MILLBURN, NJ — Following the town hall meeting Monday night, the Board of Education met to discuss the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

In previous Board meetings and town halls, members of the community had asked about the specific efforts taken by the district to train staff in virtual teaching. To address those concerns, Assistant Superintendent Kate Diskin began the meeting with a report on professional development.

All training was based on the Distance Learning Playbook, whose philosophy can be summarized by the following quotation: “every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design.”

Sign Up for Millburn/Short Hills Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Guiding the training was parent, student, administration, and staff feedback from the spring. What the feedback boils down to is CORE.

  • C: community and connections
  • O: opportunity for engagement
  • R: rethinking assessment
  • E: ensuring meaningful feedback

Staff had the opportunity to attend many live and pre-recorded sessions on platforms, such as GoGuardian and Seesaw. In addition, all staff were required to complete specific modules on the Global Online Academy.

While the school year has already begun, these opportunities for professional development will continue with more Global Online Academy courses, Equity, Diversity, and Cultural Responsiveness, and Data and assessment.

Following Diskin’s report, Board President Alex Zaltsman gave his own report, in which he acknowledged that it was a “tough day,” especially for elementary school students and parents. Nevertheless, the Board listened to the feedback in the spring about maximizing the school day, and he believes the district was able to get closer to that today.

Like many Board members would later in the meeting, Zaltsman thanked the staff for all the hard work that allowed the first day of school to run as it did.

Dr. Burton also thanked the staff for the “weeks and months” of work they put into developing a virtual learning plan.

She provided an update on the C&MP referendum, saying that construction, such as security vestibules in all the schools, is currently being completed.

Regarding concerns about the SAT, Dr. Burton said the high school currently plans to host both the September and October SATs.

While the day and year ahead can seem overwhelming, Dr. Burton provided some encouragement to “take each day one step at a time. We will get through these circumstances and be back in our schools as fast and as safely as we possibly can.”

One of the reasons why Millburn made the decision to begin the year with a full virtual plan is because of the air quality at the middle school. During the Property Committee, Dr. Burton further explained the situation.

The units that bring fresh air into the middle school are part of aged systems and had given the district trouble in the past. Because of this trouble, there were concerns about air quality, especially in accordance with Governor Murphy’s standards for opening schools.

Since the decision was made to begin the year virtually, the district was able to get the aged units up and running, meaning that it would be safe for students to return once the other concerns about in-person learning are addressed. However, these units still need constant maintenance, which is why it’s important for them to be replaced in the spring, as was planned in the recent referendum.

Board Secretary Cheryl Schneider also provided an update on one key area of concern, the financial impact of COVID-19 on the district. While there has been some reduction of expenses, Schneider described them as “limited.” Legislation was passed that required school to pay contractors as if they had been open for a full 180-day year, which maintained the district’s financial obligations prior to the pandemic.

Additionally, state aid was cut in July. This cut comes at a difficult time when the district is encountering significant technology expenses due to increased wear from virtual learning—expenses that were not accounted for in the initial annual budget.

Another unaccounted-for expense is the hiring of additional custodial staff. In order to bring students back to in-person instruction, it is essential that the buildings are kept clean, and to handle the increased cleanings, the schools need more custodial staff members.

Amidst all of this uncertainty the pandemic has created, Zaltsman closed the meeting by reminding the community about the “strength and diligence” of the Board members throughout the spring and summer. “There are a lot of moving parts” to reopening schools, he explained. What the community should know is that the Board will continue working hard to return to school in-person.