DIstrict CAO Murray talks ‘distance learning’ mode

School district utilizes technology to maintain normalcy during shutdown.

At the Haddonfield School District’s latest public session, Chief Academic Officer Colleen
Murray issued a detailed review of the new online education model for township schools, a
move forced by the rapid spread of coronavirus.

The presentation at the March 26 meeting laid out the genesis, philosophy and execution
behind the continuation of lesson plans through online distance learning, which the district
anticipated before New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy mandated all school closures until further
notice.

“That planning day made all the difference in the world … we saw the writing on the wall,”
Murray said in reference to the pre-planned professional development day on March 16 called for by Superintendent Larry Mussoline to address possible disruption of classes due to COVID-19.

“We knew if something like this was going to succeed, it would have to be due to strong
communication,” Murray added. “One of the things we grappled with is the huge amount of
information that had to get out to individuals across the district.”

Thanks in large part to the district’s tech team and administration, students have been getting daily updates from administration and teachers. In addition, there’s been a minimum of a weekly update to parents, who have been hungry for that type of information.

For social and emotional well-being, Murray said, teachers and administrators have been
checking in regularly with individual students all across the district. The middle school
counseling department has also checked in with every single student.

“Teachers have been using their learning management systems to ensure that, at the risk of sounding cliche, there’s no child left behind,” she added.

Murray stated Haddonfield was faced with the same decision every other district in the country was faced with: the choice between original material or the existing program of studies. Opting for the latter, she offered that sticking with the program in place, “is the harder way to go, but it’s the more effective way to go. If you stay stuck in enrichment, it’s not a promising future for the learning of our children.”

Nurturing a sense of community has been something that has kind of happened organically, Murray stated. At all educational levels, teachers, staff and administrators have done their part to bridge the physical distance between their students and themselves by utilizing social media platforms in unique ways to maintain a sense of connection.

“Personalization of support has been the cornerstone of this,” Murray noted. “All staff have office hours; teachers are collaborating to learn from each other to do this so quickly. Teachers who were previously uncomfortable with technology, I venture to say this, are no longer uncomfortable with technology.”

Murray also admitted that, less than two weeks into the new paradigm, there are parents who are struggling to adjust, especially those who are considered essential workers. She expressed the need for all district parents to be as patient as possible, but to assert themselves if they’re struggling with any aspect of the process.

As the situation continues, Murray floated the possibility of focus groups comprised of teachers, parents and students to assess which areas need more focus or improvement in an online learning model.

“We are way ahead of anybody that I know in Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” Mussoline
mused. “But I know assessment is going to be an issue, depending on how long we’re here. The governor said that April 17 is a possibility (to reopen schools) but I don’t think anybody knows.

“But the longer we stay in this,” he added, “the more issues will arise. Cyberlearning is
wonderful, but it’s not for all children. But what we’re trying to do is mold it for all children.”

Board President Adam Sangillo stressed to any district parents tuned in that any call to re-open schools will be up to Gov. Murphy and the district will follow his edicts.

Murray’s full presentation can be found on the BOE website at:
https://haddonfieldschools.org/announcements-and-news-releases/.

In other news:

● The board approved the donation, from district nursing staff, of the following protective
equipment to the New Jersey Department of Education to combat COVID-19: 250
medical exam swabs; 19 boxes of surgical gloves; 30 N-95 masks; 225 regular
children’s masks; 100 regular adult masks; four Personal Protection kits; three
disposable coveralls; two individual protective eyewear apparati; two protective face
shields; disposable thermometers, Purell wipes and cough drops.
● Among the changes to the curriculum the board passed during the meeting was the
approval of ST Math expansion for seventh grade, in the amount of $12,800. A total of
$2,000 was allotted for the current academic year’s budget and the remaining amount
will be applied to the 2020-’21 budget.
● The board also signed off on the acceptance of a $50,000 donation from Marian
Creamer to fund a scholarship in the name of Richard M. Creamer.