In the midst of trying times, the Jefferson Township Board of Education reflected on the success and shortcomings of the 2019-20 school year while looking toward the future. The Monday night discussion was overseen by guest presenter Charlene Petersen, a field service representative from the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Monday’s group agreed that the brightest silver linings that the past year had to offer were the necessary transition from in-person to virtual learning in the wake of the ongoing health crisis and the way they were able to operate with a budget crisis looming.

“It’s hard to think about not getting through, but we did. We got through,” board member Michael Stewart said. “Not that it was a great year in terms of academics, but that we got through at all and made the switch from in-person to virtual (learning) and (were) able to do it overnight, it just seems to me that…the staff, the administration, the board, was all involved in this, and it took a lot of effort.

“But it seemed to work. It was not perfect, but the fact it worked as well as it did, is something to be happy about. I feel like we actually accomplished something in spite of the outside interference of COVID.”

The public health situation prevented the budget situation from being truly resolved, but the Board was optimistic about the progress made and looked forward to working on for the rest of the year. Board members fondly recalled the community coming together at Jefferson Township High School in March, shortly before stay-at-home orders and lockdowns ensued, when constituents signed letters seeking a review of a funding reform bill.

With Petersen’s moderation, the Board also determined their other areas of focus for the rest of the year. In addition to the ongoing budget battle, the planning of a “safe and responsible” return to schools remains one of the primary objectives, as does an improvement in communication between committees and the general public.

“As we looked at the communication, we talked about several different things,” Petersen said, recapping the communication plan. “In committees, outside the committees, the responsibility of everyone on the board to want to communicate better, for the chairs to take initiative, to reach out to people not on their committees, to provide more education to the public about the constraints that you have.”

Petersen noted that Jefferson’s goals and issues were similar to what she has experienced in other communities. But she took the time to praise the progress the board has made in their ongoing quest for relative normalcy.

“Based on the things you’ve talked about in communication, you’ve already taken it, it sounds like, to a level farther than what a lot of people have done,” she noted. “Even when you talk about…engaging the public and trying to use them as resources, try to understand the situation that it’s put you in. I think it’s great that you’ve undertaken that work and you’ve recognized that you want to continue and get even better at that work.”

Goal statements will be dictated and clarified before being publicly posted on the Board of Education’s official website.

Monday’s optimism continued in the monthly report from Superintendent Jeanne Howe, who praised student and teacher efforts at virtual learning and acknowledged individual and team accomplishments of several Jefferson area representatives. Namely in the former category, Jefferson Township High School senior Polina Filipova received recognition from The College Board’s National Recognition Programs through the Rural and Small-Town Scholar for Excellence in Academic Achievement.

The Board of Education will continue to meet virtually in the media center of JTHS, next scheduled to do so on November 16.

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