The State Board of Education, in addition to receiving a presentation on interventions under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC, also received an overview from the Paterson school district at their January 7 meeting. In addition the Board re-adopted, with small change, modifications to the School District Operations and Special Education code. Finally, several hours of public testimony were held on the impact of PARCC on students and schools.
Superintendent Donnie Evans, superintendent of the state-controlled Paterson schools appeared before the Board in his district’s installment of annual reporting by the four-state controlled district. Evan’s presentation provided an overview on action within, and challenges for, the over 28,000 student strong district. District priorities include the following activities across 4 principles, according to Evans:
- Effective Academic Programs
- Increase Student Achievement
- Create Healthy School Cultures
- Improve Graduation Rate, Reduce Dropout Rate
- Improve Internal Communication
- Progression Planning for School and Administrative Positions
- Increase Academic Rigor
- Professional Development
- Safe, Caring & Orderly Schools
- Create Schools with Healthy Cultures & Climates
- Improve Student Discipline
- School Uniforms
- Student Advisories *
- Character Education *
- Revise Student Assignment/School Choice Plan
- Clean , Safe Facilities/21st Century Learning Standards *
- Family & Community Engagement
- Create Family & Community Engagement Plan *
- External Communications Plan
- Customer Service Focus (schools) *
- Community Partnerships
- Full Service Schools (Community Schools)
- Parent Education
- Efficient and Responsive Operations
- Increase Accountability for Performance
- Customer Service Focus *
- Increase Capacity
Evan’s chief challenge, which he harkened back to at several intervals was capacity building concerns as the district continues to evolve. Equally important those, according to Evans, was parental engagement which the district has addressed by linking up with community groups.
In response to increased need for student engagement, the district restructured and re-staffed the comprehensive high schools into small autonomous thematic schools which include:
- Eastside Culinary Arts, Hospitality & Tourism
- Eastside Information Technology
- Eastside Government and Public Administration
- JFK Architecture & Construction Trades
- JFK Education and Training
- JFK Business, Technology, Marketing & Finance
- JFK Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math
In essence, the district converted all high schools to “schools of choice” while simultaneously expanding capacity at the Alternative High School.
Other action items included:
- Restructuing/staffing the lowest performing elementary schools
- Creating three full service community schools (Schools 4, 5, & New Roberto Clemente)
- Establishing a curriculum-based, student operated credit union
- Implementing the Paterson Effective Schools Model to establish healthy school cultures
- Initiating a pre-K through grade 3 literacy initiative; and
- Ending Social Promotion;
Evan’s spoke about the three full service ‘community schools’ within the district as a way of addressing all the needs of the child, and family, more comprehensively. At one point, when asked, he indicated he wished that all of his schools had this component, but indicated that, where new building would be occurring, potentially facilitating the addition of a health clinic, the community would decide whether this was a component that was desired.
Maybe what was most heart-warming to see, however, was his connection with community groups who actually appeared in support of Evans during his annual report.
What Evans didn’t downplay was the challenges, especially about staffing concerns and a tightening budget. And while showing slight improvement in some grades, test scores in others took a significant dip. Just 38 percent of Paterson’s elementary and middle-school students passed the state’s language arts tests last year; less than 60 percent passed the mathematics exam. However, the high schools present a stronger picture, at least by the numbers, since graduation rates have continued to rise, nearing 75 percent last year after standing below 50 percent in 2009.
Overwhelmingly the presentation was well received by the Board – with some commentators calling it a veritable ‘love-fest.”
Also received by the Board was a joint presentation by Robert Bumpus, Assistant Commissioner of Field Services, Evo Popoff, Chief Innovation Officer, and Timothy Matheney, Chief Intervention Officer on NJQSAC interventions for districts that do not satisfy the 80 percent performance indicators requirement across all five district performance areas – Instruction & Programming, Governance, Fiscal, Operations and Personnel.
This presentation focused on the 23 percent or 136 districts that fell below the 80 percent mark and required intervention of some sort. Of note was that a majority (131) of 136 districts had issues in the area of Instruction and Programming, with a far second being Governance.
Bumpus, Poppoff and Matheney reviewed with the Board what each of the their areas did with, and for, the schools in need of intervention to move them toward the 80 percent mark. What was clear was that depending on the district and type of intervention required, the Department’s touch point was more or less comprehensive, dubbed a ‘tiered interventions based on need.” The gentlemen provided information on how the Program Offices, County Offices, RACs, and the Office of Intervention worked with individual districts.
In addition to the presentations, the Board also moved several code proposals forward.
The Board moved the revamped Special Education code proposal forward for final adoptionl. The Department argued back in July that in light of the currently convened Taskforce on Special Education, they would proceed with only amendments required for purposes of alignment with current state and federal statute (Governor Names Members of Special Education Taskforce, April 23, 2014). The revamp is significantly slimmed down from the original proposal that called for more sweeping changes – some of which NJPSA had deep concerns with (NJPSA Testimony (March 2013)). NJPSA supports the current code proposal.
Further, the Board approved the proposed changes to the School District operations code for final adoption. The changes are minor and incorporate items required by the enactment of statute in recent years. The provision was set to sunset later this year.
Moreover, the Board had a second discussion on changes to chapter 16 of the code, Programs to Support Student Development. Changes were generally required due to recent statutory changes related to school health and school safety and security. Specifically the changes:
- Specify the school district’s responsibilities in providing school health services to eligible nonpublic school students;
- Clarify the provisions of home or out-of-school instruction;
- Require the establishment and implementation of an emergency action plan for responding to a sudden cardiac event, including the use of an AED (as required by Janet’s Law);
- Pursuant to the Scholastic Student-Athlete Safety Act:
- Require the use of a new Pre-participation Physical Evaluation (PPE) form [2.2(h)1ii];
- Require a licensed physician, advanced practice nurse or physician assistant who completes the PPE form to complete the Student-Athlete Cardiac Screening professional development module (PD module) [2.2(h)1ii(1)]; and
- Permit a student-athlete’s parent to obtain a physical examination from a physician who can certify completion of the PD module or to request the school physician provides the examination if the PPE is submitted without the signed certification statement [2.2(h)1ii(1)(A)];
- Ensure a contract between the school district and school physician include a statement of assurance that the school physician completed the PD module [2.3(a)3]; and
- Compel the school nurse to review the Health History Update Questionnaire form and share it with the school athletic trainer, if applicable. [2.3(b)3xvi].
- Under the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act, require school districts and nonpublic schools to distribute the sudden cardiac arrest pamphlet to the student-athlete and his or her parent or guardian [2.2h(1)vi]; and
- Require a parent or other adult who has been designated by the parent, to be present during home instruction delivered in a student’s home [10.1(d)].
The Board also approved two changes to the organizational chart, making Kevin Damer the Executive Director of Facilities and Finance and Bob Bumpus the head of the Division of Field Services.
The Board additionally approved six interim reviews under NJQSAC. Appendix A lists all of the districts and their DPR scores. Three districts scored 80 percent or above in all five DPR areas and were approved for a period of three years. Three districts scored below 80% in one or more DPR areas and were required to develop and implement a QSAC improvement plan to address deficient indicators.
Finally, the Board took several hours of public testimony on implementation of PARCC, among other topics, as part of the 'Open Topic' discussion scheduled for this month's public testimony before the State Board. Parents, students, advocates and community leaders expressed diverging views on the impact of the PARCC exam on student morale, achievement and instructional time.