Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Test Scores Increased in Turnaround Schools....

New today out of Trenton...

New Jersey High School Graduation Rate Increases to 86% in 2011-12 School Year, While
Turnaround Schools Make Significant Gains Across the State
Department of Education Releases Graduation Rates, NJ ASK, and HSPA Results Months Earlier Than Ever Before to Support District Improvement Efforts

Trenton, NJ - The Department of Education today released results on the
  • New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK), 
  • the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) 
  • and state-wide graduation rates for the 2011-2012 school year, drastically improving reporting timelines from previous years. 
The state's graduation rate increased from 83% in 2011 to 86% in 2012, the second year the state is using the new federal methodology for calculating the graduation rate. On the NJ ASK, the average proficiency rates across all grades and subjects remained steady, while proficiency rates on the HSPA increased in both LAL and math.

Meanwhile, School Improvement Grant (SIG) schools undergoing intensive turnarounds with the support of the NJDOE on the whole made significant gains over the past two years.

"Once again, our data shows us that New Jersey students perform quite well overall while continuing to make steady improvement, and we applaud our educators for their work every day with our students," said Commissioner Chris Cerf. The results for schools undergoing intensive turnarounds this year are particularly very encouraging, showing that while our achievement gaps across the state are persistent and unacceptably high, we can close them with dedicated support interventions."  

A summary of the test results and graduation rates, as well as individual school and district results, are available at the following links:

Graduation Rates:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Suggestion Box EPSD: Positives

To current Board Members: If, while you are sitting at that long table the urge to interrogate personnel on issues germaine to the education and social welfare of your children overwhelms you, please get up and walk around the table to the microphone. Advise the Board and the public that you are now speaking as a parent and community member, then proceed. 

Children should not see stop signs
everywhere they look. I believe one
of your volunteers made a speech
on this very topic at a board
meeting last spring.
To the Administration & Teachers in the High School: Please find something positive to say when addressing the entire student body. A little positive encouragement goes a long way. Condemnation of fashion statements and threats of suspension do little to encourage an already maligned student body that is constantly reminded that they can do nothing right. The constant pointing out of the negative does little, if anything, to change the climate or culture of failure to one of success. Are you treating the student body the way you want to be treated?

A Community member was asked to say nothing, if he could not find anything good to say, after the presentation of the principals on Standardized Test Scores. Please take your own advice. It is not enough to invite a few students to a Board meeting to be praised while 996 go home feeling like failures.

                                          How are the children?

Are there enough Computers in the District to Participate in High stakes Testing Online?

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Everyone in the District should read this article entitled, Common Core vs. Common Sense, recently published in Education Week. There is much preparation to be done. There is no time to waste.

The Federal, State and Local Educational big wigs are very adamant about this standardized testing initiative. No one seems to be concerned that these tests are always slanted in favor of the persons creating the assessment tool. Many Educators have been complaining about the bias of standardized tests for years. Is no one even curious as to why the entire Nation has been maneuvered into a place of acquiescence in relation to standardized tests?  

There is one other very important factor that supporters of this educational reform initiative are intent on ignoring.  TECHNOLOGY.

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There are districts that tend towards allowing the general public to believe that their students are more technologically prepared than they really are. The real deal is that there are many teachers who are not up to par technically. For real. Some districts are in such deep denial that they go along willy nilly thinking or fronting that the majority of students in the district have access to home computers. They naively suggest that the homework assignments that are only available on the Internet do not leave a large part of the student population behind. Some Title I districts have actually gone paperless. Well, Gee. These powerful people do not frequent the Public Library, that has also experienced recent cuts, where they will realize that the number of computers available for student use is not sufficient.

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Will EPSD be ready to satisfy this initiative by 2013 - 2014 when the online testing is scheduled to begin. There were questions regarding the ability of teachers to raise test scores. There were no questions about whether or not the teachers have all of the materials needed in order to prepare students to take these tests online. Did anyone even think about the fact that preparation on the computer must also be part of the process to ready students for this? The unbelievable part of this is that there are districts that cannot possibly prepare themselves for this initiative in time. (Unless, of course, they stop wasting time on issues that do not advance student achievement.)

Why then, is no one complaining? Is this a recipe for failure?
1. Where is the technology?
     For example, the entire 4th grade is to be given the renamed NJASK online. How?
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  • Are students in 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade already being trained diligently on the computer?
  • Do keyboarding lessons exist in these grades? 
  • Do keyboarding lessons exist in any grades?
  • Are any students being trained on Word,  Excel or Office?
  • Students are often required to type essays and reports. Is this fair? When did they learn to use the keyboard? Is it safe or fair to assume that every student is prepared to use the computer.
  • How many of you who are reading this article are capable of typing without looking at the keys? Let us all chant Mavis Beacon or some other typing program together in unison.
  • Are parents being held responsible to teach students how to use the keyboard? Did anyone think to survey the number of students who live in homes where the Internet is not available.
  • Has anyone estimated how many computers will be needed in the 4th, 8th or 11th grade in 2013 -2014?
  • Does every school have a computer lab with sufficient computers to be used for this purpose? 
2. Are funds being put aside to repair, recondition, and or purchase enough new computers for each benchmark grade level where testing is mandated? 

My 15 year old granddaughter learned to point, click and play games on the computer when she was 2 years old. The first grader doesn't like it as much, but she has learned to use the laptop without a mouse and is able to play educational games for a while. She prefers her coloring books and crayons. My 3 year old grandson has forsaken television for the computer and the stimulation from the games available. What about the children who do not have this exposure at home? How is the school system preparing them to take an online standardized test?

There is much to be done in order to plan for this "online testing". Were there enough number two pencils available during the last test? When will we begin?

                                        How are the children?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A New Assistant Superintendent for EPSD

November 29, 2012
Regular Board Meeting: Highlights

Carlisle introduced Dr. Michele James as our new Assistant Superintendent. Regardless of the headlines, we have been requesting an Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction for a long time. Dr. Carlisle also announced the abolishing of the position of Program Director of Mandarin for reasons of improved economy. 

Barry Harris, volunteer paraprofessional football coach was given the 2nd mile Award.

Adrian Lynette Bickham was honored. She just completed her final season as Cheer leading Coach for Dwight Morrow High School. Adrian is a DMHS graduate and has lead the team for many years. We must thank her for years of service.

3 students and their Media Arts Teacher were honored for their work with the Center for Food Action. They organized students and prepared food baskets for the needy in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Dr. Carlisle announced a freeze on spending. He also announced that there is an outside audit being conducted.

B. Ruffle distributed 6A Chapter 14 Special Education manuals to all members of the Board of Education. She carried a large sheet of construction paper on which she had crafted a clever lesson detailing the makeup of the 3 different types of classrooms available to Special Needs Students. It was very effective and informative. Stephen Brown interrupted her before it was over and told her that she was out of order and that the decision had already been made concerning 2 employees needed. Mr. Brown was rude. The public clearly wanted to hear the rest of the presentation. I wanted one of those little blue books.  He assured her that the Board is fully aware of the contents of 6A Chapter 14 and Special Education Law. I seriously doubt that based on the actions of the Board in regard to paraprofessionals in the past year. Has the Child Study Team been disbanded or abolished also? Will the Special needs students be abolished next? We gave B. Ruffle a standing ovation. We understand her frustration. This Board has gutted her department. Where do these actions leave the most vulnerable students in the district? 

Citizens for Public Education are Advocates of Special Education. - Join a group of concerned graduate students at the event below if you would like more of the type of information that Ms. Ruffle was attempting to give on Thursday night.

My fellow graduate school colleagues and I will be hosting a Parent Training on "Navigating the Special Education System." Our purpose is to help you understand the steps involved in getting services for a child with needs, whether you suspect delay or disability, through both Early Intervention and the public school system. We will discuss the basic procedures and available services under the laws and regulations of New Jersey. Our guest speaker, Director of Public Policy at the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) will be providing information about parent rights throughout the process.
Please join us:

On Saturday, December 8, 2012 @9:30 am
Montclair State University
1 Normal Avenue
Montclair, New Jersey 07043

Back to the meeting
One student made a heart wrenching, tearful and sincere plea for another look to be taken at the firing of middle school guidance counselors. 

Dave Matthews wanted to know where the Mandarin Program was going. He was also concerned that EPSD is recruiting people from districts at the bottom in terms of achievement and test scores. He suggested that we should recruit from places like Ridgewood. There it is again. That same identity crisis often demonstrated by the Board. We want people to work in our town who want to be here. Dr. James addressed his concerns. Her answers were satisfactory to me. She deserves a chance, because she wants to be here. There are teachers here who have not demonstrated that desire.  I also watched her during the tearful students speech. She was empathetic. That is important. You may learn a little about her as she testifies before the Joint Committee on Public Schools: Abbott Districts in 2001.  I even like the idea that her office is based at Quarles. This is the beginning. More students must learn to read before leaving Quarles.

There was some banter back and forth about Athletes getting special tutoring in order to make sure they are eligible to play sports. It baffles me why this tutoring must be separated out for the athlete. Have all students deemed in need of academic help been identified? It really does not matter if the student  is playing a sport. Or does it?

Glenn Garrison introduced a controversial resolution at the final hour. He suggested that they hire the same architect that worked on the football stadium, Bennett, as the architect of record. He suggested they hire him at the rate of $125 an hour. He claimed that it was an emergent situation, because they cannot continue to park the buses where they are currently parked. He has asserted before that the City Council has complained about where the buses are parked. No one on the City Council has been able to confirm this. On the way home, I noticed that the buses were parked in the lot at Liberty School. Where is the emergency? Seems the emergent situation would be in making St. Cecilia ADA accessible. It should be noted that Mr. Garrison always manages to shift the focus from student achievement onto buildings and facilities.

Fillerbustering -  I must take this opportunity now to inform our esteemed Board President that we do know what he is doing when someone from the public that is well known to him approaches the microphone and poses a question. We have watched these same "high profile parents" ask questions and get 1/2 hour answers during the public privilege of the floor on several occasions. Mr. Brown then proceeds to answer these  questions in a long drawn out speech that rivals the ones on the Senate floor presently called fillerbusters. We have videotaped footage of Mr. Brown being very cordial and respectful of certain parents and speaking to them for upwards of 20 to 30 minutes making sure that they are comfortable with the answers. The point here is that taken together Mr. Brown's speeches put end to end are sometimes more than an hour per meeting. We have the videotape. It seems very planned and scripted.

This does not stop Mr. Brown from accusing the public of making the meetings run over long. We do not make the Board conduct 3 hour closed sessions. It is not our fault that they meet from 6:30 to 7:30 or 8:00 and then for another 3 hours after some meetings. We are not the ones in control of this. We are hardly ever given more than 40 minutes altogether. During Wednesday's meeting, he reminded us that other boards meet for only 1 hour a month. Well, name that town. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from them.

There are just too many excuses and far too much eagerness to cast the blame for everything on teachers and principals. It is way past time to call in a New Jersey School Boards Field Representative. It is time to sit down as a team and develop some solid goals for the district. It is very irresponsible to blame administrators, teachers, parents and students when they have not completed the minimum basic requirements expected of a school board. This will give us all a road map. Perhaps we will all stop wasting each other's time once this is done.

By the way, we all know that Glenn Garrison does not take the appointment of Delegate to the New Jersey School Boards Association seriously. Perhaps if any other member of the Board had been selected, we would have accepted it on face value. I look forward to hearing his report on the latest Delegate Assembly. The days are over that we simply take the word of elected officials regarding actions required and responsibilities accepted without confirmation.

Please avoid having winter meetings in this building. We  realize that the show should go on the road,
but more planning would be appreciated. Parking is limited. In the winter months it is very scary to park in the rear of the building above. The lot in the back is not lit at all. It is very scary as the moonlight is reflected off that sludge on the pond. Please think well on that.

"We know that business is booming and facilities are beautiful, 
but how are the children?"

Test Scores & Accountability: A 2 Edged Sword

Wednesday, November 28,  2012
Special Board Meeting
Academic Progress/Student Performance
Office of Planning Evaluation & Research

Attendance was not good. This was anticipated. Only a fraction of the normal amount of chairs were provided.

After the regular opening of the meeting a handout was given. Dr. Carlisle explained it as a Chronological History of Testing that is used across the country. It should be noted at this time that the Stakeholders were not given a copy of this material. We were also not given any further information about this document so that we might consult it as a reference later. It was explained that the results of high stakes testing might be improved by introducing a system of rewards. I suspect that he was referring to the State and Federal government's new turnaround principles that are being introduced, and the new Teacher evaluation system that was piloted in Bergenfield and 8 other school districts last year. District  goals were mentioned, but we have not seen these elusive goals. Questions that were posed by the Board of Education do not support the assertion that these goals even exist. It was asserted that we are better off now than a year ago. The data did not support this allegation. A millisecond was spent on informing parents and community that our high school has been designated a FOCUS School.

He went on to say that the focus will be on "how" money is to be spent from now on. There is also supposedly a hiring and spending freeze that began Friday November 30, 2012.  Well, it is about time.

Each Principal  gave a presentation that was to explain the scores from the respective schools.
A lot of reasons were given as to why the scores went down  or did not go up. The transition to Singapore Math is one of the reasons given. The transition to the Common Core State Standards is another reason given. The transient nature of a fraction of the population and attendance was cited.

Grieco Elementary School -  Principal Jeff White 
He talked about Singapore Math and praised Dr. Carlisle and the Board.  More specifics were needed in terms of what measures are being introduced to increase Literacy and Math scores. He did emphasize that they were striving to create independent thinkers

McCloud Elementary School - 
  • Mr. Brown talked about guided reading instruction. (more guided reading models)
  • He spoke of giving students added reading and math periods to reinforce their weaknesses in those areas. 
  • the extended day program to help make up for students who enter in September already 8 weeks behind
  • 6th grade students are tutoring 4th graders
  • Daily walk throughs inspecting expectations (not sure of how this is accomplished)
  • implemented staff changes to support student learning. (this was not explained)
  • visited Bergenfield for an example for "best practice" in Learning Organization

Mr. Brown has a very unique situation in his building. He does not have an assistant principal. I don't know why the administration does not see this as a problem and I do not understand why Mr. Brown is not complaining. It is more than obvious that there is a discipline problem in this school. Mr. Brown needs a team that includes the disciplinarian who is generally the Assistant Principal. Students are just beginning to be separated upon entry into McCloud. The "special" children have already been identified, separated out and placed in the "IVY PROGRAM" .  No one acknowledges or wants to admit that this begins the real problem. The adults seem to think that children are not aware of the way these groups are expected to perform at different levels. Children know when very little is expected of them. It is obvious.

Every child should be IVY. Here is where the pants are beginning to sag. IVY students are expected to do more work and to behave as little ladies and gentlemen. What is expected of everyone else? Add to that the problem of transient and chronically absent students. Another thing, we should all remember that there is no ATTENDANCE OFFICER. There is also no attendance SECRETARY for the district who works with this attendance officer and parents to keep children in school.

One of the requirements of the state (listed in one of the Englewood Reports) was that the research paper be introduced in the 6th grade. Where is it? The question really should be answered as to why the 6th grade is in McCloud Elementary school.
Janis E. Dismus Middle School - The highlight of the evening
Principal Lamar Thomas stepped outside of the box with his team and took responsibility for the scores and performance of middle school students. He owned the failures and the successes.  He outlines proactive measures that are already being undertaken with his team to solve achievement, climate and culture problems within his school. These are only some of the ones I remember.
  • changed the entire math team
  • changed the way students are graded 
  • examined the real relationship between the allegation that one half of the school population is on the honor roll, but not earning better scores on standardized tests
  • held teachers to task on giving out good grades because they LIKE students
  • was adamant about the fact that the team decided that an A from  Dismus should equate to an A in any other district.
  • more collaboration between teams and teachers
  • provides online resources
  • they ended social promotion
  • they sent students to summer school that they identified as needing more support and work before entering the high school. (Word on the street is that these students were refused admission into the Academy@Englewood if they did not participate in the summer program at Janis E. Dismus. Are these students still in the Academy?)
  • met with parents to explain the new rules and got approval when they expected some push back
  • efforts were made to create a more inclusive and less restrictive learning environment
There was a marked emphasis on "we" that was missing from the other presentations. No excuses were made for students not doing well. The emphasis was on "we" will do better. We have aligned ourselves to face the task ahead to do better. It was refreshing NOT to hear excuses.

Dwight Morrow High School, The Eagle Program
Totally unacceptable presentation. We need a night dedicated to these programs alone. Dwight Morrow is the FOCUS school. There did not seem to be a full understanding on the part of the Principals of the significance of this designation. After listening to the high school presentation I found myself wondering why anyone would send their children there. (And my granddaughter is already there)

All Presentations lacked discussion of a key component. Curriculum.

Stephen Brown gave an over long reason as to why Harley Ungar would be the first one allowed to attack.
Mrs. Ungar's first question demonstrated her disconnect to the children in the district. She wanted to know if the projected goal given by each principal was a  personal one, because she felt that it was a stretch to expect a 10% increase in the scores. If Board members expect so little how do they expect teachers and Principals to expect more.

Henry Pruitt wanted to know why Science was not discussed. (I got the feeling his questions were about his child.)

Molly Craig-Berry spent a good deal of time cross examining Mr. Brown and Mr. Thomas. It was difficult to follow her purpose. (I got the feeling again that the questions were in reference to her child or children.)

Howard Haughton spoke of how much he learned at the Atlantic City training session with the New Jersey School Boards Association. He only shared one item. He suggested that the parents in Englewood download the tests and test the children at home in order to prepare them for standardized tests. (To Mr. Haughton, who has a stay at home wife. Thank you very much for that piece of wisdom.)

It was very late and parents with small children were mostly gone. Stephen Brown took center stage and started criticizing principals for not forcing teachers to improve scores. I think that is what he did. It was unclear. He spent a lot of time bashing teachers. He did so in a different tone than is usual, but that old bias stuck out like a sore toe. It was not a time for that. Dr. Carlisle defended the team of principals, but Stephen clearly placed a load on the principals that somehow seemed out of place and inappropriate.

Privilege of the floor
Mr. Popkin was first as is usual. He began with his usual criticisms and was stopped by Dr. Carlisle who asked him not to continue if he could not find anything positive to say about the presentation. Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour, but I felt the same.

Leen De Weerd Mosely spoke at length about the educational practices in Belgium.  After reviewing several sites that explain the various types of schools in Belgium, I see no reason to confuse what is happening in American Education Reform any further. This is a paper written by Toon Dystra. High Performance and Success in Education in Flemish Belgium and the Netherlands. The study was commissioned by the National Center of Education and the Economy for the New Commission on the skills of the American Workforce.  It is a very interesting read for anyone truly interested in educating children. Elements may be incorporated into existing curriculum, but represents a moot point however in light of the fact that we have been mandated to a course by the state and federal governments.

Only 1 City Council member was in attendance. Eugene Skurnick, the 3rd ward Councilman made sure he gave the press (Rebecca Baker) instructions on what to write. He reminded the Board that the people they work for or those who elected them were expecting more of them. It was a very interesting speech. It is not clear whether he means the people of the 3rd Ward or those of the Englewood FAST persuasion. He did however, have a very good point as he pressed the Board on the importance of students having books.

I reminded the Board that they must develop goals and objectives created especially for the children of this district in order to ascertain how well the Superintendent and the staff are doing. Questions that they asked should have been covered in the goals and objectives developed with and agreed upon with the Superintendent. It is unfair that they expect the Superintendent and the Principals to read their minds and determine what they want. It will save time and money, if they just do this very simple thing. It is a mystery why they have not done it already. (In a retreat last year Glenn Garrison was very clear when he said that it really did not matter. He said that if the Superintendent was not successful they would just fire him.) They totally ignore the fact that the goals are extremely important to the success of the district. How are they even spending money without knowing what programs are growing out of agreed upon goals? How are they going to evaluate the Superintendent if they have never developed a set of criteria for which he is to be responsible? The course will be much clearer for all of the Administrators when there are agreed upon goals and objectives. 

Stephen Brown's answer was not acceptable. He reminded me that they have been putting out fires and dealing with all types of unsavory messes that have been taking up their time. He blamed people in the audience, teachers, administrators, myself included for these messes. He blamed me for objecting to the board changing the school colors. He never owned the blame for any of the drama that has transpired for the  last year. This drama was created by the board, beginning with the strange contract that did not follow the law,  the over hiring of teachers, the abolishing of 2 bargaining units and the list goes on and on. He spoke of other districts where Board members spend 1 hour per month in meetings. Gee Stephen, you think. Perhaps it really is time for you to get off the board if it is too hard for you to come up with goals and  objectives. Perhaps the Board members of other districts are leaving the running of the district to the (paid employees) Superintendent and the Principals since they have already created goals and objectives that must be satisfied.

Perhaps it is time to get some help from the New Jersey School Board's Field Representative who will aid the Board in learning to develop goals and objectives created especially for this district.
We are already paying for this service to the tune of approximately $26,000.00 per year.