BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The first week of classes are in the books for Governor Livingston High School students as they returned to classes on Monday, September 21.

The 2020-2021 school year commenced with a mixture of in-class and remote learning following a hybrid model of classes in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Livingston (GL) students joined their middle and elementary school peers who resumed classes earlier in September.

GL kicked off the school year with students occupying Group A attending classes in-person while Group B attended school virtually. Next week, Sept. 28, will see the groups flip with Group B’s attending in-person classes and Group A learning virtually. This hybrid form of learning, not unique to Berkeley Heights, is meant to combat the spread of COVID-19, while offering students in-person learning.

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This is the new reality for students and here for the “foreseeable future,” remarked Superintendent Dr. Melissa Varley during a live stream of the Berkeley Heights Board of Education held on Thursday, Sept. 24 via the online platform Zoom due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.

During her Superintendent’s report, Varley thanked the Berkeley Heights community and stakeholders for their “patience” and “understanding” as the district works through “all the issues associated with moving the district to hybrid learning.”

Varley acknowledged the technological challenges associated with reopening with a hybrid mode of learning. Specifically, she mentioned technological issues with “Power School and “help forums.” Varley also emphasized the district's commitment to working through challenges associated with the hybrid model of schooling as soon as they arise.

Additionally, gratitude was expressed by Varley for the teachers on the frontlines. 

“In the classrooms our teachers are striving to reinvent instruction to match a model no one has ever really tried before,” said Varley. “That takes time and experience to figure out what works and what does not.

“I am confident that with experimentation and practice our outstanding teaching staff will master this new and challenging instructional format,” said Varley. 

The focus of the Superintendents comments shifted to the students themselves and their role in making sure they strive to meet their own academic responsibilities.

“Finally, students have to get used to being students again,” said Varley. “With the start of this academic year, teachers are returning to the high standards of academic rigor for all students.

“This is critical for our student’s academic success because they need to adjust working to a high standard because a remote environment will be a part of their lives for a foreseeable future.”

Classroom Accountability

For teachers and students, their academic lives have been based out of the classroom. Measuring a student’s academic standing was observed in-person, unmediated the online teaching technologies districts like Berkeley Heights now rely on in a COVID-19 world. Making sure a student does not fall behind is one of the biggest challenges for teachers and a serious concern for parents as was demonstrated during the Sept. 24 meeting.

Resident Ramlya Kasthuri took time at the public hearing portion of Thursday’s meeting to ask who is responsible for making sure not only are students turning in their work, but who is responsible for making sure kids are “are learning the material and meeting the grade specific benchmarks and standards,” remarked Kasthuri.

“Who is ensuring the younger students are able to get into the classes, are completing and handing-in their assignments -- and that the assignments they are handing-in are being corrected,” asked Kasthuri.

Kasthuri also asked the board, who is responsible for communicating with parents if these academic markers aren’t being met.

Superintendent Varley responded to Kasthuri’s questions, emphasizing responsibility falls upon those teachers administering the work and teaching the lessons to ensure students meet their academic obligations.

Varley went on to explain feedback from classwork and homework is naturally directed to students and then their parents or guardians if the student is struggling, or failing to meet his, or her academic responsibilities. 

The next Berkeley Heights Board of Education meeting will be held on Oct. 8 via the online meeting platform zoom. The public portion of the meeting begins at 7:30 p.m.