South River superintendent discusses reopening plans for 2020-21 academic year

SOUTH RIVER–With South River Public Schools’ reopening plans still being perfected, Superintendent Sylvia Zircher offered the latest updates on what returning students will expect in September.

Zircher said the school district has a District Task Force and school-based reopening teams working on its reopening plan.

“We do have a District Task Force and it has been put in charge of implementing the guidelines that have been set by the New Jersey Department of Education’s (DOE) rollback framework. So basically the task force is going through that roadmap, and as we’re going through it, we are making decisions, as per those guidelines,” Zircher said.

Along with her monthly report, Ziricher discussed the district’s reopening plan on July 23 during the Board of Education meeting via video conference.

“Each of our schools has a school-based team. So what’s happening is the task force is making decisions and then the school-based teams are taking that information and seeing how that information pertains to their specific school environment,” Zircher said.

On July 21, the district posted a slide presentation and YouTube video for parents to see the newest updates for the district’s reopening plan.

Various cleaning methods will include:

  • daily cleaning using disinfectant wipes and spray cleaners
  • surfaces are cleaned throughout the course of the day
  • deep cleanings are taking place
  • hand sanitizer stations are being installed throughout the district
  • high traffic areas will be cleaned during the day and classrooms will be cleaned nightly

Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks are being purchased for staff and students. Social distance markings and signs are being displayed throughout each school, according to information provided in the slideshow.

“So our task force has met twice with a meeting scheduled [July 28], and the school-based teams have also have all met,” Zircher said. “The teams are all made up of teachers, parents, administrators, and community members. Our task force also has [Board of Education Member] Anthony Razzano, as a board member on it, as well as, students at the high school, and our student board representative on the district task force.”

The new “Ram Flip” schedule consists of splitting the student body in half and assigning them to the color maroon or gray, according to information provided in the slide presentation.

Half of the students who will be assigned the color maroon will attend in-person learning on Monday and Tuesday, while the other half of the student body, assigned to the color gray, will learn virtually, according to information provided from the slide presentation.

The other half of the students assigned the color gray will attend in-person learning on Thursday and Friday, according to information provided from the slide presentation.

All students will have online learning on Wednesdays. Simultaneous virtual learning will take place when children are home.

Schedules will be created alphabetically districtwide to ensure that all siblings have the same schedule. Siblings who have different last names will also receive the same schedule, according to the information provided from the slide presentation.

“We’re moving along, like I said, on our decision making and as we put things in place, those items are going to be communicated to the public as quickly as we possibly can,” Zircher said. “I know that we received some feedback that families were happy to know at least what the schedule is going to look like. So that they can make some arrangements.”

Zircher said the feedback the district has received regarding the reopening plans so far has been split.

“We have some families who really feel we should be back in school and a full-time program, while others are very fearful about sending their children back to school. So it’s certainly something that’s very personal for families and just very indicative of what their own circumstances are,” Zircher said. “We’re doing our best to sort through all of that but what’s really the deciding factor and how we move forward, is what DOE and the governor’s office’s guidelines they are setting up for us.”

On July 20, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that parents will be given the option to select an all-remote learning plan for their children if they do not want to send their youngsters for in-person education in the new academic year. Additional details regarding this option are expected to be forthcoming from the New Jersey Department of Education.

Having to go completely virtual during the spring due to the COVID-19 crisis, Zircher said the district received feedback that students and parents were looking for more live instruction from the teachers.

Zircher said teachers felt that they needed some support and training regarding technology and live instruction.

“What we did this week was the administration team and I went to all different parts of the district [and] the different classrooms in the district. We used our teachers’ devices in the same type of places for teachers, and we started livestreaming practice lessons to see really what the technology looks like when we use the equipment.” Zircher said.

“Then we started putting a guide together for teachers about what we noticed when the camera displayed the best image, how the sound was the best, What type of color ink topped up the most on a screen, what type of angle, [etc]. We needed to use all of those things because that is going to make a difference in making the stream live lessons the best they can be,” she said.

Zircher said the task force has had discussions about the district’s internet capabilities and needs in order to provide effective live stream lessons to the students starting in September.

“We really felt that it’s a process that can work, and we feel that the teachers can teach the children sitting in-person live in the classrooms,” Zircher said. “While these children who are receiving instruction virtually can really capture the same lesson. Everybody stays on the same pace, the teachers don’t have double planning to do and you really feel like that it’s a process that can work.”

Zircher said the district will put out some information to the public for some learning gaps that have occurred, especially since there are school closure and parents have communicated that as well. The district is setting up some mediation programs for the summer and identifying students based on multiple measures, including students who had difficult times signing on for virtual sessions.

For more information about the district’s reopening plan visit www.srivernj.org/apps/news/.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.