WEST ORANGE, NJ – As the West Orange Public School District begins its fourth week of virtual schooling, West Orange Superintendent of Schools Dr. J. Scott Cascone provided an update about the progress of the district's current e-learning program, stating that “things are going very well” thanks to the cooperation of the entire community.
After receiving “constructive and helpful feedback on a daily basis” from parents and meeting with teachers, principals and other members of the district’s leadership, Cascone said the district was able to move forward with a variety of adjustments to the e-learning program, including developing a way to incorporate the virtual meeting platform “Google Meets.” (CLICK HERE to read more about the implementation of this program.)
Cascone also mentioned that as the e-learning program continues to move forward, the district wants to “ensure a high level of equity and access” for the student population.
So far, this has included the distribution of 700 Chromebooks and 150 Wi-Fi devices, which were secured with the help of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and AT&T.
Additionally, Cascone touted the individualized approach that is being used to ensure that all students and parents are receiving the utmost quality in terms of technology and food being delivered directly to houses.
Although the e-learning program is currently running as smoothly as possible, however, Cascone emphasized the importance of “brick-and-mortar” public schools.
“I think we are in as good a place as we could expect, and we know that for the extreme long-term, this is not a paradigm that we know would work because our brick-and-mortar buildings and the interactions that occur within those buildings—whether it’s staff-to-student or student-to-student—are not replaceable, and they never will be,” he said.
Contrary to the belief that virtual schooling will make public schools obsolete, Cascone said he believes that this experience “will only further reinforce the absolute essential nature of brick-and-mortar public schools for many of the students who attend them.”
“I’m just very impressed with what we’ve accomplished and want to make sure that all employees are aware of how grateful we are to you for what you’re doing here,” said West Orange Board of Education member Gary Rothstein.
Board Vice President Terry Trigg-Scales extended gratitude toward essential central office staff, building staff and administrators for all that they are doing to keep school days running smoothly. She also thanked parents for taking even more of an active role in their children’s education during this time.
“You’re used to helping with homework and projects every now and then, and [e-learning] has taken it to a different world,” said Trigg-Scales, who also thanked the superintendent for his outstanding leadership over the last several weeks. “He took the bull by its horns and initiated the joint task force with the township and that put West Orange way ahead of this curve.”
Fellow board member Cheryl Merklinger agreed that West Orange is ahead of other districts in the area, stating that she was “blown away” by what the teachers were able to accomplish with the help of the superintendent “in such a short amount time.”
Merklinger also thanked the West Orange community—from parents to local business owners—for supporting each other during this time. She specifically highlighted the “Buy local. Feed local. Save local.” initiative on social media started by West Orange residents Perry and Nikki Bashkoff in order to provide meals from local establishments to those working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you’ve seen that on social media, I encourage you to help in any way that you can with donations [or] offering to deliver,” she said.
Cascone concluded by encouraging all students—especially the fifth graders, eighth graders and high school seniors who will be undergoing major transitions this year—to remain hopeful.
“Let’s hope […] that this thing will flatten out quickly enough that we might be able to enjoy more traditional ceremonies down the road because at this junction, we don’t know,” said Cascone, referencing the moving-up ceremonies and graduations typically scheduled for those students.
With the curve of the virus finally showing signs of flattening in the area, Cascone said the district plans to take things day by day and hopes to revisit the topic of whether to hold these ceremonies as scheduled three or four weeks down the line. He added that the district is starting to think about alternatives, but will not consider them seriously until it’s absolutely necessary.
“I just wanted to let you know, our fifth graders, eighth graders and seniors, I’m thinking of you,” he said. “You’re in our hearts, and let’s stay positive.”
A special budget workshop meeting will be held via Zoom on April 16 at 6 p.m. Click here to view instructions for participating in the Zoom video meeting on Wednesday.