CAMDEN, NJ —  This year has very much been about taking things in stride, Drew Martin, KIPP New Jersey's Executive Director, said during a walkthrough of the renaissance school network’s new Centerville high school.

Whether that was deciding to shut down in-person learning before Gov. Phil Murphy had even mandated it because of COVID-19 back in the spring: “What we said to our parents at the time was, we know this isn't a popular decision, but we think that you deserve enough of a heads up to be able to plan for this eventuality.”

Or a Zoom outage on the first day of school at the end of the summer: “A lot of people thought that was because of too much usage. It ended up having to do with a logistical [issue]... a payment being processed with a vendor incorrectly.”

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Or dispersing surveys to gain parent feedback, learning about what it means to run buses amid COVID-19, or preparing everyone with the technology needed to teach from home. 

Martin pauses to clarify that despite all the planning, not everything can be foreseen.

“If we've learned anything from this, it’s that we're not in control of the circumstances. We just have to make the best that we can with what we have handed to us,” he said.

The KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy (KCNA) High School, an $18.5 million academy, broke ground in March and stands at the former U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner school. 

The new school includes technology-equipped classrooms, spruced up windows and other interior additions, an upgraded ventilation system, outdoor fields, and a full-production kitchen. 

The barren hallways and empty classrooms are a stark sight in September. 

With the addition of the high school, the network would educate roughly 1,750 students across four schools.

The plan would be to bring in approximately 220 freshmen when KIPP enters a hybrid format starting Oct. 26, and gradually add more to the student body as those in other schools advance higher.

Parents will still have the option of having their children solely on a remote learning schedule.

Jessica Shearer, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey schools, says KIPP has ordered the following to prepare for next month:

  • Masks for students, staff and teachers

  • Plexiglass barriers for reception desks

  • Hand sanitizer for classrooms and throughout the buildings

  • Laptops for use in the buildings 

  • Signage to remind students and staff to practice social distancing, wash your hands to prevent the spread of germs

  • Directional signage to minimize contact

  • Disinfecting wipes for surfaces

  • Thermometers 

  • Gloves

  • KN95 masks and face shields for nurses

When schools reopen, face masks will be required (except at mealtimes), temperature screenings will be conducted for staff and students as they enter (100.4 degrees or higher will mean you have to go home), at least six feet of distance will be enforced and students will be required to sanitize their hands at entry points during the day.

KIPP also says it plans to limit visitors to buildings, minimize sharing of classroom materials, and for safety reasons ban field trips, events, as well as extracurricular activities.  

As for gym and recess, that will be handled on a case by case basis.

The high school specifically will open a new field that is 28,000 square feet, and will be used for recreational activities allotted by health guidelines and with supervision. After walking past the field, Martin headed to the ventilation systems, which he jokingly admitted wouldn’t be something he previously would have boasted about.

“We had to learn a lot about those systems,” he said. “We're very lucky, we have a brand-new system here and new systems in all of our buildings. But we were not fully fluent on what the Merv unit was, the replacement rate for air and what qualified for upgrades. So, like everything else, we had to just sit down and learn.”

In a month's time, Martin said he hopes students will be safely in buildings doing just that.

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