Verona High School senior Ryan Huze says he stopped wrestling with the thought of a prom weeks ago.
“I’ve taken that out of my thought process entirely so it’s not as much of a disappointment any more,” he said.
When Gov. Phil Murphy cancelled in-person school for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year, it put in-person proms and graduation ceremonies in jeopardy.
“I’d rather it not be virtual as most things happen recently. I’d rather it be as real as it can be for us,” Huze added.
Scott Rocco, who serves as the president of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, says it’s the right decision. Rocco is also the superintendent of Hamilton schools with a student population of nearly 12,000 — 900 of them are seniors wondering about prom, awards day and graduation.
“We’re looking at possibilities of virtual graduations or drive-in graduations. I’m committed to making sure that we do something to recognize and celebrate them in as healthy a way as possible,” he said.
Rocco says Hamilton brought in a Seton Hall University expert to enhance professional development for teachers to hone in on assessing students and giving grades.
He says his district quickly transitioned to remote learning and closed the technology gap. He says when schools shut down, 83% of his students had a computer and internet access. It’s now at 98%.
“We have to look at it as an opportunity to be able to transition to a much more modern system of education,” Rocco said.
Rocco may need to apply that lesson to September. He says he’s planning for a traditional school opening that would include hiring two professionals to help students socially and emotionally.
“But at the same time I’ve got to plan for what happens if the governor says we’re not ready,” he said.
Katherine Gallagher is a deputy assistant commissioner with the New Jersey Department of Education. She’s helping districts brainstorm.
“I think the pandemic has caused a seismic shift in how we look at K-12 education,” she said. “Really rethinking our education models as they’ve existed previously to envision something different. Build in flexibility so that schools are able to bring students back physically when they can. That may not be all students, right? That may be some students at some times, and other continuing with virtual instruction. ”
Sen. Teresa Ruiz says there’s no one size fits all approach about social distancing come September.
Ruiz chairs the 21-member Senate Education Recovery Task Force. She sees it as an opportunity to guide the Education department and to address disparities in public education.
“Social and emotional learning, academic learning loss. Academic learning loss is a real thing that black and brown communities have been faced with because of our public school systems. But now, everyone’s talk about the importance of academic learning loss,” Ruiz said.
Everyone will be looking to see what comes next.