Medford board lays out elementary school schedule proposals

Sample timeline shows what a learning day might look like

With reopening just over a week away, the Medford Township Public Schools’ curriculum department detailed a rough plan for the return of students and teachers.

Director of Educational Programming and Planning Rich Lacovara shared with The Sun a best-case scenario for the district’s elementary school, the same model presented during an Aug. 24 board of education meeting.

Information was unavailable regarding Haines Sixth Grade Center or Medford Memorial as details are still being worked on for a hybrid model.

The district had Intended to have a teacher dedicated to remote-only students, but the idea was dashed because social distancing guidelines could not be met for hybrid students. The district indicated there would also be too many students for one teacher, and the applicant pool for available and qualified educators was limited.

Cranberry Pines and Taunton Forge schools will follow an early schedule, with classes beginning at 8:05 a.m. and a 10-minute non-instructional time slot built in. Allen, Chairville and Kirby’s Mill schools will follow a late school schedule, with a 35-minute, non-instructional time slot for students arriving at 8:40 a.m. Both timelines are subject to change, but they each dedicate time for in-school reading, writing and math.

“We place an emphasis on reading, writing and math,” Lacovara said emphatically. “We want to maximize that in-person instruction with teachers. Science and social studies will largely be done in a prerecorded format,” he added, while later clarifying the three subjects are best taught in person.

With the early dismissal set in stone for the district, Lacovara said student cohorts at home and those who are 100-percent remote will receive 45 minutes of live instruction in the afternoon following the prerecorded lessons. Flexibility in the schedule allows teachers to consult with students and building principals on how to teach during the models, whether live and synchronous or with prerecorded lessons.

A reopening trial run with a select amount of families and teachers took place during the week of Aug. 17 to test audio and video qualities. Results indicated that chart paper was easiest to view with a black pen; Screencastify has the best overall quality, but lacks interaction; and a projector produced poor video quality.

“There might be a particular day where a teacher may spend more time on a subject with their students,” Lacovara noted. “We realize that students haven’t been in school for six months and kids could feel anxious coming back meeting other kids, teachers or be anxious about the virus. This really is a bare-bones idea of a schedule.”

Snack and mask breaks were worked into the schedule at  teacher-designated times. Social distancing will be strictly enforced and opportunities to go outdoors will be permitted as weather allows.

Lacovara explained the school schedules allow the district to transition to a full return or 100-percent remote situation, depending on COVID-19’s status in New Jersey. Teachers will retain the same students if a switch to virtual learning is necessary so the latter are familiar with their instructor’s plans and routines.

Lacovara pleaded for patience from parents on the reopening plan.  Improvements will be made as the weeks pass and the school communities have a tighter grasp of the policies and regulations.

The board of education will next meet on Sept. 21. To learn about specifics of the session, visit Medford.K12.NJ.US.

“We don’t want it to be like last year,” Lacovara emphasized. “We have higher expectations for participation from students and a more structured schedule. I think everyone will agree it’s a higher-quality plan than last spring.”