One year ago, on March 16, Gov. Phil Murphy issued a historic order that would reshape education in New Jersey. To reduce the rate of community transmission of COVID-19, Murphy ordered all schools to close by Wednesday, March 18.

With that, New Jersey’s students, school board members, teachers, administrators, staff, and families were plunged into uncharted territory.  Drawing on a reserve of persistence, courage and ingenuity, educators continued to provide instruction outside of the familiar structures of classrooms and schools.

Teachers and students had to quickly become familiar with using videoconferencing programs, and they transitioned to conducting the school day remotely. Educators tried to infuse normalcy into the day by conducting the Pledge of Allegiance and morning announcements online, scheduling exercise breaks, and commemorating occasions like graduation with virtual ceremonies.

Other educators and students, who were without proper technology and access, struggled to continue instruction with paper packets of information, as districts and the state worked to shrink the digital divide. Meanwhile, schools continued to provide meals to students who qualified for free- and reduced-price lunches, packing meals to go, and delivering them to students’ homes, or arranging for families to pick up meals at schools.

“We all applaud our state’s local boards and the entire public school community for their flexibility and dedication in continuing to educate our students during this pandemic year,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director.

NJSBA’s Pandemic Outreach The New Jersey School Boards Association also went remote on March 16, and shifted into action to continue to provide resources and training to its members. “I also want to commend NJSBA’s staff for their efforts in continuously providing up-to-the-minute information and resources for our members throughout the past 12 months,” said Feinsod.

Without the ability to hold its scheduled roster of in-person training sessions and meetings, the Association began to hold original online programs, which are broadcast live and then archived on the NJSBA website.  On a weekly basis, NJSBA has presented at least five original online training and informational programs, including webinars, Facebook Live events, online professional development, podcasts and videos.

County meetings continued throughout the summer, and School Board Notes continued to publish weekly through the summer to update members on the frequent changes in guidance from the state and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  A new webpage was begun, focusing on pandemic-related issues, guidance and resources. In the fall, that website was redesigned to focus on the challenges of the 2020-2021 school year.

The Association’s signature direct services continued uninterrupted as well. Field Service Representatives conducted training sessions to boards virtually, and the Legal, Labor Relations and Policy department responded to daily requests for information on school law, negotiations, and policy.

NJSBA also undertook the research and writing of a series of special reports on education during the pandemic. The reports included:

As of Friday, March 12, 2,823,731 doses of the vaccine have been administered in New Jersey, with about a million people fully vaccinated.  While the state is working towards “herd immunity,” there will still be the need to continue safety precautions such as masks and social distancing. But as more schools are opening for expanded in-person learning, there is a palpable sense that life will become more normal in the not-too-distant future.

The NJSBA, like the school boards it serves, is looking forward to eventually resuming some level of in-person sessions and meetings. It is clear that the Association will continue to include virtual programming as a permanent part of its operations. However it is accomplished, the mission of NJSBA remains constant: to promote the achievement of all students through effective governance.

Spreading Love in Haddonfield: As part of an elementary school principal’s challenge to draw something that depicts “love,” one first-grader in Haddonfield shows off a chalk drawing in front of her house.Deep Cleaning the School in Glassboro: Glassboro school district supplemented its cleaning services by bringing in a special service that specializes in electrostatic cleaning.Union City’s COVID-19 Nurses Team: School nurses in several New Jersey districts volunteered in their communities, including the Union City school nurses here, who volunteered with first responders. Left to right: Zulma Solis, of the Union Hill Middle School; Adis Oliva Torres from Thomas A. Edison Elementary School; and Joel Roca Ortiz, from the Academy for Career and Community Empowerment.Lawrence Township: Packing Lunches by the Thousands: Districts throughout New Jersey continued to provide meals for students and families. In Lawrence Township (Mercer), the district prepared and delivered more than 2,500 lunches a week for about 503 students.Pledge of Allegiance in Warren Township: Preschool student Addie DePersiis follows along as Scott Cook, principal of Mt. Horeb Elementary Schoool leads students in the Pledge of Allegiance during his virtual Morning News meeting.Words of Encouragement in Linden: Linden High School Principal Yelena Horre holding a poster she hung in her front window. It was part of a program in which families were encouraged to post rainbows or other uplifting messages in their front windows and doors.Middle Township’s Prom King and Queen: Middle Township High School in Cape May County held a “front porch prom,” and students dressed up, and danced to music chosen by them and broadcast on a local radio station. Teachers, administrators and prom organizers drove to homes and crowned the prom king and queens, and delivered prom favors and prizes that had been donated.From left to right: Snow artists Juliette (pictured) and Conner Cheng, 9th- and 12th-grade students respectively, created likenesses of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Vice President Kamala Harris; freshman Sean Hall made a snowman of Leonardo da Vinci, and 9th-grader Ria Jain paid homage to Gandhi. Photos provided by social studies teacher Shelly Lettington of Watchung Regional High School, which serves Somerset and Morris counties.