LIVINGSTON, NJ — With graduation ceremonies nearing their end after weeks of preparation, the Livingston Public Schools (LPS) district has officially shifted its focus to planning for various reopening scenarios in the face of a public health crisis that is on the decline locally but still not completely controlled.

During Monday’s Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) meeting, Superintendent Dr. Matthew Block announced that while students are on summer break, administrators will continue aggressively preparing for the fall.

“The way I see it, we have two major tasks ahead of us during the summer,” said Block.  “We have to refine our remote learning plan because even if we’re back in person in the fall, we’ll need to be ready to go to remote learning if the situation changes. And there is a good chance that our plan will be a return to learning that is partially remote.”

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The second task involves preparation for in-person instruction that may not necessarily fall under the category of full time, in-person instruction, but would instead focus on the implementation of a hybrid model that combines partially remote instruction alongside some in-person instruction.

According to Block, plans are well underway for both eventualities at LPS.

As the district awaits specific guidelines from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), which is expected by the end of the month, LPS personnel have begun preparing by gathering the facts and actively partnering with similar districts to discuss best practices.

The superintendent explained that administrators are currently analyzing the evolving guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the New Jersey Department of Health; reviewing the plans of colleges and universities that ahead of Livingston’s planning curve; and pulling from anecdotal research on how other countries have both succeeded and failed during their re-openings.

According to Block, this will help the district put a stake in the ground on what the process will be for creating a plans for the district’s reopening. He clarified that the term “reopening” refers to all scenarios, including “in-person, hybrid or through remote learning.”

Deeper planning will begin in earnest as soon as the current school year comes to a close, Block said.

Additionally, Block noted that administrative subcommittees—including those for wellness, extracurricular activities, professional development, assessment, technology and instruction—have already begun meeting regularly and will continue to do so throughout the summer. 

“We have some really great ideas and thoughts coming out of that process,” said Block.

Come July, a “Return to School Task Force” will be established with subcommittees for governance, wellness, technology and instruction to address issues in these respective areas and determine what each of them will look like for both hybrid and remote-learning scenarios.

Facilities and school operations subcommittees will also be established to consider how a return to school grounds would impact the properties.

“We have received a lot of feedback from e-mails and phone calls, and we sent out a survey to parents and students,” said Block. “We’re beginning to put that information together, too.”

According to Block, the next step is to launch focus groups for parents, students and teachers that would allow them to share their impressions from this school year’s remote learning. He stated that the findings from each group will be instrumental in helping the district develop a foundation for the reopening plan.

Should the schools return to remote learning, both the administrative and the task force committees will explore the best ways to:

  • More effectively keep students, teachers and classmates connected;
  • Create daily and weekly schedules as well as assessment and grading practices for each grade level;
  • Determine the optimal ratio of synchronous learning (where students and teachers are online and interacting live at the same time) to synchronous instruction;
  • Improve technology;
  • Plan for professional staff development in August;
  • Establish health and wellness initiatives should students remain at home; and
  • Engage and prepare parents and families.

Due to a lack of time to effectively prepare for the transition to remote learning this semester, Block also admitted that the district was not able to sufficiently explain the expectations of parents and students and aims to improve communication on the subject moving forward.

“We gave parents some tools, but need to give them more as they become real partners with us working with students at home,” he said.

Should full-time or hybrid in-person instruction become an integral part of the final plan for reopening in September, Block stated that the subcommittees must have plans in place for how to:

  • Ensure a safe learning environment for all students and staff;
  • Create health protocols and procedures; establish clear policies and procedures to allow for a cohesive community understanding of operations;
  • Plan for strong teaching and learning programs through instruction, extracurriculars, and special needs programs;
  • Enhance technology; and
  • Prepare the schools to provide a socially distanced, healthy and safe environment.

“Safety and health are going to be at the top of our list,” said Block.

According to the superintendent, the planning committees will also be contending with a host of operational considerations, ranging from new classroom layouts and bus transportation to health-check procedures and ensuring that all families feel confident in the safety of the facilities.

He explained that all decisions will be informed by the trajectory of COVID-19 as well as the recommendations of the NJDOE, NJDOH and local officials from the Livingston Health Department and Office of Emergency Management.

As of this week, LPS is on track to submit its final reopening plan to the NJDOE in August.

Once approved, the district will communicate the plan to families and faculty, begin training staff on health and safety procedures, complete work on all adaptive facilities and finalize technology updates.

Block concluded his presentation by sharing the facelift he has given to the long-established LPS motto.

“I added to our mission to give us some guidance as we complete our work this summer,” he said. “It reads, ‘For Fall 2020, the Livingston Public Schools will provide an effective and dynamic educational program that empowers all to learn, create, contribute and grow in a healthy and safe environment.’”

To hear Block's full presentation, CLICK HERE to view Monday's LBOE meeting on the Livingston Public Schools Facebook page. 

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