RANDOLPH, NJ- The following is a summary of the Voard of Education Meeting from Thursday evening :
"This executive summary is not the official board meeting minutes. The official minutes are typically approved by the board and posted within thirty days of the meeting and are available on the district website."
Superintendent Jennifer Fano gave an update since the last board meeting on March 17, 2020. Ms. Fano informed that as of April 2, 2020 the district had completed its 14th day of remote instruction and all teachers moved to teaching new content remotely, not just reviewing previously taught skills. She advised that on March 21, 2020 devices were issued to students and staff without previous access to a digital learning tool.
Ms. Fano was pleased to report that the district was able to distribute hundreds of devices and scheduled some additional
pickups for families with an expressed need. The superintendent also informed that on March 24, 2020 Governor Phil Murphy announced the cancellation of standardized testing for the 2019 - 2020 school year. Additionally, it was reported that as of April 1, 2020, New Jersey had confirmed 22,255 reported cases of COVID-19 and 355 deaths in the
state due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Fano expressed her sympathy to each family that has been impacted.
Ms. Fano shared that every generation has faced its share of crises and that these are moments that can either bring us together or divide us. She thanked the health care providers and essential employees who continue to work to protect the district and our community.
Ms. Fano also thanked parents who have worked to support their children as they each adjust to learning online. The superintendent advised that any questions regarding instruction or assignments should be sent to their child’s teacher or principal and that the district will be able to assist if there are broader questions or feedback to share.
The superintendent also shared that the entire team of district leaders continues to meet daily, monitor this experience and provide support to teachers. She shared that everyone in the school community is working very hard on adjusting to this new normal and that some parents and students have shared their experiences on Twitter with a positive approach.
Business Administrator Gerald Eckert and Superintendent Jennifer Fano recognized and celebrated staff. It was shared that approximately 450 teachers and education specialists have been working with students each day to ensure they are learning and that their social and emotional needs are being met. Additionally, it was shared that over 70 paraprofessionals have been supporting teachers and students throughout this process.
Ms. Fano shared her appreciation for the hundreds of support staff member who are also working behind the scenes. Examples included:
• Secretaries who continue to ensure the regular school functions are maintained as they work remotely.
• Custodial, grounds, technology, security and maintenance staff who have all been on site cleaning, maintaining, and keeping district facilities safe.
• Transportation department staff who continue to ensure district buses and vehicles are maintained and ready.
Mr. Eckert shared examples of the work that district custodial, maintenance and grounds departments have been able to accomplish with the schools being closed. He advised that under Director of Facilities Andy Hurd’s leadership, the water main for the new facility project on Bauer Field was installed at Randolph High School, new electric has been run to seven classrooms in Randolph Middle School to accommodate air conditioning, the kitchen floor in Randolph Middle School was replaced, new playground fencing and retaining wall was constructed at Fernbrook Elementary School, a new water heater was installed at Ironia Elementary School and new fire/smoke doors were installed by the gym at Shongum Elementary School.
Mr. Eckert noted that all of these projects are typically done either during spring break or over the summer and that Mr. Hurd and his team of dedicated professionals did a great job taking advantage of the opportunity to get projects completed while the district’s schools are closed. He advised that these items are in addition to keeping the buildings safe, clean and disinfected.
Ms. Fano shared that a Thought Exchange was created for staff to share the ways they are making a positive impact in the district’s school community. She shared that so many positive take a ways and connections were shared that are happening during this time. The superintendent introduced the district’s administrative team to provide an update on the district’s journey of implementing remote instruction for the district’s 4,604 students.
Director of Elementary Education Danielle Soldivieri shared that staff, with very little turn-around time, provided learning activities for students as they prepared for 2-3 weeks of remote instruction. She expressed her gratitude to the technology department who helped deploy hundreds of devices to families in need. Ms. Soldivieri noted that the district shifted to their 2nd phase of the district’s remote instruction plan, infusing digital learning for all students where they can connect in deeper ways to content, to one another, and to their teachers. She expressed her appreciation to staff and for the positive
feedback from families as the community acclimates to these new changes. The Director of Elementary Education shared that she realizes that families have had questions and concerns, and that administrators and teachers will continue to address those to support the most positive experience for all families.
Ms. Soldivieri stressed that the social and emotional wellness of staff, students, and families is one of the district’s top priorities. She shared several initiatives that have been positive for students:
• Virtual spirit days have been hosted at all elementary schools.
• School counselors have created challenges asking staff, students and families to chalk it up, fill a bucket, say thanks and more.
• "Rainbows of Hope" was an initiative started at Randolph Middle School by educators Rio Clemente, Noelle Cocca, Stacy Wess, and Patricia Carew where families were asked to draw and display images of rainbows in windows, driveways, doors, or anything that can be seen as people walked throughout their neighborhood.
• Randolph High School’s Varsity Softball team made a fun video throwing a softball to one another to help spread some positivity during the closure.
Ms. Soldivieri discussed the district’s investment in instructional coaches for the past 8 years. She noted that the district currently employs 3 instructional coaches at Randolph High School (Cara Canfield, Michael Lonie, Kristin Mongelli), two at Randolph Middle School (Jessica Dingman and Jackie Epler), and two across the district’s elementary schools (Laurie Pandorf and Whitney Rafferty). She shared several ways the district’s instructional coaches have aided during this
• Instructional coaches continue to make themselves available to support student learning by partnering with staff individually or in teams.
• Instructional coaches continue to model what both synchronous and asynchronous learning might look like in the classroom.
• Instructional coaches offer live webinars through Microsoft Stream that are accessible to staff at all levels (K-12) to help staff navigate through all of the features of the Microsoft platform.
• Instructional coaches created an Excel spreadsheet that houses pre-recorded screen casts, archived live webinars, how to videos and more.
Ms. Soldivieri noted that some staff, particularly at the primary level, had been utilizing digital asynchronous platforms with students prior to the adoption of the Microsoft platform. One example she shared was an application called Seesaw. These applications were utilized by students while receiving face to face instruction. She noted that the district will continue to support staff towards finding the most streamlined way to infuse synchronous learning through Teams.
Director of Technology Peter Emmel shared that the technology department issued grade level appropriate devices to over 300 families and continues to assist any families in need of equipment.
In addition, Mr. Emmel advised that he has worked with over 20 families in need of internet to ensure they have access. He also informed that the district has either issued a wireless hotspot or worked through the district’s partnership with Altice/Lightpath to ensure families have access to the “Optimum WiFi” network. Mr. Emmel advised that the technology department will continue to work with families throughout spring break issuing equipment, providing technical support and ensuring Internet is available to every student in Randolph.
Mr. Emmel informed that his team had monitored Office 365 and Teams usage indicating that 97% of the students expected to be using the platform have been actively connecting and collaborating. He advised that the technology department continues to work with building administrators to contact the students that have not connected to determine what can be done to support them to ensure they are participating in the virtual learning experience.
Mr. Emmel reported an 80% increase in Microsoft Teams usage and over a 30-day period the increase is measured at a nearly 800% increase. Over a 90 day period, he informed that the district is seeing a 415% increase usage of Teams.
Mr. Emmel also informed that the technology department is working with 16 separate families to provide technical support and has already completed support requests for nearly 80 other families that have contacted the district through a new support email address and voicemail system. He added that the district over the course of a few days has implemented completely new support processes, setup new methods for students and parents to request help and implemented a new remote technical support product to allow for better assistance with district and personal devices. Mr. Emmel advised that the technology department will work with phone vendors to secure the licensing required to allow district staff to make calls from home with a district number showing up so families are aware that it is the district reaching out.
Director of Secondary Education Jonathan Olsen discussed the district’s processes for evaluating the technology that is currently being used in classrooms. He advised that the technology advisory council began working on a multi-year effort beginning in early 2017. The district’s process, which Mr. Olsen informed is still ongoing, was to assess and make improvements to the types of software the district uses in the classroom and the hardware that the district purchases. Mr. Olsen shared that the district wants to ensure that technology that is used is scalable, meaning it can be introduced to younger students and then expanded as students get older and more experienced. He advised that through this process, a full committee determined that the district should migrate from Blackboard Learn and replace it with Microsoft Teams which integrates with the Microsoft Office programs the district already has access to. Mr. Olsen advised that Blackboard, while a legitimate and high-powered learning management system, was not scalable as it was primarily for older students and it became apparent that other more cost effective and better programs were now available.
Mr. Olsen described Microsoft Teams as quote “being like a wrapper that brings all the Microsoft applications together while allowing for robust communication through Microsoft’s earlier acquisition of Skype and new chat features.” He advised that in the district’s work with the Technology Council, the committee felt that Teams had the same power as other platforms like Google classroom with the added benefit of full integration with computer programs that students will need in college and careers. Mr. Olsen advised that more companies are migrating to Teams with roughly 4 out of 5 Fortune 500 companies using Microsoft 365.
Mr. Olsen shared that while the district never intended for the initial closure plan to last past spring break, the district immediately startedcrafting a new plan when it was learned that schools would be closed longer than expected. He advised that teachers from elementary, middle, and high went fully virtual and conducted classes with schedules and approaches looking different at all three levels as the district is dealing with students of different ages. Mr. Olsen advised that the new plan makes every effort to ensure synchronous learning takes place so new content can be delivered and previous lessons can be reinforced.
Mr. Olsen stressed the challenges of assessment in a virtual world such as how to ensure academic integrity. He advised that the district is committed to fairness in how the district assesses what students know and how they are able to apply it. He emphasized that project and problem-based learning is not new to teachers and students and that districtwide, teachers have had students apply their knowledge in new ways to demonstrate understanding or to solve a problem.
Mr. Olsen shared that the district has no current plans to change how the district records grades or progress. He advised that the district is actively monitoring this along with neighboring school districts and the Department of Education. He also informed that standardized assessments are cancelled this year.
Director of Special Services Walter Curinoi advised that the New Jersey Department of Education adopted an emergency regulation on Wednesday, April 1, 2020 which authorizes the use of telepractice for students with disabilities. He shared that Randolph has prepared or telepractice and will immediately implement as a part of the district’s hybrid service delivery plan. Mr. Curinoi assured that to preserve student confidentiality and safety, individualized therapy sessions will replace the majority of group sessions. He also shared that paraprofessionals will follow their regular schedules and will be available throughout each day to assist students. Lessons and assessments will continue to be modified and teletherapy services will augment the related service delivery model.
Assistant Business Administrator Stephen Frost shared that the district continues to provide meals for those who qualify for free and reduced lunch. He advised that to better manage the process, the district has begun providing multiple meals on designated pickup days. Mr. Frost emphasized that by doing so it has helped reduce contact time with
district staff and buildings, and also makes it easier for families to arrange pickup. He shared that meal service will not be available during Spring Break, and will resume on April 13.
Mr. Frost also advised that as a result of the extended closure, the Community School's slate of programs has shifted:
• All before and after care programs have been cancelled.
• April billing and all future billing has been suspended. Credits will be provided for the second half of March upon the district's return to normal operations.
• Holiday Fun programs for Spring Break have been cancelled and all credits have been processed.
• Many of the district’s winter enrichment programs have cancelled classes that will not be rescheduled. Participants have been provided with a prorated credit that has been processed to all accounts.
At present, Mr. Frost advised that there are no plans to modify Ram Camp. “The district will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed. Billing will continue as normal for Ram Camp. Similarly, other summer programs like our Summer Academy is expected to be offered. We will continue to monitor the situation as it evolves.”
Mr. Eckert, shared information about the continuation of business functions during this period of school closure:
• All contracted staff continue to be paid.
• Accounts payable continues to prepare vendor payments and staff reimbursements.
• The district anticipates budgetary savings for fuel and utilities while schools are closed.
• Bus drivers have been assigned online training through safe schools and reviewing departmental procedures.
• The district continues to pay contractors to ensure there is no disruption when students return.
Ms. Fano discussed that the district is developing alternate plans for annual spring traditions. She advised that there has been no guidance provided from the state on this topic as the end of the school closure is unknown. The superintendent informed that it would be up to each district to identify what spring traditions to change, modify, postpone, or cancel. She made the following updates:
• The NJISAA has suspended all athletic events during this period of school closure and remains hopeful for a delayed start to the spring season.
• Field trips have been postponed indefinitely and will likely be canceled.
• Randolph High School prom has been proactively attempted to be rescheduled for a later date, but may be canceled for this year.
• The district has discussed several options to recognize award ceremonies, promotions and high school graduation. Some of these ideas include postponing and creating a virtual option.
Ms. Fano advised that as the district receives more guidance from officials about the length of the health-related school closure, the district will finalize plans for spring traditions and building principals will communicate with their families.
The superintendent advised that per Executive Order 104 (2020) and Executive Order 107 (2020), effective Wednesday, March 18, 2020, all New Jersey public, private and parochial schools are closed to students as a result of COVID-19 and education will continue remotely, for as long as the Orders remain in effect. Students will be considered in attendance as long as they attend class sessions and complete assignments. Because these virtual home instruction days count toward the 180 requirement, the district will be closed for spring break and virtual instruction will resume on Monday, April 13th. She advised that spring break is also being maintained to support the social emotional wellness of both students and staff.
Ms. Fano noted that the district has two emergency closure days left to be identified and will be scheduled at a later date once the district has more information about the length of the school closure period. She advised that if there are questions about programs, instruction, or assignments that individuals should contact their child’s teacher or principal. Ms. Fano shared that any new information will be sent out via the district’s alert system and posted on the district’s website and social media pages.