In a continuing dialogue with the State operated school districts, Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard presented a report to members of the State Board of Education on the status of the school district December 17.
Pillars of Promise
Superintendent Rouhanifard provided an overview of the district’s progress under the 18 month strategic plan developed back in August of last year when the district came under State control. That plan included several ‘pillars’ or ‘promises’ upon which the district has launched its improvement plan. These include:
- Promise 1: Safe Students, Safe Schools
- Promise 2: 21st Century School Buildings
- Promise 3A: Excellent Schools – Student Support
- Promise 3B: Excellent Schools – Great Teaching & Learning
- Promise 4: Serving Parents
- Promise 5: Central Office Effectiveness
Promise 1: Safe Students Safe Schools
Superintendent Rouhanifard outlined the district’s focus on ensuring a safe and secure for students both at school and on the way to school. He shared with the board members the district’s investment in the a Safe Corridor and Safe Haven program as well as parent engagement.
As evidence of success, Rouhanifard noted that in a 2013 survey 20% of Middle School students and 21% of High School students reported that they feel safe outside of their school while a year later, 62% of Middle School students and 55% of high school students reported that they feel safe outside of their school.
Among the actions taken by the district were:
- Partnering with Camden County Police to boost the quality of school safety officer training
- Revision of suspension practices to limit 10-day suspensions and focus on restorative justice
- Expansion of the Positive-Behavior Intervention support program
- Launch of a security technology pilot at Woodrow Wilson High School & Camden High School
Promise 2: 21st Century Buildings
Also noted as evidence of improvement in the area of facilities, was the recent announcement that the Schools Development Authority plans to release $50 million for the Camden High School renovation project, which includes new CTE programming. In addition, Rouhanifard provided an overview of the additional construction as well as technology upgrades across the district. All this work was within a comprehensive and updated five-year building and facilities plan
Promise 3A: Excellent Schools – Student Support
Turning to student support services, the presentation included:
- The completion of an independent special education audit;
- Training & support of more than 30 District educators to run positive behavior programs across 5 schools;
- A review of District alternative education programs;
- Partnering with City Hall’s Youth Justice Forum to provide peer-to-peer mentoring and early intervention services for high school students at risk of dropping out; and
- Partnering with local Universities and healthcare providers to offer a medical assistant training apprenticeship to approximately 10 members of the Class of 2015.
Promise 3B: Excellent Schools – Great Teaching & Learning
Beyond changes in how the district provides wrap-around services, the presentation also included several announcements around professional development for school leaders in particular, as well as expansion of the early ed-program. Specifically noted was:
- A 93% participation of all eligible pre-k age students in an early childhood program (up 16% over last year);
- An inaugural two-week Principals Institute focused on developing world class coaching and teaching in all District schools;
- The training of 14 Camden educators to support principals as school leaders-in-training;
- Introduction of a new instructional technology training program to support teachers; and
- The opening of three public neighborhood schools led by non-profits with proven records of success
Rouhanifard also zeroed in on instructional leadership as a priority of the new district leadership. Among the objectives was:
- Increasing skill in coaching teachers (observing and giving meaningful feedback)
- Building strong systems to support instruction
- Building strong, unified Leadership Teams in schools
To accomplish this task, the district indicated theyengaged in:
For School Leaders
Promise 4: Serving Parents
The presentation also included some additional details on work around parent engagement including:
- The creation of the Division of Family and Community Engagement to ensure close communication between families, schools, and the Central Office
- Continued surveying of families in order to gather feedback
- Free summer classes on ESL, computer skills and more
- Investment in interpretation equipment to support families at school and community events
- The launch of the first of four new District parent centers – The Camden Parent Partnership at the Promise Neighborhood Family Success Center
- Hiring of a community school coordinator at every school
Promise 5: Central Office Effectiveness
Further, Rouhanifard spoke on changes in Central Office – including a 42 percent reduction in central office staff required by a significant revenue shortfall. Included within this discussion was a movement toward enhanced fiscal controls and a retraining of Central Office staff to ensure money is used efficiently.
In addition, the office is committed to a response / investigation of 100 percent of parent issues within three days of school opening as well as enhanced training of staff to support neighborhood schools.
The Board also received an overview on student performance in grades 3-8, and high school. Results on the NJASK and HSPA were generally flat. That said, the district did see a bump in the graduation rate.
Finally, the overview included work by the state appointed superintendent over the last several months around student, parent and educator engagement, including the liberal use of surveys to drive change.
In the Spring 2013 and 2014, the District surveyed school community stakeholders to get feedback and better understand perceptions of school and District performance. Across both survey years, students said that they are eager to learn, that their parents hold high expectations of them, and that their teachers care about them. The analysis shows that there was
- Marked improvement in student safety – 42% increase in the number of middle school students and 34% increase in the number of high school students that reported feeling safe outside of their school
- Parental and student satisfaction with their school remains a concern – 50% of elementary students wish they went to a different school and 57% of parents wish their child went to a different school.
- Elementary and middle school students say there are increases in teaching and learning, morale and physical environment. High school responses in the same categories remained nearly flat.
Nonetheless the district continues to struggle with budgetary shortfall which drove cuts in central office in particular.