In the spring, I wrote about the valiant efforts of our teachers and students to continue the education process on a remote basis during the statewide school shut-down (“President’s Message: When the Going Gets Tough…,” March/April). It seemed like the public health emergency was a short-term situation at the time. Since then, online learning has become the new normal, with virtual instruction comprising a significant part—if not all—of every student’s education as the pandemic continues.
The New Jersey School Boards Association’s recent report, “Reopening Schools: Online Learning and the Digital Divide” (October 23), takes a critical look at remote instruction during the pandemic. The report calls for efforts to ensure student access to devices and broadband, while endorsing efforts to improve the quality of online learning through professional development, program design and effective practice.
But long before any of us heard of COVID-19, NJSBA recognized the positive role that digital learning can play in our children’s future. In partnership with the New Jersey Department of Education and the support of other educational organizations, we launched a statewide initiative to develop effective strategies, provide resources and programming, establish standards, and certify schools and school districts that meet those standards.
In June, with the support of NJSBA and other partners, the initiative was reconstituted as the Sustainable Jersey Digital Schools Program and placed under the aegis of The Sustainability Institute at The College of New Jersey. The Institute administers the highly successful Sustainable Jersey for Schools program, which focuses on environmentally and financially sustainable practices and counts over 60 percent of the state’s operating school districts as participants.
This issue of School Leader features an article, “Making Remote Learning Effective” (page 28) by Dr. Marc Natanagara. Recently retired as assistant superintendent for the Toms River Regional School District after a long career in educational administration, Dr. Natanagara developed the “Remote Digital Learning Roadmap 1.0,” the inaugural effort of the Sustainable Jersey Digital Schools Program. The Roadmap focuses on “practical guidance for effective teaching, allowing districts to adapt recommendations based on available resources and the needs of their particular community,” and it highlights successful practices for sustainable remote learning.
If you did not have the opportunity to hear Dr. Natanagara speak at Workshop 2020, you can download his session, “What We Learned in Virtual Classrooms during COVID-19,” which is archived on the Virtual Workshop 2020 website. I also urge you to learn more about the Sustainable Jersey Digital Schools program during a series of webinars, scheduled from December through May, at http://www.sustainablejerseyschools.com/.
As Dr. Natanagara correctly points out, “…new data on digital methods…could help schools not only adapt better and more quickly to future crises, but improve education as a whole, even during ‘normal’ times.”