2012-10-17 / Schools

Edison school board seeks to achieve parity among schools

Expanding college planning tools and work/study, raising test scores among objectives
BY KATHY CHANG

EDISON — The Board of Education’s goals this year focus on bridging the gaps.

“There is a terrible disparity in this district that has been swept under the rug for years,” said board President Gene Maeroff, noting that the disparity in achievement percentages is crying out for policy changes and that goals need to be set.

The board approved four goals at its regular meeting Sept. 24, which are expanding college/career opportunities offered to all high school students; continuing to exhibit fiscal responsibility by keeping the growth in spending in the next budget below the increase in spending in the current budget; examining the functional education space in the schools and developing a plan to address any finding; and, finally, utilizing state assessment data to develop targeted programs to address specific needs of struggling students, with the aim of achieving equity. Expanding college/career opportunities

School officials said a program that helps guide students in college planning revealed that 873 students from John P. Stevens High School accessed the program, while only 232 students from Edison High School accessed it.

Schools Superintendent Richard O’Malley said they used a metric of five times, as the measurement to come up with those numbers.

Board members discussed ways to engage more students to take advantage of the program, which helps students match their interests with careers, schools, and the training needed to pursue those careers.

This program, school officials said, is recommended for use by all students, and they look to offer the program to middle school students as well.

Board member Lori Bonderowitz suggested setting a goal of an increase of 30 percent for Edison High School students and an increase of 20 percent for students at J.P. Stevens.

School officials said they envision holding larger-scale college fairs in 2013 and becoming more proactive in attracting a wider variety of colleges to attend the fairs. They said that springtime is best to hold the fairs, which would attract juniors, so they would have the summer and then the fall of their senior year to think about their opportunities.

The board has set December 2012 as a target date for improving new course offerings in business, math and technology.

School officials are also working on creating and implementing a work-study program for students within the district, in areas such as computers, social networking and more.

Board members asked if the district would look into expanding the work-study program beyond the schools and include local businesses. O’Malley said this would be possible as the district builds relationships with the Edison Chamber of Commerce. He said they may run into issues with how a student would get to a particular job since transportation is not part of the program.

Fiscal responsibility

The board set a goal not to spend over the amount of what the district spent last year, which was up by $7 million or 3.5 percent.

Board member Frank Heelan asked school officials if they were putting themselves in a “straitjacket” by setting a limit on spending.

School Business Administrator Dan Michaud said as long as they don’t see drastic state aid cuts like they saw two years ago or not an unreasonable increase in staff, he believes the district would be able to set the spending cap.

O’Malley said it was important to note that the district is almost back to where it left off in 2010, except for full-day kindergarten.

Education space

The Edison Township School District is the fifth-largest school district in the state with 17 public schools and a student enrollment of approximately 14,500.

O’Malley said by December 2012, they will have the demographic study that will provide enrollment projections, building capacity, and the possible need of redistricting.

In August, the district rehired Sundance Demographics at a cost of $28,900 to do a customized demographic study of the township. This, O’Malley said, would help guide the Board of Education in making “well informed and thoughtful” decisions to address the ongoing primary goal of easing overcrowding in the schools.

Closing gaps

The theme as the district embarks upon the 2012-13 school year is “equity and excellence.”

O’Malley said district officials realized they needed to develop a structure that would monitor progress for every child. And that was taking a look at the Response to Intervention (RTI) method.

To facilitate this method, three new positions were created — an elementary instructional data assistant, who will collect all the data, including test scores; a literacy interventionist; and a math interventionist. The literacy-development teacher position was abolished.

The RTI method, which originates from the National Center on Response to Intervention, is described as a comprehensive, systematic approach to teaching and learning, designed to address academic and behavioral problems for all students through increasingly differentiated and intensified assessment and instruction.

As part of the implementation, the district started with an audit and created an overview of all the resources, interventions and processes in place.

The board set a goal of no more than 15 percent partially proficient scores for grades three at the five elementary schools — Washington, James Monroe, Ben Franklin, Lincoln, and Lindeneau. These schools scored higher than 15 percent, as identified through the NJ ASK test. The township has 11 elementary schools.

Maeroff said there is a great disparity in equity in the district.

“This district has large gaps … these are healthy conversations,” Maeroff said, saying that these may be ambitious goals, but it is time for them to act as one district.

“It will take a lot of work and support by a lot of people to make this happen,” he said.

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