maximize in-person instruction for our students.
 
Sincerely,

Dr. Rui Dionisio
Superintendent of Schools
Verona Public Schools District

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Now back in Verona, she contributes to a variety of publications and Web sites, and consults on social media. In Verona, she serves on the Verona Environmental Commission and HBW SCA, and has been part of many other civic and religious groups in town. A graduate of Rutgers University’s Environmental Stewards program, she has also run an after-school program on the environment for elementary school children here. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

2 COMMENTS

  1. You must be joking. How much does Rui pay you to make it look like he’s done anything!?! Take a look at other towns around us actually making things happen. Our BOE puts out nothing but ‘maybe’ ideas and far fetched possibilities. Makes me sick.

  2. This wasn’t a radical idea. this was a hastily thrown together idea after the superintendent realized the parents were planning a rally in the hopes that it would stop it.

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