Schools Superintendent floats hybrid models

District urges parents to respond to survey

Niesz addressed parent concerns at the March 16 Board of Education meeting.
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Niesz addressed parent concerns at the March 16 Board of Education meeting.

Bayonne Superintendent of Schools John Niesz has shared more details about the district’s plan to shift from virtual to hybrid instruction in May.

Niesz announced last week that the district will return to classrooms using a hybrid instruction model on May 3. Under current virtual instruction, teachers have been conducting live sessions from either their classrooms at school or their homes through a learning system called Schoology.com.

The main factors holding up the return to in-person learning were the need to vaccinate teachers and renovate schools to make them safe.

Addressing safety issues

At the March 16 Board of Education meeting, Niesz said that at the beginning of the month there were more than 800 school employees who were not yet vaccinated. He subsequently worked with the city to get all employees vaccinated, calling the vaccines a “game changer.”

May 3 will mark two weeks after all employees received their second doses, Niesz said. This is the approximate amount of time it takes to achieve full immunity after receiving the second dose.

School renovations have since been completed with the help of federal funding. Many buildings are more than 87 years old and needed safety upgrades.

“With the recent release of the vaccine for our employees, new funding for room ventilation and the recent purchase of filters and systems, dividers for all desks, the installation of special filters for ventilation systems in all buildings that have ventilation systems, and other safety systems – we are confident that on May 3rd we can open safely,” Niesz said.

Consulting the community

Currently, the district is surveying the community to determine how many students will be coming back in May. That information will help the district determine the type of hybrid model it will implement. 

The district will survey the community next week on what type and duration of rotation in and out of classrooms is preferred by the community. Assistant Superintendent of Special Education Jennifer Vecchiarelli will send out a survey and information next week to special education parents and guardians regarding the transition to hybrid instruction.

The survey on whether students want to stay fully virtual or shift to hybrid instruction is split approximately 50/50. But the district has received only 3,000 responses out of roughly 10,000 and will make a decision when the survey is completed.

All schools will rotate in and out of classrooms on the same days. According to Niesz, this helps with food service, transportation, potential COVID-19 outbreaks, and families with children in different schools. The district will schedule students from the same households to learn from the classrooms on the same days.

Shifting back and forth

Students will be allowed to switch from hybrid to virtual instruction once the school year starts.

“If you are in doubt please sign up for in-person instruction,” Niesz said. “We need to know the maximum number of students that will be coming back to in-person instruction.”

Students can switch from virtual instruction to hybrid. Each request will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. But Niesz strongly recommends that students who choose virtual stay virtual. The reopening plan depends on how many students choose to transition to hybrid instruction.

Niesz expects a return to full in-person instruction in September.

Closing the achievement gap

After a year of virtual instruction, the district is looking to address learning gaps. Niesz said that he and the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Dennis Degnan are putting together a robust educational service for the summer, aiming to close the learning gap for students who struggled during virtual instruction.

The district will offer extra instruction through summer school as well as other enrichment opportunities. Niesz said that the district will do “whatever it takes” to close that gap, with extra instruction before or after school.

“We will communicate with our community frequently in preparation of our return to a hybrid schedule,” Niesz said. “We thank you for your support, and we look forward to our return on May 3, 2021. We will finish our school year safe, smart and strong.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.