BERKELEY HEIGHTS — Parents, teachers, and stakeholders continue to react to the unprecedented challenges of educating the town’s students amidst a global pandemic.

With the district entering its second month of learning within the new hybrid model, students continue to split time between in-person learning and online virtual classes.

For students and their guardians navigating this model of education has offered both academic and logistical challenges.

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Oct. 8’s Board of Education saw public comments connected to such issues.

Kathleen Cogan a parent of a middle school student communicated difficulties her child had connecting to virtual classrooms, especially in the afternoon.

“Children are being left in the waiting room and not being let in,” said Cogan. “If my child was late in a brick and mortar building, would they be denied access?”

Cogan also expressed frustration regarding email communication between teachers and parents. Asked how long she should expect a response from teachers and administrators, Superintendent Melissa Varley responded with no more than 24 hours unless communication is occurring during the weekend.

Varley would directly respond to concerns of parents during the public hearing. She assured Cogan that she would look into the issue.

The district like others in the state has students engaged in all remote learning after Governor Phil Murphy allowed for the all virtual option before school commenced in September.

One such parent was Kareema Bryant, a mother of three whose children are in grades eight, four and two.

From Bryant’s point of view there is” a heavier focus on those students that are in class."

Additionally, she pointed to her kids having difficulty following along with what’s happening in the virtual classroom.

“I do think there is some opportunity, especially for those kids that are fully remote, that they have a somewhat similar learning experience," said Bryant.

Bryant also echoed Cogan’s concerns regarding the slow email response time.

Academic Benchmarks

Benchmarks, terminology in education used to track the academic progress of students in a measurable way, was raised during the public portion of the Oct. 8 meeting.

With the final board meeting before Election Day on Nov. 3, Board of Education candidate Sai Bhargavi raised the issue of formalizing a district wide plan for students who are missing academic benchmarks.

“We need something like a documented plan if kids haven’t met the benchmarks,” said Bhargavi. “What are the next steps?”

“I know these are unprecedented times and you are doing the best you can,” noted Bhargavi. “I just want to make sure kids don’t fall through the cracks.”

In response to Bhargavi’s request for a documented plan, Assistant Superintendent Scott McKinney went into detail describing how the district is currently dealing with student benchmarking.

McKinney noted that although the plan is “not on paper;” daily teacher planning is “derived from” the individual needs of students.

He said teacher’s plan every day to meet the needs of students and that creating a generic plan would fail to meet those individualized needs.  

The upcoming parent-teacher conferences, moreover, will be an opportunity for teachers to follow up with “parents directly,” noted McKinney.

On the curriculum front, teachers administrators and principals are “identifying both the methodology and the targets to help students reach those benchmarks from the spring,” explained McKinney, while also advancing the curriculum for the current school year.

Board President Doug Reinstein said student progress and benchmarking would be the topic of the next Berkeley Heights Board of Education meeting to be held on Nov. 12.