#schoolsafety | West Essex District Provides Updates on District Goals and Distance Learning Survey

NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — As the academic year begins to wind down, West Essex Superintendent Damion Macioci presented an update on the 2019-2020 district goals in addition to discussing the recent extension to the district’s remote learning plan during Monday’s West Essex Board of Education (WEBOE) meeting.

A multitude of action items for each of the district’s 2019-2020 goals—which were to improve student growth and achievement; enhance safety and security; and strengthen communication amongst stakeholders—were summarized as follows:

Goal 1 Action Items: (Improving Student Growth and Achievement)

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  • New courses
  • The introduction of a sustainability initiative
  • Parent workshops for the special education parents advisory group
  • Assemblies funded by the Fairfield Municipal Alliance, North Caldwell Police Foundation and the North Caldwell Municipal Alliance that addressed vaping
  • Initiatives by the guidance department to help middle school students manage stress and anxiety
  • Professional development training on Google Meet and Zoom to enhance communication during distance learning
  • Articulation with sending districts teachers
  • Creation of data teams
  • Professional development with Columbia University Teachers College.

Goal 2 Action Items: (Enhancing Safety and Security)

  • Upgrades to district cameras
  • Installation of Metasys system at West Essex Middle School
  • Locker room renovations
  • Enhanced doors/locks
  • Ventilation system
  • Improved lighting
  • Bathroom renovations to include handicapped accessibility
  • New interior doors
  • Safety upgrades to the auditorium
  • Upgraded lighting
  • Improved electrical and rigging systems
  • Installation of carbon monoxide detectors
  • Installation of LED exterior lighting
  • Upgraded networking hardware to enhance cyber-security
  • Professional development for School Safety Specialists
  • School Safety Symposium event
  • Enhanced visitor procedures
  • Use of Mutualink in cooperation with the North Caldwell Police Department

Goal 3 Action Items: (Strengthening Communication Amongst Stakeholders)

  • Surveys distributed to stakeholders
  • Initiating a strategic plan
  • Creation of a sustainability committee
  • Disclosure of data, including test scores and rankings
  • Weekly and monthly newsletters from the district, middle school and high school
  • Constant communication with staff and association members through meetings, surveys and Emails
  • Updating stakeholders on SAT, NJSLA, extra/co-curricular activities, social media blasts, Zoom Pro licenses attained, additional Chromebooks purchases, etc.
  • Surveys to families identifying accessibility to the Internet
  • Creation of a COVID-19 link.

Also during Monday’s meeting, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Ryan Gupta provided feedback from the second survey distributed to parents, staff, and students on distance learning.

According to Gupta, the district received 517 responses from the students in grades 7-12 and 749 responses from parents whose children are in grades 7-12. 

The highest participation rate among students came from freshmen and seniors, while the high participation rate among parents came from those with students in grades 7 and 8, he added.

A majority of students (about 91.1 percent) were satisfied with the current attendance procedures, and 74.2 percent of the parents also were satisfied, according to Gupta. He also noted that 18 percent of responding parents would prefer that their children be required to sign in to class during each period in order to confirm attendance.

Regarding workload, Gupta said 66.2 percent of the responding students felt there have been too many assignments, while the remaining third felt the workload has been appropriate.

Approximately the same percentage of parents considered the workload to be appropriate, while 19.2 percent felt it was too much, 11.7 percent felt it was not enough and the remaining 6.3 percent of parents were unsure.

According to Gupta, about 92.5 percent of students responded that they were communicating effectively with their teachers. However, Gupta was concerned to see that about 51.6 percent of students are rarely logging on during scheduled class time and that 7.5 percent responded that they “never” log on during scheduled class time.

Noting that only about 60.7 percent of students who responded to the survey said that they are participating in virtual clubs, sports and activities, Gupta encouraged those who have not taken advantage of these options to reach out to their advisors.

Gupta concluded that summative grades for the third marking period have been posted and that re-enabling the Chromebook videos has allowed for lighter instruction among teachers.

“Things did get more challenging, and we are going to continue to work getting the numbers up, as there are so many opinions out there,” said Gupta. “Everything is on the table; we discuss everything and look at all the options. We are trying to find a balance of understanding, flexibility for our families, for our teachers’ families, all while still maintaining accountability, which is a very difficult balance.

“We are going to continue to work hard to find the right balance and hopefully get the overall satisfaction number to be even higher. Moving forward, we are going to continue to support our students and staff.”

In other news, Macioci took the opportunity to recognize that April 22 was School Secretaries Day; May 1 was School Principals Day, May 6 was School Nurses Day and May 4 to May 8 was Teacher Appreciation Week.

“I want to thank our entire West Essex community, our students and our staff and our parents for making our first six weeks of distance learning successful,” said Macioci. “Your continued cooperation, patience and support is greatly appreciated.”

In addition to acknowledging the teaching staff, administrators, parents and students for their continued hard work as the eighth week of distance learning approaches, WEBOE President MaryAdele Wojtowicz also reminded parents that teachers making themselves available to all students and that parents or students should be reaching out for assistance as needed.

“I know this pandemic has been challenging for everyone, but our teachers and staff are here for their students and very dedicated to our student’s success,” said Wojtowicz. “It has been a huge learning curve for everyone, including our teacher, parents and students. If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, please reach out to your teachers and guidance counselors. They are here to help.”

In response to inquiries from community members about how students would be able to retrieve items left behind in their lockers and procedures to return Chromebooks, Macioci said that a protocol would be established and disseminated to parents, students and staff by the end of the month.

The next board of education meeting will be held on May 14.

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