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New principals prepare for school year during ever-evolving pandemic

Gearing up for a new academic year is stressful for any new principal. This year in particular, the administrators are tasked with keeping students, faculty and parents safe in the middle of a global health crisis.

Glenn Clark, former principal of the Academy of St. Therese in Cresskill, is now heading St. Peter Academy in River Edge, which reopens Sept. 9.

“We put a lot of work in to reopening with our students in the classrooms,” he explained.

Several preemptive measures were put in place by Clark and his staff. Students and faculty will have their temperatures checked before entering the building each day. Dismissal will be staggered with different entrance and exit points. All the high-traffic areas in the school will be disinfected three times per day with another deep cleaning every night. All students are required to wear face masks and will avoid changing classrooms for each subject.

Each class will also be livestreamed for students opting to stay home. The school held a test-run of its technology capabilities before reopening.

Out of the 173 students enrolled for the fall, Clark noted that only 10 percent of them will be exclusively learning remotely. Preschool and kindergarten students, however, will not have classes available online.

“The parents and teachers are all on board with the adjustments,” Clark said. “We are beginning the school day earlier so that everyone can have their temperatures checked, which means that teachers have to be here even earlier.”

He expressed confidence in the school’s ability to flourish during these uncertain times.

“Through this pandemic and at all times, St. Peter Academy is committed to the ministry of Catholic education and in supporting our students' faith formation and development,” Clark said. “We want to celebrate each child as an individual creation of God. We can deal with COVID-19 together.”

Our Lady of the Lake School in Verona, with around 217 students enrolled, has adopted a hybrid model.

The students are separated into two groups, alternating between remote and in-school learning. On Wednesdays, all students will participate in at-home learning. When students are home, they will join the classroom through synchronous, livestream instruction via videoconference.

According to the new principal, Jim Carlo, the hybrid schedule is better suited for the larger school. Formerly principal of Transfiguration Academy in Bergenfield, he had to quickly adjust to the larger setting.

“It’s been challenging to get to know the school and teachers in such a short period of time,” Carlo explained. “We [kept] the parents’ considerations in mind and everyone seems to be comfortable with this plan.”

Parents who chose to exclusively have their children attend school remotely can opt to switch to in-person learning on Nov. 25. Parents with children in school can also decide to change to remote learning at any time, Carlo said.

“I want everyone—the students, parents and staff—to feel safe and secure. If everyone is afraid to be in school, it can be a blockade for learning,” he noted.

Carlo believes students are quite adaptable and that they are excited to see their friends again.

“In the spring, it was exciting for them to be at home. Now, I really think the kids want to be in school. We’re trying to retain as much normalcy as possible,” he said.

The Schools Office of the Archdiocese of Newark noted in a statement that to return to in-person learning, it took a great deal of planning. "We recognize these past few months have been challenging and filled with anxiety and uncertainty on so many levels," the statement said. "We assure you that planning for the 2020-2021 school year [has been taken] with a great deal of thought and prayer to ensure the health and safety of all in our school communities. We pray for the grace and wisdom needed as we travel the road ahead."