MILLBURN, NJ — Yesterday evening, the Millburn Board of Education hosted a virtual town hall, during which they answered questions from the public about the district’s plan to return to school.
On Aug. 20, following the release of new safety requirements from the Department of Health, Superintendent Dr. Christine Burton made the decision to close all schools and begin the school year virtually for all students.
Burton cited several factors, including:
- 6 feet of distance between each student (as opposed to the 3-6 stated before).
- A “significant reduction in the number of available staff.”
- The air quality and ventilation issues that come with aging geothermal system at the Middle School.
- The survey data showing greater levels of families choosing the remote plan for their students than anticipated.
Currently, schools in the district will be closed until Nov. 9. That being said, Dr. Burton also specified that “we will attempt to bring students in earlier on a phase-in plan. We will prioritize special populations, ELL, and Pre K-2 to start and then move up the grade levels.”
Dr. Burton reiterated that goal at the start of the town shall, saying “we know that families’ needs vary and that all students benefit from being back in school.”
She also explained the “newly designed” virtual learning model. Unlike the Spring, students will now spend a full school day learning virtually with live teacher interaction.
Parents voiced their concerns about how how this adapted plan will work in practice.
Amy Talbert asked, “what has been done to make us feel like the virtual plan is going to be more robust specifically?”
Assistant Superintendent Kate Diskin explained that the Board has been working with principals, department chairs, and groups of teachers in “compounding curriculum” to focus on key areas, called the “Core 4.”
- C – “community and connections”
- O – “opportunities for engagement in active learning”
- R – “rethinking assessments”
- E – “ensure meaningful feedback”
In the Spring, the school went into “crisis mode.” Diskin reassured that much more time has now been dedicated to staff training on the Google Suite of products and virtual learning aids like Global Learning Academy.
Many wondered how much face to face time their students would receive with teachers.
Diskin said, “teachers will be committed and available for the day, just as they would be for brick and mortar.”
High School Principal Dr. William Miron added on that “our goal is to conduct classes like classes were conducted pre COVID-19.” He also said, “we want a variety of instruction” beyond teachers lecturing at a screen for 40 minutes.
As for assessments, Dr. Miron said that many of those details will be finalized during the staff development days September 1-4 and that it will be “fine-tuned by discipline throughout the year.” Miron also emphasized that assessments will vary “from teacher to teacher, subject to subject, and from test to test.”
Andy Solomon asked, “what do you really expect will change between now and November that will potentially allow from in-class learning?”
Dr. Burton said her answer falls into three prongs:
1. “Hiring new staff”
2. “Reassigning staff”
3. “Moving staff around based on their certifications”
She reasserted her intention to bring special populations back to in-person learning and said that the “obstacles are bigger to hurdle” in the middle and high school, especially since the district is “looking to provide the same level of offerings” in electives and course levels.
She also said that the district is willing to bring back the elementary school students in person while still keeping middle and high school students virtual.
Emily Jaffe cited her personal experience in the spring, saying that each of her children had a wildly different experience based on their teachers. Because of that, Jaffe asserted the need for parents and students to communicate their feedback “without fear of retribution.”
Dr. Burton said that more surveys will be released going forward. As for a path of communication, she said “my email address is [email protected] I welcome anyone to send me an email at any time.”
Parents also expressed concern for the rising senior class.
Nicole Leff described the struggle of finding an SAT testing location as “chasing a cloud that keeps dissipating on us.” She asked if it would be possible for Millburn to offer the SAT just to its students in the event that more tests get cancelled around the area.
Dr. Miron said “I don’t know at this stage,” but the school has reached out to the College Board to see if such a proposal would be possible.
Bonnie Lipton recognized how much the Class of 2020 lost due to the school closure and said, “this year’s senior class stands to lose a lot more.” She asked what the high school was planning on doing to make sure that the seniors still partake in the special traditions.
Dr. Miron said that plans are currently being made by the Senior Celebration Committee and the Senior Student Council, which will be released shortly.
There are still many plans to be made before school begins on September 8. Dr. Burton plans to keep parents regularly updated and throughout the week, parents should receive more specific information from each school. Until then, many frequently asked questions are answered at the following district link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1UfUWII5OPKtVMcxOhufqPvSHpAuE2vLPWUfXslfMLqI/edit