In its recent meeting, the Ridgewood School Board discussed a significant shift to later school start times backed by sleep data and surveys. The meeting also covered key topics like data-driven education, new technologies, and a comprehensive view of academic assessment, including state and federal testing.
The meeting kicked off with Ridgewood High School Principal Mr. Nyeis discussing the school’s new later start time, now slated for 8:20 a.m. Nyeis said the decision was supported by “extensive staff and student surveys,” as well as sleep data that indicated a majority of students were not getting the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep. Superintendent Mark Schwarz lauded the efforts, saying it was a “significant change” aimed at benefiting the students.
Board members Saurabh Dani and Sheila Brogan initiated dialogue about the structure of the new schedule, which opted for a 50/70/50-minute per period timing instead of the 57-minute class periods, favored by many staff members. “This change might make it easier for teachers to transition while also allowing science labs to be conducted during the longer periods,” noted board members. A concern about the potential loss of instructional time was raised, especially for Advanced Placement (AP) courses. System staff countered that by saying, “the improved quality of teaching and student performance would offset the 20-minute reduction in daily face-to-face instructional time.”
The meeting then segued into discussions about how the district will assess the efficacy of the new schedule. Mark Schwarz suggested that Ridgewood was “ahead of the curve” and “evidence-based” in its decision-making, with plans to monitor both wellness and academic metrics. Board member Jeff recommended that the district track metrics like the number of students receiving Ds and Fs and AP exam results to evaluate the changes.
With a shift in focus, Mark Schwarz presented data comparing New Jersey’s GPA and Access Testing for English Language Learners (ELLs) to those of Ridgewood. He pointed out that although Ridgewood students generally outperformed the state average, particularly in math, there were data anomalies that warranted further investigation. Muhammad Mahmoud advised that the board should also examine SATs, ACTs, AP participation, and other holistic metrics.
Amid concerns about “testing fatigue” among students, Michael Lembo underscored the importance of data-informed instruction. “We need to understand standards better and improve pacing and sequencing,” he said. The board mulled over potentially consolidating federal and state testing into a single standardized test, such as the ACT.
On the topic of professional development, board members delved into training for Amplify, a reading and writing program. Sheila Brogan underscored the human aspect of education, particularly with regard to stress levels in students with special needs. “We use data to identify students who are not graduation ready,” she stated, highlighting the need for mental health and family services beyond the classroom.
In the realm of technology, Superintendent Schwarz highlighted the success of their social media outreach and introduced new software called Thought Exchange. “Thought Exchange was chosen for its analytical depth,” he said. However, this led to board questions about user anonymity and potential controversies.
The meeting also touched on budgetary considerations, with Muhammad Mahmoud emphasizing thoughtful spending. “Whatever software we purchase should be leveraged for data mining to inform action plans,” he stressed. Other topics such as attendance during lunch hours, declining PSAT participation rates, and website redesign were also discussed.
Towards the end of the meeting, the public comment section raised concerns over the district’s math proficiency rates and the potential for Thought Exchange to politicize school issues.
The board concluded the meeting, acknowledging that several topics would require ongoing investigation and discussion.