34 Pilot Schools Taking CAR on a Test Drive

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“What is a PLC and how can I say we have one?” As relayed to the  “CAR pilot” group of about 175 administrators and teachers by Pat Wright, Executive Director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, this example of one administrator’s lament about today’s mandate-driven approach to education demonstrates the need to take a more comprehensive and coherent path to student learning. Initiative fatigue, compliance overload, and the ‘dance of the vendors’ have all contributed to the outsourcing of our professional practice.  “People are tired of the ‘flavor of the month’ where we start things and then give up on them and try something new. During the last few years, schools have grappled with several reforms: new standards, new state assessments and new evaluation systems. The purpose of CAR, a comprehensive framework for school improvement, is to ensure that these reforms are more than issues of compliance. The CAR helps schools to connect these reforms in a way that directly impacts student learning.  CAR shifts the focus from compliance and programs to teacher practice and student learning.”
The New Jersey Department of Education has identified CAR — The Connected Action Roadmap — as its vision for teaching, leading, and learning in New Jersey schools, and has now developed a pilot program utilizing the CAR framework to build the capacity of educators in New Jersey schools to work effectively in Professional Learning Communities, using the Blended Online Learning Modules to deepen their PLC work. CAR uses an easy-to-remember and easy-to-follow metaphor of a journey: Student learning as the destination, a collaboratively developed, viable curriculum as the map, PLCs as the vehicle, assessments as the guideposts, teacher/principal effectiveness as the drivers, and climate and culture as the terrain.
“CAR  is not the same old same old,” Wright said. “It is not a program. It is not an initiative. CAR is not a step-by-step process that says if you just do this you will see student improvement. We have been sold that bill of goods throughout our careers. With CAR, the leadership team will engage in a process using blended learning modules to deepen conversations and develop a viable curriculum that aligns standards, student learning objectives instructional design and assessments. CAR challenges some very common long-held assumptions about practice. Without challenging the status quo, schools will never be able to ensure the highest levels of student achievement.”
The Pilot Program will run through October 31, 2016, and all training and coaching support will be provided by the FEA, the professional development arm of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. Thursday, February 4, 2016 marked the first day that leadership teams from 34 New Jersey schools in 31 districts met at the FEA Conference Center to embark on their journey.
The NJDOE expects that these pilot schools will experience improved educator practice and student engagement during the pilot year by using collaborative structures to enhance the design and delivery of curriculum, assessment and instruction, as well as build a foundation of shared leadership responsibilities and collective commitments to producing higher levels of student achievement.


Pilot schools will receive the following:

  •        Initial training and overview of the online modules and the CAR Framework
  •        Regional pilot cohort sessions (2)
  •        In-district, full-day coaching sessions (4)
  •        Webinars
  •        Organizational support

During the pilot year, the pilot schools have agreed to:

  •        Identify a leadership team of at least four administrators and teachers who will attend all initial trainings;
  •        Turn-key the training to staff members;
  •        Provide a minimum of one period a week for PLCs teams to engage in online and face-to-face learning to support the implementation modules;
  •        Provide resources and supports for PLC teams to function effectively;
  •        Maintain a log of significant events and activities;
  •        Continuously assess progress in meeting the school’s pilot goals;
  •        Share learning and data points with the program evaluator;
  •        Attend regional meetings with other pilots to share expertise;
  •        Engage in coaching sessions to further support the implementation; and
  •        Share successes and challenges with other schools interested in engaging in the modules.


Evaluation of the Pilot Program

During the pilot program, schools will engage in dialogue with the evaluation team from Stockton University to ascertain lessons learned, school successes and challenges, and progress toward meeting school goals for the project.

First Training Session

Robin Knutelsky, NJDOE Director of Teaching and Learning Supports, welcomed the pilot group and expressed her excitement to have such a large number of districts involved. “We had originally thought that we were looking at 8 to 12 schools, and we were really happy that, lo and behold we had 34 schools, from the North, Central, and South apply for the pilot,” Knutelsky said. “So we are really excited to have those schools with us. The expectations of the pilot program is to improve educator practice and student achievement by using collaborative structures to enhance the design and delivery of curriculum, assessment, and instruction as embedded within the cycle of teaching and learning. This is a process, not a checklist of things to do, so real learning can happen.”
On hand to support the pilot project were representatives from NJEA, NJASA, NJSBA, NJASCD and NJ Learning Forward.  These organizations, as well as others, are members of the Partnership for Collaborative Professional Learning which has endorsed the CAR framework. Representatives from several of these organizations will act as coaches throughout the pilot.
Donna McInerney, FEA’s Director of Program Development and Design, led the group through an overview of the conversations that CAR fosters among PLCs as they develop, implement, reflect on and revise a viable curriculum. One conversation engages teams in deeply understanding standards. “Teams are learning to unpack standards and create WALT statements — ‘We are learning to or we are learning that…’ Working through this process, we get to student friendly language for our learning objectives,” she said.  “This promotes a deeper understanding of the standards that, when done collaboratively, promotes a shared understanding by teachers across a grade level.
“When PLCs collaboratively build viable curriculum units that are aligned to the standards and to all of the elements within the instructional cycle – this is powerful,” McInerney said. “Leaders know that when this happens, student achievement across a grade level improves. To do this, we need shared leadership and we need to promote a culture of trust.”
Emil Carafa, principal of Washington School in Lodi, NJ, is one of the CAR pilot administrators who took part in the training and is eager to begin to implement CAR. “It just makes so much sense. Once we are using CAR, we can throw away the lesson plans and all of the things that do not work, Carafa said. “Once this is embedded in the school we can say to the state, ‘Throw whatever you want at us and we can embed it into what we know already works.’  We are going to jump into the middle of the pool and do this. And we are going to come out better on the other side.”

Below is a list of all the schools participating in the CAR pilot:

Alice Costello Elementary School, Brooklawn Public School District, Camden
Bellville High School, Bellville Public Schools, Essex
Blairstown Elementary School, Blairstown Township School District, Warren
Briarcliff Middle School, Mountain Lakes School District, Morris
Bridgeton Public Charter School, Bridgeton Public Charter School, Cumberland
Brookside Elementary School, Westwood Regional School District, Bergen
Buena Regional Middle School, Buena Regional School District, Atlantic
Caroline L. Reutter School, Township of Franklin Public Schools, Gloucester
Carteret Middle School, Carteret School District, Middlesex
Carteret High School, Carteret School District, Middlesex
Dr. Charles C. Polk Elementary School, Roselle Public Schools, Union
Emma C. Attales School, Absecon Public Schools, Atlantic
Fast Track Academy Newark Public Schools, Essex
Florence Township Memorial High School, Florence Township School District, Burlington
Florerce Township Middle School, Florence Township School District, Burlington
Franklin School, Kearny School District, Hudson
Glen Meadow Middle School, Vernon Township School District, Sussex
Howard Yocum Elementary School, Maple Shade School District, Burlington
Hunterdon Central Regional High School, Hunterdon Central Regional School District, Hunterdon
Indian Mills Elementary School, Shamong Township Public Schools, Burlington
Indian Mills Middle School, Shamong Township Public Schools, Burlington
Garfield Jackson, Sr. Academy, East Orange School District, Essex
Janis E. Dismus Middle School, Englewood Public Schools District, Bergen
Livingston Park Elementary, North Brunswick Township Public Schools, Middlesex
MacKinnon Middle School Wharton Public Schools, Morris
Maple Shade High School, Maple Shade School District, Burlington
Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School, Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, Monmouth
Midtown Community Elementary School, Neptune Township School District, Monmouth
Mullica Township School, Mullica Township School District, Atlantic
New York Avenue School, Somers Point School District, Atlantic
Robert Gordon School, Roselle Park School District, Union
Roosevelt School, Kearny School District, Hudson
Schuyler-Colfax Middle School, Wayne Township Schools, Passaic
Washington School, Lodi Public Schools, Bergen