As we prepare to re-open schools during these unprecedented times, we know that "change" (against a backdrop of unknowns) is the only constant. As Board President, I can assure you that we are planning for any and all the different scenarios that might occur… and that in of itself requires all of us to be ready, nimble and flexible to carry out whichever plan we deem is best suited and most appropriate. Developing a re-entry plan for our six schools based on information that was obtained from a multitude of sources has been no small feat. Dr. Varley led a team of administrators, principals, teachers, support staff and parents who worked tirelessly over the past several weeks, and together they developed a well-thought-out plan that is both prudent and pragmatic. The entire team deserves our appreciation, gratitude and heartfelt thanks for working quickly and collaboratively in the best interests of our students, staff and the larger Berkeley Heights community.
Our plan is titled “Re-Entry to a New Normal”. The fact that we are using the word ‘Re-Entry’ (because students were last in school on March 13th) and ‘New Normal’ (because nothing about the last four months has been normal) speaks volumes about why we decided to have this board meeting tonight to share information with the community and allow parents to ask questions.
Admittedly there is no perfect model, we believe that our recommended plan is optimal for our students academically, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally. As you will hear in our guiding principles, our goal is to deliver a first-class learning plan while taking into account the overall health of all stakeholders which includes mitigating risk of COVID-19.
Parents will obviously have a say in this important matter. They will have a choice to make based on what they believe works best for their own family. Decisions have the potential to differ from one family to the next. Therefore, it goes without saying that "United we stand, divided we fall". Let's all grant each other some extra grace and understanding during this time and support each other as best we can… regardless of what decisions parents make.
To all of our educators... the first quarter of this school year (and maybe longer) starts a new chapter in public education. There is a significant learning curve that students, teachers, and administrators will be navigating, yet again. There is no doubt you will rise to the occasion in September just as you did in March when we transitioned to remote learning. Let’s stand up for our educators and other school personnel and give everyone the opportunity to adjust, so they may ultimately excel in this ‘new normal’. Educating your children in a safe environment has always been (and will continue to be) our #1 priority.
We realize our families are dealing with a number of challenges including employment concerns, childcare and the shared focus on ensuring our students’ educational, social and emotional needs are met. Furthermore, we are fully aware that an extended closure of our schools including separation from treasured teachers and friends has impacted our students. As you will hear this evening, we are securing resources to prioritize our students' social and emotional needs during the crisis and beyond.
As I stated earlier, these are unprecedented times. The continued need for planning, flexibility, and contingencies is undeniably critical. Berkeley Heights is a strong community committed to our children and each other. We will continue to support one another because Berkeley Heights knows that "Coming together is a beginning… Keeping together is progress… and Working together is success.”… thanks Henry Ford.
If we have learned anything from the past 4 months it is that guidance and decisions change frequently, and often on short notice. We are prepared to act swiftly and speedily (like we did when we closed schools in advance of the Governor’s mandatory shutdown) if/when necessary and pivot to ensure we balance delivering a rigorous education, while maintaining the safety of our entire school ecosystem.
Our school system as a whole is being presented with a multifaceted set of known and unknown factors. No worries. I have seen firsthand what is possible when a community like ours comes together. The results are unprecedented with far-reaching outcomes and unsurpassed achievements. I expect the 20/21 school year to be another unique year with new levels of success.
We will continue our hard work planning while the community enjoys the remainder of its Summer break.
Your help, support and partnership throughout this journey are certainly needed and very much appreciated.