South Orange & Maplewood Superintendent Update on Schools Reopening Plan

by The Village Green
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From Supt. Dr. Ronald Taylor:

July 15, 2020

Dear SOMSD Community,

I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones well in the midst of what has become our new shared reality.  I’m grateful for your support, understanding, and patience as we’ve weathered the many facets of the COVID-19 pandemic. As you know, educators all across the country are grappling with how to reopen schools.  While education systems are inherently designed to promote and facilitate social interaction, the health and safety of our scholars and staff remain our highest priorities and at the center of our decision-making.

To engage multiple voices and perspectives in our planning process, we established the SOMSD Rethink-Reopen Taskforce to weigh state recommendations, identify reopening strategies across the world, identify community concerns and needs, and to make realistic recommendations for reopening. The Taskforce is comprised of  14 sub-committees and consists of over 100 members of our district community including:  senior leadership, school administrators, supervisors, teachers, nurses, mental health professionals, social workers, our Townships’ health department leaders, health-care professionals, members from the teachers’ union, South Orange Maplewood Education Association (SOMEA), and administrator’s union, Administrative, Supervisors, Coordinators Association (ASCA).

We recognize the importance of hearing and weighing staff, parental, and student voices as we work on reopening in the fall.  Therefore, to guide our reopening plan and to ensure that our planning is well-informed, we have developed several ways in which our SOMSD stakeholders can share their feedback.

  • In late June, we provided a survey to staff members to provide them with an opportunity to share their feedback/concerns regarding reopening.
  • Subsequently, on Tuesday, July 7, we administered a “Return to School” survey, (https://bit.ly/SOMSDReopeningSurvey) with parents/guardians to also provide families with an opportunity to share their individual feedback.
  • I am meeting with members of the school’s PTAs, President’s Council, HSA, and Community Coalition on Race to gain further insight.
  • In addition, The Parenting Center in partnership with my office is hosting two virtual focus group discussions with a parent panel that is representative of our schools. A parent panel interest email was sent to parents/guardians on July 7, and a follow-up email with information and the link to the interest participation form ( https://bit.ly/2AYPnKt) for assembling the parent panel focus group on reopening our schools was sent on July 14.
  • Finally, we also want to hear from our students; a return to school survey is in development and will be sent to middle school and CHS students this week.

The Rethink-Reopen Taskforce began meeting in June and will continue to work together through mid-August.  To guide our reopening planning, the Taskforce began its work by reviewing comprehensive literature of reopening plans and recommendations from around the country. This information was disseminated to the Taskforce members as a prerequisite review to set the expectations for our conversations.

We have also gained great perspective via our experiences (and feedback) from the emergent closure distance learning methodology, as well as our current virtual learning programming (Extended School Year (ESY), Summer School, Middle School Bridge, etc.). Our Taskforce is now moving expeditiously towards the development of specific plan recommendations, within the following subcommittee areas:

•    Cleaning & Disinfecting
•    Communications
•    Curriculum & Assessment
•    Elementary Schools
•    Emergency Closing Plan
•    Health/Wellness
•    Policy
•    Pre-K
•    Scheduling
•    Special Education
•    Sports & Co-Curricular
•    Staffing
•    Transportation
•    Virtual/In-Person Learning

We are preparing to take several precautions to reduce the inherent safety risks as we come together in our schools, while also working to develop offerings that give parents and families options that best fit their particular needs and comfort level during our current circumstances.

We thank you in advance for sharing your insights and helping to improve our plans. To ensure that you have the latest and most accurate information, please visit our web page frequently and follow our Twitter and Facebook pages. Our final School Reopening Plan will be released in early August.

Educationally yours,

Dr. Ronald G. Taylor, Superintendent

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