August 31, 2022

It’s Back to School Next Week, with COVID Restrictions Eased

By Donald Gilpin

Summer construction, maintenance, and cleanup projects are essentially finished; teachers will be winding up classroom preparations, professional days, and lesson planning this week; and new students and faculty are completing their requisite orientation sessions.  It’s back to school time, with classes beginning at Princeton University and Princeton Public Schools (PPS) on Tuesday, September 6 and at most local private schools a day or two later.

At Johnson Park Elementary School (JP) last Thursday, 55 new kindergarteners and their parents participated in a safari-themed orientation program. The JP PTO provided decorations and refreshments.

“It was a delight to see our youngest learners arrive with excitement for what is to come,” wrote JP Principal Angela Siso Stentz in an August 29 email. “Our kindergarten parents had an opportunity to mingle a little while the students participated in activities with the kindergarten team of four teachers. We can’t wait until the first day of school.”

She continued, “We are really looking forward to the new school year, with reduced COVID restrictions and returning to some normal procedures. Johnson Park Elementary School will welcome close to 100 new families across all grade levels. Over the next three service days teachers and staff members will plan, coordinate, engage, and prepare for our students’ September 6 arrival.”

PPS Interim Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Rebecca Gold described the busy scene in the district last week as PPS welcomed about 60 new staff members. “It has been a week of orientation, exploration, meeting new colleagues, learning about the Princeton area, new software programs, security, time in their buildings, and so much more,” she said. “Our leadership team has done an amazing job of presenting and working with new hires.”

In a national environment of teacher shortages, PPS has been fortunate to attract qualified teachers for positions that are traditionally difficult to fill, Gold pointed out, adding that PPS’s involvement in the Central Jersey Program for the Recruitment of Diverse Educators, known as CJ Pride, has also been advantageous for hiring.

Jeff Lucker and Joyce Jones, who were honored at an August 30 gathering, are two Princeton High School (PHS) teachers who did not need to be oriented this year, having oriented themselves quite successfully at PHS over the past 50-plus years. Lucker started teaching history at PHS in 1969, and Jones, teacher of physical education, health, and peer group, started in 1970.

“Jeff Lucker is extremely dedicated, knowledgeable, and seeks to bring out the best in his students,” said PHS Principal Frank Chmiel. “His classroom is a cognitively vibrant place. Students consider and discuss history from myriad viewpoints and grapple with what this information means for them as global citizens of the 21st century.”

He continued, “As students leave Mr. Lucker’s class, they are empowered not only with copious content knowledge but relevant skills enabling them to read about events, discern perspectives, develop their own insights, and share them in courageous and civil ways. The impact that Jeff Lucker has had on generations of students from the Vietnam era to our current times cannot be overstated. His work has changed lives, including the lives of my own children, and has made our community a better place.”

Chmiel also had high praise for Jones and the impact of her contributions to PHS over the past five decades. Having attended a celebration in her honor last spring, he recalled the numerous PHS alumni from different decades who “shared beautiful memories of how she impacted their lives as students and athletes.” Describing the tributes as “astounding and inspiring,” he noted, “Ms. Jones’ teaching and coaching enriched the lives of thousands of PHS alumni, and her passionate commitment to teaching continues to inspire students today.”

Many students, teachers, and staff are looking forward to attending school under conditions that resemble pre-pandemic conditions, with COVID-19 restrictions eased somewhat in accordance with the CDC’s revised guidance.

PPS will not require masks for students or staff “although in certain specific instances masks may be necessary,” according to the PPS Health Protocols for School Year 2022-2023 on the district website. PPS will follow the guidance of the Princeton Health Department and the district physician and will update its protocols in accordance with revised bulletins from the New Jersey Department of Health and the CDC.

The district encourages students and staff to stay up-to-date with vaccinations and boosters and recommends the use of masks, especially for those who are immunocompromised or at risk for getting very sick. “PPS does not anticipate mandatory masking,” an announcement reads. “Though, during times of high community transmission level and increased spread in classes or schools, masking decisions will be made following the advice of the Princeton Health Department and our school physician.”

New policies on COVID-19 testing are also posted on the district website at Ventilation, purification and close monitoring of the schools’ indoor air quality remain a key part of the PPS preventative protocols.