Dr. David GentileSuperintendent of Schools
Dear Voorhees Learning Community,
Living our lives during a pandemic has meant changing our routines. Prior to Covid-19, if you needed to go to the local supermarket or convenience store you took with you your car keys, wallet, and your smartphone. Now, before heading out you must remember to bring a mask or face covering with you. If you are anything like me, initially there were times when I arrived at the destination only to realize that I forgot my mask. Over time, the requirement to always have a face covering with you became second nature. That is part of the strength of humanity, our ability to adapt to our environment or conditions. The initial adjustment to any new disruption to our lives is always difficult, but over time we find a way to create new routines until a new normal is established. I very much look forward to the time when this pandemic is behind us and we are free to return to our former normal. Until then, I would like to encourage everyone to put trust in our students to adjust, adapt, and ultimately thrive despite the challenge currently facing us.
The challenge that is currently in front of us as a school community is to make the best of less than ideal circumstances. The Governor has ordered school district officials to create a return to school plan that is aligned with The Road Back Guidance by NJDOE. In the 104 page document, one of the many requirements is that each school district plan include a return to 'in-person' learning. We questioned as to whether a school district could decide instead to only offer a full virtual schedule to all students we were told by the New Jersey Department of Education that was not permitted. Therefore, there is no choice for our district other than to decide how to offer in-person learning while simultaneously meeting the other health & safety requirements.
My recommendation at this time is to create a Hybrid offering for parents who want to choose to send their children to school for in-person instruction for at least some of the time. For those parents who are not ready to send their children into school they may select the option of full virtual learning. Our current plan, a working document, is located Voorhees Township Schools.
Will remote instruction be different than last school year? Yes. Our teachers last March with very little time to plan did a great job of seeing our students through a difficult time. Through that experience we learned much about what works well in remote learning and also about what does not. One key difference will be the amount of time the teacher and students will be engaged together during the learning experience. Through the use of video chat in Google Meet, we plan to bring the classroom to the students learning remotely. The learning model for this school year will include both students in-person in the classroom and those participating through remote learning. Students in both will progress through the school day together. The teacher will use their laptop/iPad camera and microphone to show students at home the instruction that is being provided in the classroom. Students at home will see the same thing as the students sitting in desks (spread 6ft apart). The teacher can use the technology display board, Cleartouch Interactive Display Tool to demonstrate how to complete a math problem or to show a short video to prompt the students thinking about a particular topic. Students at home and in the classroom can ask questions or give responses to teacher prompts. I participated in a demonstration of this learning model in action and it felt much different than last school year. For parents who are concerned that students will be sitting idle for long amounts of time in front of a screen in remote learning, the teachers will build in various breaks and transitions. The students will take breaks for independent practice or comfort just like they would in a normal classroom setting. I am confident that with a little time to adjust our staff and students will build positive new routines to thrive in this new environment.
Lastly, I want to thank all of those who have participated in the input gathering process this summer. After the NJDOE published the Road Back guidance, we began gathering input and feedback from our learning community. We continue to gather input and all new ideas are still being considered. Since the district plan is intended to be a working document, we will continue to change our approach if we believe it will improve our students learning environment. I recognize that there is a great deal of emotion and disagreement regarding what is best for our students. Please keep in mind that as your superintendent I am charged with recommending a plan for returning to school during a pandemic. Although I do not believe any plan for doing so could be perfect or address every opinion, I do believe this plan gives the parents the right to make a key choice. It is up to each parent to decide if returning to school in-person this September is right for them. Although we are asking parents to decide and commit to a full marking period, we will be open to those who request a change at any point before.
Thank you for being an active partner in shaping the future of education for the Voorhees Township Public School District.
David N. Gentile