By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr
Monmouth Beach – Superintendents around the state are under tremendous pressure since they have just a few weeks to develop and implement a plan on reopening schools. You would think that pressure would be more intensive for a new top administrator.
In Monmouth Beach Jessica Alfone, who was appointed superintendent last month, feels she is ready to handle the challenges during a pandemic. “I was very involved from the start in my former district, Middletown, and coming here to Monmouth Beach we have a very different dynamic,” said Alfone.
One of the biggest differences is Monmouth Beach has 230 students compared to 9,617 of her former district. “Class size will be very critical in the reopening of schools. We are very fortunate here that our average is 10-to-13 students per-class.”
Monmouth Beach sent out a parent survey and only five responded that they were uncomfortable sending their children back to school.
“Governor Murphy issued the ‘Road Back’ guidelines which addresses students and staff basic physical safety needs and the social emotional and environmental factors,” added Alfone.
The guidelines say that districts must do the best of their ability to allow for social distancing and face covers are required. They must also minimize the use of shared objects, and have hand sanitizing stations.
“One of the benefits of having smaller class sizes is that we are able to keep the desk six feet apart. Students will be required to wear a face mask when entering/leaving the building and walking throughout the facility. The only time they can remove it is when they are at their desk,” Alfone said.
Monmouth Beach is unique as they do not have to transport students to and from school and they do not provide lunch. “For our larger classes, we will be using the all-purpose room, art and music rooms,” said Alfone. As of now, the district will not be checking temperatures of students and staff. That will be something they are asked to do on their own before arriving at school.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that districts consider cohorting. This is where groups of students and staff stay together throughout the day to minimize exposure for students, teachers and staff. Monmouth Beach will be using this model and according to Alfone will limit the number of special classes. Alfone stated that art and music teachers will be moving to classrooms instead of students moving to them.
“Our goal is to run as close to normal as possible. Of course, the new normal will not include visitors to the school and limited after school activities,” said Alfone. Monmouth Beach has also purchased clear plastic shields for the front office area, and three-sides clear desk shields for the Pre-K and kindergarten students.
For the students whose parents have chosen not to send them to school, their classes will be livestreamed. Alfone stated that the teachers have been very creative, innovative and resourceful and the board of education has been very supportive of the reopening plan. “Public health, student health and the health of the staff in the building are very important to use. We can manage the reopening with the numbers we have here in Monmouth Beach,” said Alfone.
Of course, if the governor decides to close schools again, Alfone and her staff will have a plan in place for virtual learning.