School Board Discusses Declining Academic Performance and Strategies for Improvement

The recent meeting of the School Board was dominated by discussions around the significant academic challenges faced by the district. The most issues raised included low academic performance across various subjects, significant decreases in student and staff numbers, and the ongoing impact of COVID-19. A detailed presentation of the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJ SLA) data highlighted the need for strategic interventions and program adjustments. The board also recognized outstanding students and staff, updated on projects funded by ESSER, discussed security concerns, and addressed public comments.

Superintendent Dr. RaShawn M. Adams commenced the meeting’s discussions with a sobering presentation of the NJ SLA data, revealing that the district is grappling with significant academic challenges. The data, scrutinizing students’ performance in English, Mathematics, and Science over the years 2018-2019 and 2021-2023, underscored a worrying trend of students not meeting proficiency standards.

Board members, including Tracy Rogers, Anthony Remy, Jessiemae Ricks, and Kenneth E. Saunders, Jr., participated in the discussion, raising questions and expressing concerns about the downturn in academic performance. Rogers requested specifics on the decrease in student numbers and staff, while Remy interrogated the reasons behind the low performance, particularly in math, and queried how the district planned to redress this issue.

Superintendent Adams acknowledged these concerns, attributing factors such as the complexity of standards, test sophistication, and content understanding as primary contributors. He emphasized the importance of strategic interventions, identifying struggling students, analyzing previous year data, and implementing instructional approaches to decrease the number of students not meeting standards.

The superintendent also emphasized the critical role of ‘tier one’ instruction in the classroom and the need to carefully review lesson plans and accommodations for students with special needs and English language learners. He assured that demographic breakdowns of academic performance based on gender and grade level were being closely monitored as part of ongoing action plans, including professional development, articulation of writing standards, small group instruction, and a problem-solving focus.

The meeting also brought up the issue of low performance in fifth, eighth, and eleventh grades over a significant period. The board suggested a shift from semester-based science classes to year-long ones, focusing on conceptual understanding and hands-on activities. They also emphasized standards-based instruction and the need for benchmark assessments to monitor student progress.

Public comments voiced concerns about larger class sizes, abrupt schedule changes, and the lack of communication about incidents at the school. A teacher named Sean Hamilton criticized the decision to stack 22 kindergarten students in one room at Thurman Marshall, stating that smaller class sizes are known to improve performance. Meanwhile, an attendee named Craig Dellaa suggested that the new block scheduling imposed in the middle of the school year may be contributing to increased tension at the middle school.

In his response, Superintendent Adams discussed the implementation of an emergency alert system, called Share 911, to improve communication about emergencies. He also unveiled plans to review the high school Matrix discipline chart and promised to discuss further concerns in a closed session.

Lastly, updates were provided on various projects funded by ESSER, including walkthroughs by engineers, electrical panel installations, and water damage repairs. They also discussed emerging facility needs at different schools, including roof repairs, equipment replacements, and a new phone system. The board acknowledged the challenges they face and emphasized the ongoing efforts to address the issues at hand.

Despite the pressing academic challenges the district faces, the meeting also served as an occasion to recognize the achievements of students and staff. Samantha Saran, Danne Salazar, Jamie Peso Rivera, Amina Barl, and N’King Cox were lauded for their exceptional contributions to their respective schools. Staff members Brian Hackett, Tracy Cook, Terry Johnson, and Scott Baldwin were also acknowledged for their dedication and outstanding work.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

Dr. RaShawn M. Adams
School Board Officials:
Carritta Cook, Shadeen Alls Bey, Giuseppe Grillo, Barbara Lesinski, Dr. Michael Penna, Anthony Remy, Jessiemae Ricks, Tracy Rogers, Kenneth E. Saunders, Jr., Chanta L. Jackson (Communications Coordinator)

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