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Howell teachers, administrators welcome pupils to new school year

HOWELL – Teachers, principals and other administrators have welcomed students in the  Howell K-8 School District back for full-day, in-person instruction in the 2021-22 school year.

The 2020-21 school year was significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and required students to learn by remote instruction for parts of the 2020-21 school year.

During the summer, Gov. Phil Murphy directed New Jersey’s schools to be open in September for in-person learning with no option for remote instruction.

Murphy also announced that as the new academic year began, students and staff members would be required to wear a mask inside schools and other district facilities in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

During the summer, the members of the Howell Board of Education approved the revision of curriculum in English Language Arts (inclusive of a new seventh grade enrichment ELA course), middle school mathematics, middle school science and social studies.

In regard to students’ emotional needs following the disjointed 2020-21 academic year, school counselors will assess individual student needs through small group and classroom sessions, as well as by surveying parents.

Once a student’s needs have been determined, counselors will provide recommendations for levels of support needed, according to district administrators.

School-based and therapeutic counseling services will be available to students through district staff and partnerships with outside agencies.

In addition, school counselors and members of the district’s Wellness Committee will provide support and resources to classroom teachers so they may embed best practices into their daily classroom routine that are supportive and responsive to the social-emotional growth of students, according to district administrators.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Personnel Bruce Preston described how administrators will assess whether a student has fallen behind in his or her academic work.

“Every year we provide a window for all students to be assessed in the fall, winter and spring. This allows us to monitor each student’s growth in learning. We will be doing the same this year,” Preston said.

“Additionally, the state will require us to administer the statewide assessment in the fall called the Start Strong Assessment. It is similar, though shorter than the NJSLA assessments. This is being mandated as part of the state’s federal progress monitoring requirements that were postponed from last spring,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Joseph Isola said the district will comply with Murphy’s directive for students and staff members to wear a mask while they are in a building. He said students will be provided with regular mask breaks during the day.

In addition, a student will be permitted to ask for a mask break if he or she is feeling uncomfortable or experiencing any kind of difficulty.

“We are moving forward and at the end of the day our district is excited for the opening of school, we look forward to greeting our children. We have ordered a tent … for every school to help expand to some outside areas that will be safe and appropriate during a lot of the school year while the weather permits,” Isola said the week before schools opened in Howell.

For 2021-22, administrators in all school districts in New Jersey were required to submit a Local Educational Agency (LEA) Plan for Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Service to the New Jersey Department of Education.

The plan is mandatory under the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which is intended to help school districts fully reopen amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

According to its reopening plan for 2021-22, the Howell School District is planning to provide five full days per week of in-person instruction for students.

According to the plan, staff and student wellness is critical to a healthy return to school and the establishment of a new normal. The district is leveraging a sabbatical to establish a staff wellness program for the 2021-22 school year. The district has established a Committee for Equity and Culturally Proficient Practices.

Administrators said these efforts have established a baseline for a common language, goal consensus, and laid the foundations for professional learning and implementation in the fall of 2021.

The district is also working to establish restorative practices with a particular focus for restorative discipline in the middle schools and restorative circles in the elementary schools.

The district successfully established a community partnership with CentraState Medical Center and Central Jersey Visiting Nurse Association. Through this partnership more than 500 vaccinations were scheduled for district staff members.

In addition, the school district provided information regarding vaccination clinics for school-age children through a school community email distribution list, and through district-based and school-based websites.

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