NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — Superintendent Damion Macioci and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Ryan Gupta presented an update on the district goals for the school year during the West Essex Board of Education meeting Monday night. 

Each year in addition to board goals, district goals are crafted that may guide the district academically, focus on professional development for the staff, address facility issues, technological capabilities, and address the social and emotion growth of the students.  Usually, broad goals are created along with the implementation of specific action items throughout the school year that define the plan for successfully achieving the goals.

The first goal for the 2020-2021 school year was to “increase student growth and achievement” with the intent to improve school climate and culture. Macioci referenced multiple action items in this subcategory that included: progressing through the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program in the high school; a new Multicultural Club and a Social Justice Committee were formed in the middle school and professional staff development was provided by a consultant that focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion training. 

Other initiatives included case managers connecting with parents and students during the first two weeks of school in order to build relationships, the creation of a Social and Emotion Learning (SEL) committee within the Reopening Task Force and upcoming professional development is planned that will address effective strategies to promote health and wellness for the staff and students.

Another aspect of this goal was to improve classroom instruction for students focusing on both, in-person, and virtual instruction.  As Gupta noted, the district “frontloaded the PD (professional development)” by revising the school calendar that allowed for four days of staff development prior to the first day of school.  Mandatory training was provided on multiple computer programs including:  Screencastify, GoGuardian, and Zoom to prepare the staff for synchronous online instruction and technology training.  Further staff training takes place during joint faculty and departmental meetings and a consultant provided workshops on SEL, self-care, trauma and coping.

Action items to increase student learning including increased accountability and support for students by the utilization of synchronous instruction during remote and the hybrid model.  The decision that all classes meet virtually on Wednesdays was to provide support and as well as enrichment for the students.  The middle school students are also provided with enrichment tutorials and MAP testing to identify learning gaps and measure student growth.  High school students are assessed through the LinkIt! program that analyzes data to identify strengths and weakness in math and ELA.  Addressing the students’ SEL, presentations and support was provided in many arenas including: PE/Health classes, guidance office and special services in addition to having SEL activities infused into the classrooms.

This year’s second goal was to promote the health and safety of the students and staff.  Multiple upgrades to the facilities were introduced to provide a safe and healthy environment that were consistent with the NJDOE and CDC guidelines.  To achieve this plastic barriers were installed throughout the district, signage was installed to promote safe practices related to COVID-19, hallways, instructional and non-instructional area, entry to buildings and common areas.  Hand sanitizer dispensers were installed, and temperature screening kiosks were placed at entry points.

Students and staff were provided with personal protection equipment. Two face coverings per staff members were distributed with required usage; one face shield per staff member was provided that was deemed optional and hand protections were available for staff and students.

Safety protocols were developed and implemented to increase safety precautions and procedures.  All who enter the buildings are required to receive a temperature screening in order to be admitted and a monthly health screening questionnaire is required to be submitted.  The district now has three school safety specialist who have completed training on updated guidance for safety drills, it should be noted that the NJDOE only requires one school safety specialist.  COVID-19 contact tracing courses have been required for the district’s nurses, assistant principals, and school safety specialists.  Macioci has also been conducting joint meetings with the sending superintendents and all respective health department officials which are ongoing as they continue to assess all relevant data impacting the pandemic as it becomes available.

The third goal this year was to strengthen communication with the stakeholders. In order to improve communication between the district and the community a multitude of initiatives are taking place. A 64-member Reopening Task Force was created that included board members, teachers, support staff and administration that were subdivided into multiple committees.  

During board meetings presentations of reports were consistently made available and a new section of the district’s website dedicated to reopening plans was created and has been updated constantly. Email blasts are sent to inform the public of the board’s Zoom meetings in addition to weekly newsletters from the principals to families and weekly notifications from Macioci sent via text, email, social media, robocalls and postings on the district’s website.

To further enhance communication and transparency, surveys have been crafted to solicit feedback from the stakeholders and then that data is utilized in order to assist the administration to allow for informed decision-making. Some of the areas that the surveys sought feedback are:  climate/culture, distance learning, Genesis gradebook and bell schedules. The middle school implemented wellness calls to the families last April-May and again this year from September-October. Under the direction of Tania Symmons, the Director of Special Services a welcome letter was sent to all classified students that provided relevant information as well as contact information at the beginning of the school year.  

The administration utilizes Google Meet, Zoom and email to communicate with staff, committee members and union members.Staff communicates with the students through Google Classroom, Zoom and GoGuardian. To communicate with the parents the staff now utilizes the Genesis portal, email, video conferences and in addition to phone calls. Board meeting audio recordings are available on the district website as well.

In order to increase technology access and usage amongst stakeholders to facilitate communication training has been provided to the staff and administration on technology applications. A “staff self-service” portal was created to house all information on applications including guides with video tutorials, FAQs, a PD library, and a software center. The district is continuing to fix and replace Chromebooks and provide loaners when needed. A tech assistance and support opportunity for all has been created by contacting tech@westex.org.