Quality Public Education for All New Jersey Students
160 West State Street, Trenton NJ 08608
609-394-2828 (office) 732- 618 5755 (cell)
On behalf of the Garden State Coalition of Schools we write to thank Commissioner Repollet and Governor Murphy for delivering the New Jersey Road Back plan for school districts. The report outlines a series of considerations and recommendations for districts during these challenging times for public education. Our public schools have successfully navigated the nearly insurmountable movement of an education system of 1.4 million students to a virtual environment over the past few months. Our educators completed that task with grace under pressure and continued to find pathways to meet the needs of New Jersey’s students. The Garden State Coalition of Schools offers our thanks to the NJDOE staff members who worked tirelessly to provide support and considerations for school districts. The Garden State Coalition of Schools stands ready to support the NJDOE in the times ahead as continued contemplation regarding the ongoing health crisis looms.
The plan correctly provides flexibility to school districts that allow school communities to meet the unique challenges presented for each community. We are a network of individual hubs all bound with a shared goal of educating New Jersey’s children. Yet, each hub has unique nuances that render individualization mandatory. Our school systems each have unique challenges, and have vast differences in facilities, budgets, curricular programs, grade level configuration, transportation, size, location, technological needs, etc. The essence of the flexibility can be found on page fifty in which you state, “The NJDOE recognizes that a one-size fits all plan to accommodate hybrid or remote learning is neither feasible, nor appropriate, and is committed to supporting school leaders in developing their plans to reopen schools.”
Districts have also been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The plan continues to uphold the NJDOE’s values of equity and the importance of social and emotional learning for both students and educators. The critical tenets found on page seventy-six further uphold the educational values set forth over the past two years of Dr. Repollet’s leadership, “When planning for the 2020-2021 school year, whether instruction be remote, in-person, or a hybrid of the two, all districts are encouraged to build their reopening plans around the following critical tenants:
- All students deserve equitable access to a high-quality education. The type of learning experiences that are appropriate will vary based on grade band and content area.
- This unique time provides opportunities for innovation: new approaches to customized learning and new types of partnerships with family members, caregivers, and community stakeholders.
- Strong instruction, student engagement, and effective assessment are interdependent and benefit from a strong feedback loop between administration, educators, students, and families.
- Anxiety may be reduced by developing a shared sense of purpose, providing clear expectations and comprehensive support systems, building strong relationships, and allowing for flexibility/adaptability.
- Thoughtful planning is necessary to provide necessary support for instructional shifts.
Approach digital technologies with the flexibility necessary to maximize student learning and enhance communication pathways, and foster an effective partnership approach with family members and caregivers.
- School districts should encourage early collaboration between educators to ensure consistency across grades and content areas and provide sufficient time to prepare for necessary incorporation of new instructional techniques.
The Garden State Coalition of Schools strongly encourages that mindful budgetary planning for FY21 be considered as districts will have unending fiscal challenges. Many New Jersey districts have been disproportionately impacted by the rules governing school funding and we must be mindful that districts will not be able to absorb subsequent budget reductions and still operate with safety, health, and wellness at the forefront. Disparate financial impacts across districts threaten to break the very structures we are trying to uphold.
We further request the flexibility to allow any plan that is adopted by a local Board of Education prior to the 2020 – 2021 school year be allowed to stand as a thorough and efficient public education as long as the local BOE meets the minimum standards required in the June 26, 2020 guidance document. Short of needing to move into a full closure due to the pandemic, it is important that districts can govern our finances, contracts, and staffing throughout any future Executive Orders impacting operations and schedules.
We ask the NJDOE to assist in identifying immediate guidance to the multitude of policies and regulations that districts are going to need to create as identified in the Road Back document.
Lastly, we implore the NJ Department of Health to issue guidance that connects with the “minimum standards” to specific health recommendations and guidance so that consistent and clear policies and procedures can be implemented across school districts that are grounded in medical and scientific guidance.
We would be remiss if we did not conclude with thanking Commissioner Repollet for his service, partnership and friendship to the Garden State Coalition of Schools. We wish you well in your future endeavors and thank you for your service.
The Garden State Coalition of Schools