WEST CALDWELL, NJ — During the recent board meeting Dr. James Heinegg confirmed that the district was “on track” to go back to in person instruction beginning with a hybrid model on Oct. 7.
Heinegg did confirm that there are plans in place to increase capacity for students returning and information will be forthcoming shortly from the district. In planning for the return of the students, numerous preparations are being made in addition to physically preparing the buildings and confirming staffing requirements. One such item that warrants board approval is the amendment of policy that governs K-5 attendance for the Remote Learning Plan that now will outline procedures for attendance providing language how students will be accounted for while receiving remote learning.
Policy has also been amended to reflect Governor Phil Murphy’s mandate that staff and students must be masked, whereas the originally policy stated that masks “were recommended for students.” It was confirmed that the current Governor’s cap on mass gatherings outside is still limited to 500 and that will be enforced at football games and other large outdoor sports gatherings.
Public comment provided questions from the stakeholders regarding considerations and preparations for remote and in person instruction. Board of Education candidate Chris Elko questioned if consideration of utilization of the gymnasiums for classroom space were considered for the younger children. Elko suggested utilization of the spaces for instruction would then open the possibility of bringing in the first-graders to newly available classrooms noting “the idea is that if you can start with the children who are least capable of operating a computer and navigating Google chat rooms” there was a possibility to get the students in for more in person instruction.
Heinegg responded that he was aware that the principals have discussed the use of the gym for different groups, and they will continue to look at different options. A caller referenced problems staff members were having being able to see all students in the grid on the screen. The callers noted that in addition to connection issues, the teachers were limited to 16 students on the screen at a time, and they were unable to see beyond that number. The caller noted that connection issues are “getting worse, not better and the kids were getting kicked off.” Heinegg responded that the district is aware of the concerns and are working on remedies.
The superintendent reported that the Wi-Fi capabilities are being expanded in addition to upgrading the firewalls. The goal is by the end of September to correct the issues however they are “relying on Comcast” who has prioritized school districts for connection issues.
One caller asked if there was consideration of the utilization of outdoor space for instruction. Heinegg responded that there would be safety and security considerations and that it would be in contrast to “all the safety and security measures put into place” for many years. A parent called in noting that Individual Education Plans (IEP) are not being adhered to and the district is systemically out of compliance. Heinegg responded that it would be best to contact the case managers for individual concerns stating that it was “impossible to generalize how IEPs will be met.”
As is required by state law, Heinegg presented the violence, vandalism and harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) report of incidents for Jan. 1 to June 30, 2020. Heinegg prefaced the report noting that since the closure of the school buildings in March due to the pandemic that there were “significant decreases (of reported incidents) while on remote learning.”
There were two incidents of violence and vandalism reported before March 16 that were confirmed as physical altercations. Additionally, there were three reported HIB cases, two at Grover Cleveland Middle School and one reported incident at James Caldwell High School.
Under agenda items in addition to approving the pending retirement of Dr. Heinegg, effective June 30, 2021 the board also approved a professional development plan for the superintendent and the district’s professional development plan for the 2020-2021 school year. Board member Julianne Grosso thanked the superintendent for the “fortitude you have shown this district throughout your tenure here as superintendent.” She continued, "A great leader must be able to face the pain of criticism and do what is right because it is right. Dr. Heinegg thank you for always doing what you believed was right for our children, our community and our school district, you will be greatly missed.”
The District Goals for the 2020-2021 school year were approved. They are as follows:
1. Identify and Meet the Academic Needs of Our Students Given the challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic:
a. Assess student achievement and potential learning loss from Spring;
b. Set and achieve appropriate learning goals;
c. Provide technology, resources, and professional development to support Remote, Hybrid and in-person components of the district’s educational program.
2. Identify and Meet the Social-Emotional Needs of Our Students
Given the challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic:
a. Provide appropriate resources and support;
b. Complete Year 2 of the Comprehensive Equity Plan, including informing instructional practices that support social-emotional learning.
3. Engage in Strategic planning for 2021-2022, 2022-2023 and 2023-2024
a. Engage in dialogue and Mission, Vision, Core Values, and past
successes/areas for growth;
b. Determine areas of focus for coming three years;
c. Draft a Referendum proposal to support the district’s future work.
4. Appoint a new superintendent of schools.
Under finance items, the board voted to accept $52,557 in Bridging the Digital Divide grant funding for the purpose of funding needs related to remote learning due to COVID-19.