RANDOLPH, NJ- Randolph was in fact the first in the state to ask for approval to substitute online learning days for snow days. “We were simply the first to think of it and ask for it in this format,” stated Dr. David Browne, Superintendent of Randolph Schools. But, it was not quite that simple. Randolph schools are also in a unique position, because the high school is prepared for it with the right technology and the right teachers.
Pascack Valley in Bergen County had approached the state and was already working on it, but with a slightly different request.
Knowing the Feb. 13 snow storm was coming and with no more snow days on the books, Pascack Valley started planning two days ahead for how they would coordinate the online instruction and alert students and families to the plans.
With both teachers and students working from their homes, some classes were held at their appointed hour, while others ran over the course of the day. Students in a music class recorded themselves playing their instruments at home, and sent the recordings to the teacher. More academic classes involved online discussions and assigned papers that were due at the end of the day.
The district then formally applied to the state for permission to apply the day to the 180-day minimum required for all public schools, in hopes of avoiding the alternative of adding a school day at the end of the year. Their request is still under review though, because allowing this to happen retroactively is not currently covered under state law.
For Randolph, it was a different request. They did not ask for one of the 180 to be waived, but asked for online learning to be allowed to replace the days after the fact, and also only for Seniors.
The flexibility was there under a decade-old provision in state regulations that allows students to take internships or participate in other out-of-school programs at the end of their senior years. Randolph High School has a fast growing and advanced program called Option II. Browne views this online snow day program as not all that different from the Option II program, and feels that Randolph is ready for it because of Option II, and the school's advanced technology and teaching staff.
“It would be more like a college course,” said Browne. “Modules will be put together by teachers, and students will have to demonstrate that they have completed the four hours of work required for each day.” The teachers are working on coming up with creative ways to carry this out, and they will serve as chief arbitrators of whether the students complete what is expected of them.
Browne said, “This has been a few years coming, it is serendipitous, and is simply education catching up to the business world. This is a 21st century education.”
The Commissioner of Education, Chris Cerf, who is no longer in office said, “Lets’ do it” to Browne in his final days as Commissioner. Cerf and The Board of Education in Randolph were extremely supportive of the move according to Browne.
Educators from a dozen districts across the state met with state Department of Education representatives on Wednesday, March 12 to explore the online options for dealing with the rules for schools in the case of emergencies, such as this winter’s abundance of snowstorms.
Led by Evo Popoff, assistant state education commissioner and Chief Innovation Officer of the NJ Department of Education , the meeting centered on the various rules now on the books for what counts as a day of school and how those rules could be addressed in the future when extenuating circumstances arise.
The meeting in Trenton led to Randolph now hosting a similar version of the meeting on April 29 at the High School in room A123, the famous room of the future of technology at RHS. Administrators from three counties will be represented: Warren, Sussex and Morris. Browne will host this meeting and expressed, “We are in very good shape to roll this pilot out and gather data to bring back to the state.”
At the Board of Education Meeting on Tuesday night, Tammy Mackay, The Board President endorsed this successful step saying, “It is a great solution and nice job getting the state to approve it in record time.”