As the Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction for the East Hanover Township School District, I was well aware of the challenges the district would face if we were forced into a protracted closure by the Covid-19 pandemic.
East Hanover is a PreK-8 district in Morris County; we service approximately 1000 students across all grade levels and we are quite fortunate, both in our access to technology and the incredible interpersonal relationships we enjoy with our local and state governing bodies, our first-rate health and safety organizations, our students and their families, and our elite faculty and staff.
As a result, the initial response to the closure of schools was received with tenacity and the undaunted resolve that has become our hallmark. Our Administrative Leadership Council (ALC), under the command of Superintendent of Schools Natalee Bartlett, had been in constant communication with all stakeholders in order to formulate our initial response: teachers in our elementary schools (Frank J. Smith School, PreK-2; Central Elementary, Grades 3-5) created BOLT bags (Bags of Learning Tools) comprising approximately 14 days of meaningful activities, while our students in East Hanover Middle School (Grades 6-8) continued to utilize Google Classroom and the technology available through our One to One Chromebook Initiative to remain engaged in their studies.
Of course, now that Governor Murphy has wisely extended the closure, we have had to adopt a distance learning model that will allow teachers and students to extend the curriculum beyond our original plans while also providing all children with the invaluable support services they require in order to remain active and life-long learners. Our state-approved Distance Learning Plan has evolved to accomplish these goals and also serves as a means of providing a degree of normalcy during what can only be described as unprecedented times.
Dr. Kelly Hart, the district’s Supervisor of Technology, has worked tirelessly to provide our students and staff with the tools they need in order to remain in constant contact throughout these emergency measures. “We are extremely fortunate in East Hanover,” Dr. Hart states as she references the district’s commitment to the expansion of technology it has witnessed in recent years. “We have the capability to provide all learners with a digital learning experience that advances curriculum and provides for interpersonal interaction. Our district remains at the technological forefront and committed to adapting our plans as situations and needs continue to evolve.”
The learning communities of Frank J. Smith School, under the leadership of Principal Kerry Quinn, and Central Elementary School, helmed by Principal Melissa Falcone, have witnessed an incredible transformation as distance learning has evolved in recent days.
“We are transitioning to our newly-created distance learning website where teachers will post daily plans for all classes, including our Specials areas,” Ms. Quinn states. She adds that per the plan, teachers will also incorporate Google Classroom, SeeSaw, and other electronic platforms to inform instruction and advance the curriculum. “Our staff members are excited to step up to the challenges of distance learning and are constantly bringing their ideas to the table.”
Principal Falcone of East Hanover Central School echoes these sentiments. “Our teacher response and our parent support have been nothing short of extraordinary,” she adds. “Staff members are creating flipped videos for their students and holding their team and individual professional development meetings virtually via Google Meet and other electronic platforms. It’s all hands on deck and everyone is pitching in!”
Both Ms. Quinn and Ms. Falcone are encouraging a “business as usual” approach to school-related functions and activities; Spirit Days continue unabated and students are encouraged to share pictures of themselves in their school spirit gear. “We want the students to feel as though they are in school each day, and that parents and guardians can depend on us for a sense of educational normalcy,” they add.
Ms. Stacie Costello, the principal of East Hanover Middle School, has witnessed similar adaptation as her staff members expand upon their existing technological resources. “EHMS teachers are transitioning to live and recorded videos to deliver instruction,” she states. She adds that her staff is providing regular, detailed feedback to students, all Specials areas are incorporated, and all social and emotional growth pieces remain intact. “Our students are constantly reminded that kindness counts,” she affirms. “Students continue to wear their spirit t-shirts each Monday in support of our #Eaglesspreadkindness initiative. I am truly moved by our unified commitment to our entire learning community.”
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of any digital learning platform is the mandate to provide its special needs population with the services that they will require to remain successful and to achieve their individual goals. Mrs. Alexis Piombino, our Director of Special Services, remains steadfast in her approach to maintaining services to our district’s at-risk populations. “We are utilizing video conferencing and teletherapy to communicate with our students and their families,” Mrs. Piombino states. “Further, all accommodations and modifications per students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are being implemented during this distance learning experience. Our entire special services staff remains as committed to our special needs students as they have always been, and I am proud of their efforts to assist all learners in acquiring the skills necessary for lifelong achievement.”
As educational leaders, we acknowledge that all of our recent advances represent the combined efforts of our incredibly cohesive and dedicated team. Mrs. Natalee Bartlett, the East Hanover Superintendent of Schools, is quick to acknowledge the fantastic support system East Hanover is so fortunate to have.
“As a mother and community member of East Hanover,” she states, “I have never been less than amazed by the love and support this community demonstrates on a daily basis. And as a life-long educator, I can attest that I have never been more blessed than I am now as the leader of this district.” Mrs. Bartlett adds, “We need heroes, people who will rise to the occasion and give everything they have to the community. In East Hanover, we have that and more; from the offices of Mayor Panullo and the Town Council, to the chiefs and officers of all of our public safety and first responder units, to the Board of Education and our district faculty and staff members, all of our community leaders and educators have taken up this challenge. The future will remember you as the heroes that you have all become as we meet this challenge together for the sake of our community and for the love of our most precious resource, our children.”