The Berlin Community School District began 2021 with remote learning, though it quickly returned to five days of in person learning after COVID cases died down. Eastern Regional High School navigated a hybrid system on a rotating basis.
Berlin Community School
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the Berlin Community School District has continued to make progress on goals for 2021. Many of those efforts will continue into the new year.
“What we’re really trying to do is build off of what we established last year,” Superintendent Dr. Joseph Campisi explained. “… We’re trying to get back to a sense of normalcy.”
Some of the changes have been in response to the pandemic, like the district’s summer program to help make up for learning loss or the added mental-health support for students.
Other changes were more curriculum based and student centered, like the switch to a standards-based report card rather than the traditional A through F report card for elementary school students in November.
“We’ve gone to standards-based grading at the elementary level, so they’re based on the actual standards,” Campisi explained. “It’s still progress based on the priority standards that are in the NJ Student Learning standards, (but) we’re trying to move past compliance.
“At the elementary level, we need to understand where our students are as far as mastery of different standards.”
Students will return to traditional letter grades in middle school. In 2021, middle- school Principal Therese Bonmati reworked the schedule for students to have more electives, but also double the time in English/Language Arts and Math. Throughout the year, the board had also worked on updating a new curriculum monthly (like science, math, social studies, technology, etc.) to keep ahead, even though the standards will not be required until the 2022-’23 school year.
The district also updated the gifted and talented matrix to expand how students are identified as gifted and incorporate area-specific giftedness.
“We’re trying to find a way to enhance (the gifted and talented program) to meet all our different learners’ needs,” Campisi noted.
In other curriculum updates, the district is piloting Reveal Math and has started a Social/Emotional Learning class at the elementary level, which Campisi reports is going over well with students. At the middle-school level, the social/emotional learning will be integrated in different classes.
As part of its five-year strategic plan, the district has begun virtual office hours with the two principals and the superintendent to keep open lines of communication with the community, a move that will continue in the new year.
For physical upgrades, the district has finished another roof replacement as part of a 10-year plan to continue replacing rooftops without having to go through a bond referendum.
The district will enter year two of its five-year plan and continue to make strides toward its five objectives: focusing on the whole child; increasing communication and community engagement; supporting staff; enhancing operations, resources and infrastructure; and improving programs, activities and the curriculum.
Eastern Regional High School
After experiencing a dip in enrollment, Superintendent Robert Cloutier is happy to report that 2021 marked a 100-student increase since 2019’s enrollment.
“That’s tremendous news, because we were in a cycle of declining enrollment,” Cloutier said. “ … This is the first time we’ve seen a significant increase in many years, and that’s terrific, because it allows us to take advantage of our size.”
The district will be able to cater to its growing population with a wider range of courses, AP classes and electives.
“We put a lot of newer course ideas on hold at the start of last year and we got some proposals for new proposals from teachers this year, so we do have a number of courses that we’ll be offering,” explained Dr. Kristin Borda, director of Academic Performance and Student Programs at Eastern.
Courses that will be offered next year include Sports Media and Communication; a coding course in the special-education program different than the one that’s been offered in the general education program for several years; Drone Aviation; a third year of Architecture, Drawing and Engineering; and an honors level of orchestra.
While some things were put on hold, the district has also created and continued several initiatives it hopes to continue in the 2023-’24 school year. They include the expanded credit recovery program that helps students stay on track to graduate, mental-health services, and the Dylan’s Wings of Change Wingman Program that incorporates Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).
In December, the district also began a process that allows for a combination of clubs financially supported by the district with paid activity advisors as well as clubs without a school-sponsored advisor so students can meet after school. The school will still provide appropriate supervision, but it would be a more informal structure.
“It can remain an informal structure club for that year and disappear with the students of that year, or it can be the starting point of proposing a formal club that the board will approve from year to year,” Cloutier said.
Following passage of a $10 million bond referendum, the district hopes to begin construction on a new HVAC system in the summer that would allow for temperature-controlled rooms, air conditioning and heating throughout the building. The process is contingent on purchasing supplies during current national supply-chain shortages.
In the new year, the district will continue to follow guidance from the governor and the Department of Health with regards to COVID safety. Additionally, Cloutier said the district hopes to create a new web page for the district.
“The pandemic has proved the incredible importance of getting information out, but the dilemma is that there is so much information,” he said. “This (new page) will both highlight the information that people really need to know, (while also) having a webpage/communication strategy that really showcases our students’ and staff’s achievements.”
In January, members Robert Campbell and Veronica Parker will renew their terms on the board.