WEST ORANGE, NJ — Even though the 2019-2020 school year officially ended last week, West Orange Public Schools (WOPS) Superintendent Dr. J. Scott Cascone is continuing to work out how schools will look like when they reopen for the 2020-2021 school year.
The superintendent had recently explained that it was likely that schools will reopen in September with a hybrid schedule. On Monday, he elaborated this was necessary because of an order Gov. Phil Murphy mandated which would require social distancing within classrooms.
The exact guidelines have not been finalized, but it is assumed that students would need to be spaced out six-feet apart meaning that all students will not be able to be in school at the same time on a given day.
While the WOPS district is looking forward to receiving specific guidelines from the state of New Jersey by the end of June, Cascone said that the district is in the process of finalizing student and family surveys for their opinions on the upcoming school year.
This week, the superintendent said that he will begin meeting with other members of his administration so that the district will be ready to create a rough framework of what a hybrid school day, in terms of scheduling, transportation routes, food services, and teacher communication, will look like by July.
So far, Cascone explained that hybrid school will have certain days where students are in school only being in contact with their classroom classmates. Otherwise, there will also be days where students will not be in school, learning virtually at home.
For parents who have concerns about sending their child back to a brick and mortar school, they have the choice of keeping their child home. Cascone also said that based off what the district has learned over the course of this school year, he will ensure that students will have daily interactions with their teacher making for a more interactive and enhanced educational experience.
The district will begin using virtual, interactive, and synchronous daily instruction during the upcoming summer programs including the extended school year (ESY).
In terms of athletics, Cascone explained that outdoor facilities are slated to be open to the public after July 9, the day after West Orange High School’s (WOHS) planned on-site, outdoor graduation ceremony. Cascone also explained that phase 1 of reopening scholastic athletics is expected to begin on July 13, while respecting social distancing guidelines, but if necessary that date will be delayed.
Monday’s meeting also provided updates to curriculum for the upcoming school year presented by Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Eveny de Mendez. De Mendez explained that 56 curriculum writing projects were approved in the fall of 2019 to be implemented for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year.
Six new courses will be introduced this year including History of the American Musical, Urban Art and Communications for grades nine-through-12, Home Maintenance and Repair, Life Skills, Personal Finance, and school counseling.
De Mendez elaborated that because personal finance is mandated by the state to be offered in grades six through eight, the course will be integrated in student coursework through a series of cycles. A 30-day cycle at the sixth grade, a 45-day cycle in seventh grade, and during eighth grade advisory. Personal finance is already offered as a course at the WOHS.
Looking at social studies courses, including U.S. History 1 and 2, and World History offered in sixth grade, de Mendez said that these courses were revised while going through the New Jersey Amistad Curriculum to ensure that the curriculum is diversified.
In addition, a committee will begin to examine the current social studies curriculum alongside new standards to make sure that all students are represented and that “the narratives are appropriate, and that the history is accurate,” de Mendez said.
De Mendez continued that the district will be partnering with different organizations to fulfil “concrete professional development (PD) objectives” for the 2020-2021 school year and to have “critical conversations” around curriculum, representation, and LGBTQ inclusion.
The district is planning to partner with Dr. Leslie Wilson from Montclair State University to work on understanding American history and presenting that to all elementary schools. The district will also partner with Dr. Akil Khalfani, Chair of the Africana Institute at Essex County College to present the importance of Africa in world history to eighth and ninth graders and to discuss “how secondary teachers can enhance diverse perspectives” while teaching U.S. History and Civics for grades 7, 10, 11 and 12.
The district will also partner with the N.J. Amistad Commission to offer on-campus PD to elementary staff about how they can use diverse materials in the classroom.
Also, during this meeting, the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) unanimously voted to approve the majority of the Board’s mandated policy, except two, policy numbers 1613 and 5533 which were tabled for further discussion at a public policy work session on Wednesday.
The next WOBOE meeting is scheduled for July 9 at 7:30 p.m.