RANDOLPH, NJ: The following a summary  from the April 14 Virtual Board of Education Meeting from Randolph Schools:

 

"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 informed that since the last special Board of Education meeting on April 2, 2020, Governor Murphy issued

Executive Order 117 which provided some guidance regarding teacher observations and evaluations as a result of state testing being canceled for the 2019-2020 school year. She advised that Governor Phil Murphy also extended the public health emergency order for an additional 30 days and closed all state and county parks. The Governor will be reassessing the opening of schools on or before April 17, 2020. As a result of the extended health emergency order being extended, Ms. Fano shared that the district has canceled all athletic events through May 9, 2020. Ms. Fano advised that the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) intends to provide more guidance on/or around April 17, 2020.

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Randolph Township Schools was recognized as one of the best communities for music education by the NAMM Foundation. Ms. Fano shared that Randolph has received this recognition for a total of 13 years since 2003 including 7 consecutive years from 2014-2020.

As of April 14, 2020, New Jersey had reported 68,824 cases of COVID-19 and 2,805 deaths in the state due to the pandemic. Ms. Fano said “our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the Randolph families who have suffered the loss of a loved one.” Ms. Fano shared her appreciation for teachers, support staff members, parents, and students. She advised that they would continue to work directly with students and parents as the district moves through all aspects of the teaching and learning cycle.

In addition to COVID-19, Ms. Fano informed that recent weather caused a number of power outages in Randolph. The superintendent advised that the district remained in contact with power companies and Chief Stokoe. Power outages are an example of a challenge students, parents, and teachers are navigating and the district will continue to work through challenges together.

As part of a shift to virtual learning, Ms. Fano noted that she participated in a lesson with teachers, students, and paraprofessionals at the secondary level. She said: “I enjoyed the lesson, but it was even better being able to interact and see students and staff, just as I used to do when visiting school buildings.”

Ms. Fano reiterated that the district will continue to reflect on the changes to learning and reiterated expectations for learning now that the district has returned from spring break. During the first two weeks of home instruction, learning was focused on practicing previously taught skills. During the third week of instruction, the district shifted to a balance of both synchronous and asynchronous instruction to allow students time to explore and for educators to teach new content.

District’s Directors of Elementary and Secondary Education, Danielle Soldivieri and Jonathan Olsen, respectively, summarized summarize what changed when the district moved from a short-term closure to a long-term closure as well as what parents and students should expect during virtual instruction.

Mr. Olsen provided historical insight on the concept of synchronous and asynchronous learning. In the 1990’s, any learning that took place off site and on a computer was considered asynchronous—meaning it was learning that did not take place at the same time or place. Mr.Olsen explained that this was essentially all computers could do. As technology improved, face-to-face interaction was able to take place online. As a result, he explained that synchronous learning started to become a possibility. Because of this possibility, students could now see their professor or teacher live and interact with him or her. According to Mr. Olsen: “The difference is obviously important. Many learners—including adults—can learn easily via asynchronous methods. Watching a video clip or reading an article online can often times be enough to help an individual acquire the foundation for new knowledge and understandings to happen. This is how many of us learn today using a massive open online course (MOOC), masterclass.com, or even lynda.com (now Linkedin Learning). For colleges and companies, asynchronous learning is cheaper to scale up. Once a class is created, it can be viewed as many times as needed at no additional cost to the business.”

Mr. Olsen emphasized that not every adult or child can learn best in only an asynchronous environment. He shared that for many learners, synchronous instruction is vital to help them navigate new knowledge. With schools currently closed, instruction via computers using synchronous and asynchronous methods is the district’s only option to ensure students can continue to thrive. For this reason, he emphasized that this is why the district has attempted to strike a balance between the two models. Mr. Olsen advised that asynchronous learning happens when students begin and complete a virtual lesson at different times according to their own schedule. Mr. Olsen spoke about asynchronous learning saying:

“It allows learners to control the pace of learning and it can combine the knowledge of multiple experts in one place,

allowing for varied learning styles to access information. Some examples I have seen teachers implement include

class discussions in the form of a chat or a blog. These are great because they really get kids talking and give

opportunities to build in peer to peer connections from the discussions and responses. Pre-recorded videos

and screencasts are two more examples. Many teachers embed videos or websites within, giving children

opportunities to learn a concept on their own time, in various ways. One final example, though there are plenty

more, would be pre-recorded demonstrations. This is a great way to "show" students a process or a method for

completing a task or a project. Kids can watch it back as often as they need to. Synchronous learning occurs when

students attend a live virtual learning event in real time. I have seen teachers bring in whole classes for either a

morning meeting or a live demonstration. Teachers have really found success in working with small groups of

students for a book club or for individualized support on a new concept. Asynchronous chats can move into

synchronous discussions with all or some students. This style of virtual instruction helps make students feel more a part of

the class.” Ms. Soldivieri advised that during the first two weeks of school closure, digital and paper/pencil options were created by staff so that students had equitable access to learning. She said: “Our staff did a tremendous job preparing for what we all thought was likely to be a two-to-three week reality. By week three, our district rolled out the second phase of

our school closure plan as it became a reality that schools would be closed much longer than originally anticipated. With technology placed in the hands of our students, our staff were able to move to a fully digital learning environment. Today, our staff and students finished up day six of this second phase. We last presented an update on day four, so although there are no new specific updates, we wanted to highlight a few different areas of our plan across elementary, middle and high school.”

At the elementary level, the district continues to offer a flexible day of learning for students and families. Ms. Soldivieri further explained that the content-specific learning that is recommended by staff, as well as how much time should be spent within each content area can be found in the "extended school closure plan" posted on the district's website.

The district continues to monitor student attendance through work submission. Each elementary school has a process in place for contacting disengaged students so that all students are engaging in learning. Ms. Soldiveiri said: “As of the district’s last update, staff have been working incredibly hard behind the scenes to connect with their students to check in, as well as to prepare and deliver meaningful lessons. Learning how to navigate in a fully virtual world in such a shortperiod of time is no easy feat and we are grateful for and proud of all of our staff for the care and pride that has gone into these efforts.”

Staff’s design of all learning opportunities is always dependent on the goals of the lesson and how a teacher decides to frame that lesson to best support student learning. Ms. Soldiveiri noted that “In this new virtual landscape, we all recognize that live connections are extremely valuable and important. Though most staff have been designing

synchronous learning already, our latest refinements to our plan will result in all homerooms conducting a live "check-in" daily with students and meaningful synchronous learning opportunities through Microsoft Teams. Our approach leaves much room for staff autonomy when it comes to "how much" and "how long" live learning is offered. It will never be the expectation that staff engage students in live learning throughout the entirety of their instructional day. Synchronous learning experiences for our young learners look much like they would in the classroom – some are whole group, some small group or 1:1 for more targeted instruction. Most of these learning sessions, much like they would during a regular school day, are short in length so students have ample time to also learn and practice new skills independently.”

Every child's teacher as well as building administrators are available to support families as children acclimate themselves to this new kind of learning, and Ms. Soldivieri shared that she will continue to partner with the elementary administrative team to refine plans. Mr. Olsen advised that the middle school and high school both implement a systematic approach to synchronous learning while allowing for asynchronous learning to happen so students can apply the knowledge they learned from live instruction via projects or other assignments with teachers available to help or interact with small groups. Mr. Olsen said: “At the middle school, synchronous learning takes place on Monday and Tuesday. The middle school schedule is currently being analyzed to support additional synchronous learning and more information will be made public soon. The new schedule will still allow for asynchronous learning to take place as we believe this is an important part of the learning process. At the high school, synchronous learning happens in the morning and afternoon all five days of the week. At both levels, teachers and administrators are reaching out to families of students who are virtually absent to ensure they are being kept on track. All teachers at both levels use Microsoft Teams. The middle school administrative team recognizes that for many younger learners, it is a struggle to navigate this new virtual school world. Teachers have been reaching out to many students and parents regularly to ensure student needs are being met. The team at the middle

school has received many thank you messages from parents for their outreach efforts. We are proud of the work our

teachers and administrators have done at the middle school and at other levels to ensure connections remain strong.”

The high school administration has been actively working to find meaningful alternatives for end of year celebrations like prom and graduation. Advanced Placement exams are still scheduled but have been modified significantly from what students are used to. Mr. Olsen shared that updated guidance was recently released, and this

information was shared with AP students and parents. Additionally, he added that AP teachers are keeping students informed throughout the closure. He advised that the district has received no information from the College Board nor heard of any college not being willing to accept AP classes for credit from this year. According to Mr. Olsen,

“Colleges appear to be extremely willing to find the right balance between past practice and flexibility. Some colleges, most notably the University of California system, will not mandate the SAT and ACT as part of their admission decision for those enrolling in college in 2021 due to exams dates being cancelled. It is expected that more colleges will follow and become "test optional" at least for a short period of time. As always, we will continue to keep parents and students informed of developments like these.”

Ms. Soldivieri discussed the social emotional health of students stating: “We realize that these examples do not replace the personal interactions that make our school such a wonderful place, however, they are keeping us connected and we are so proud of our entire learning community for all of their efforts. In this time of uncertainty, the social emotional wellness of our staff, students, and families remains a priority. Our staff, families and administrators continue to show great care for their students’ well-being.”

Mr. Olsen shared some next steps, including:

• A parent survey to obtain feedback on the current learning

environment.

• Active planning of alternatives for special events such as

graduation and prom.

• Analyzing grading practices while ensuring compliance with

college admission expectations and state compliance.

• District stakeholder committee of administrators, teachers, and

parents to assess progress and plan for future virtual learning

needs and school re-entry.

 

Mr. Olsen advised that the district is not only focused on where the district is today, but is also actively working to plan for the future. Director of Communications Matthew Pfouts provided an update on the district’s communications. He noted that the district’s communication plan, philosophy and response have not changed during this crisis. Communications planning has evolved to continue to provide resources and news to the Randolph community during this time of need. The district has always been committed to an open line of communication with families and the greater Randolph community the district serves. The district administrative team continues to meet virtually on a regular basis to proactively plan communications to be sent to the community from the district. As new and relevant information is available, it is shared via the website and social media channels. The district utilizes a mass notification system to deliver important information via email, phone call, and text message, and communication is automatically translated to primary languages spoken by various Randolph families. Central administrators work closely with building leadership teams to ensure that each building is providing families with the direct support they need.

 

Mr. Pfouts provided this update for COVID-19 response and the effectiveness of communications to date:

 

“Looking at our COVID-19 response specifically, the district has striven to maintain consistent dialogue with families

during this time releasing a total of 13 updates since February 26 which doesn’t include the many positive stories

we have also shared. We created a special COVID-19 platform on our website in the Support Services section with

an abundance of resources as well including a District FAQ and other helpful links for families. The district and Ms. Fano

will continue to provide updates to families and the public on a regular basis as new and relevant information is

available. Every principal will also continue to update staff and families of their individual schools on a regular basis and

at least once per week. While these updates are helpful, we understand that many families will continue to have

questions as the situation continues to unfold. We encourage all families to contact their child’s teacher or

principal with questions. As most of these questions are unique to an individual child’s learning community or

circumstance, these questions are best addressed at the classroom and building level. In the event that a question is

unable to be answered by a child’s teacher or principal, our district leadership team remains accessible to answer

questions and provide support during this difficult time.”

 

Mr. Pfouts emphasized that prior to COVID-19, the district’s communication strategy has been “student-centered” with intentional effort being placed to promote the accomplishments and talents of students. This mission to showcase students’ achievements and the opportunities the district is able to provide for them has not changed.

The district continues its’ commitment to find positive stories of success and hope. He added: “We will continue to use these stories to provide inspiration to our families and to the community. While this goes without saying, this time is very stressful and difficult for everyone. It’s important that as a community we continue to come together to support one another more than we ever have before.

Collective optimism, gratitude, and resilience will help us weather this storm and come out on the other side of this stronger. By shining a light on the positive things happening in our learning community, we will continue to unite as one collective unit.”

In terms of the effectiveness of our communications approaches, the district continues to produce high levels of engagement and reach on its social media platforms. Since July 1 2019, the district’s Facebook platform has had an increase of 777 new followers. He also noted that engagement and reach from the period of February 28, 2020 through March 26, 2020 was also high with a total reach of 22,619 during this period and a total of 23,273 engagements. Mr. Pfouts also shared positive data about Twitter, with 31,400 impressions being generated and 2,262 total followers.

 

A huge driver in the success of the district’s social media efforts has been a result of a greater emphasis on student centered and positive stories. While the district will continue to update the public regularly with relevant information, the data supports that what families and the community need and want most during this time are reasons for optimism. Mr. Pfouts shared that the district’s donation of health care supplies to area hospitals in need is a strong example of the power of positivity to connect the community. That post reached 6,195 people and had 1,878 engagements on Facebook alone. In addition, he shared that Randolph Softball’s video reached an equally impressive 3,672 people and delivered 1,109 engagements. He concluded stating: “During this time of uncertainty, we will continue to find compelling stories that resonate with our community. Reaching our community now more than ever is so important. Although we cannot physically gather, our collective gathering through mediums like social media will help make us stronger than ever when the dust finally settles. We encourage families to please consider following us on both Facebook and Twitter at Randolph Schools. Additionally, they can visit our website for up to date information.”

Ms. Fano 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 remain closed to students as a result of COVID-19 and education will continue remotely, for as long as the Orders remain in effect. She advised that the district hopes to have more information in terms of the Commissioner’s recommendation to the Governor regarding school closure.

She advised that students must attend class sessions and complete assignments to be in attendance as the district is still required to have 180 days of instruction. Ms. Fano shared that the district values feedback and reminded the public that questions about programs, instruction, or assignments should be shared with teachers or principals. She informed that the entire district team will continue to collaborate to monitor trends, concerns, and continue to ensure every learners’ needs are being met.

In addition to an update on district instruction, the Board of Education unanimously approved Before and After Care rates for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. During the 2020-2021 school years, the administration recommended that rates not increase because of the economic uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. In approving rates for the following school year, the Board noted that families have over one year to plan for rate increases that had been originally planned for the start of the 2019-2020 school year.