BARNEGAT, NJ – Medical experts regularly speak on the potential for long-term side effects from COVID-19. Many working people and business owners continue to experience economic instability. Meanwhile, no one can dispute the lingering harm the pandemic caused when it comes to students. The Barnegat School District announced its plans last week to combat what could otherwise become a learning crisis.
The sudden end of the 2019-2020 school year came unexpectedly. Barnegat school administrators went into a reactive mode as far as setting up remote learning for the district’s 3400 students. On Wednesday, a great many children will return to brick and mortar buildings on a hybrid schedule. At least 20% of local public-school students will continue their learning on a complete virtual platform.
A number of district employees helped put together a Remote Learning Handbook to assist parents, teachers, and students through the process. Students enrolled in the hybrid model will also spend some time with virtual learning. The document is a handy resource and is found here.
“The district has a plan to first identify areas of the learning loss,” shared Jim Barbiere, Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Human Resources. “We then need to remediate those gaps, as well as position students and staff, to be successful in moving forward in the curriculum.”
Barnegat Schools will make use of a product called LinkIt!, which is a data analytics and warehousing software program. It contains benchmarks for achievement goals during different parts of the school year. Over one third of New Jersey school districts use LinkIt!, which also warehouses NJSLA (New Jersey Student Learning Assessments) results.
Students did not take the NJSLA standard test last year due to the shutdown. It is uncertain whether they will take it this year. The LinkIn! Program, therefore, proves to be an important tool to predict grade level performance and standard base analysis.
Tests administered to students in September are actually the ones that would have been used to establish benchmarks last spring. For example, a child entering the fifth grade will take the fourth-grade benchmark spring now. The same student would take the fifth-grade benchmark in the spring to identify growth in the academic year.
“This is actually essential for teachers to drill down individual student profiles,” said Barbiere. “This allows them to remediate student learning loss at the individual level.”
Benchmarks will be established on a cycle consisting of sixteen weeks, with school principals taking the lead in data harvests, according to Barbiere.
“Principals will be sitting with their teams, consisting of teachers in the building, other administrators that might be involved, and the guidance counselor, said Barbiere. “The School Improvement Panel (SKIP), as well as the master teachers and RTI Data Coaches, will also look to identify strengths and challenges.”
Barbiere explained that the data collected is not just about testing, but also includes attendance, discipline, and bullying data. The plan is to look at everything holistically and come up with plans to improve achievement goals on a granular level and develop individual strategies for improvement. Those in the RTI Data Coaches roles, created last year in conjunction with the reconfiguration, will act as specialists in the analysis.
Board of Education members approved curriculum changes that district supervisors revamped over the summer at last week’s meeting. Barbiere said this would help both students and teachers when it comes to learning losses experienced last year.
“We feel that a partnership between teachers and parents is one of the strongest things we can do to promote student learning,” Barbiere stated.
Technology plays a strong role not only in evaluating students but also in the entire learning experience. Barnegat Schools took steps to start the school year with everyone equipped.
“We are proud that we are going to a 1:1 initiative for Grades 7-12 for laptops,” shared Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis. “Incoming ninth-graders will be gifted with a Chromebook that they will be gifted with when they graduate.”
Elementary students who need laptops will be made available to close up what Latwis referred to as the” digital divide.” When the schools shut down to in-person instruction last spring, the district gave out 1500 devices. Latwis estimated a similar number would be distributed today and tomorrow.
Staff members are all being outfitted with brand new devices. This is intended to make things easier when it comes to virtual learning.
Stephen Nichol, Director of Special Projects, spoke about the many improvements that will be done to improve the district’s access to technology.
“We are going to increase our security access, and perform control panel upgrades, “said Nichol. “We are also going to increase our internet speed and firewall upgrades.”
District leaders acknowledged that the pandemic has impacted many people as far as emotional health, which can also affect learning.
“Our plan includes providing support to help everyone return to school and their social and emotional wellbeing,” Dan Gunderson, Director of Student Services, shared. “Our counselors, CST, Guidance – the people who have expertise in these areas are already gearing up to be able to support our children and staff as needed.”