Welcom back message as prepared by Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent Frank Roselli:
It seems like yesterday that we were awarding diplomas to our graduates and sending our students off for summer break. Now, we are experiencing the excitement that the anticipation of a new school year brings. For those of us in education, there is nothing like the pride that we feel as we put the final touches on our summer-long plans and projects and anxiously await the rush of energy that our nearly 17,000 students will bring.
The summer break has provided time for our professional staff to reflect on the outcomes of our instructional programs and practices, make adjustments where necessary, and immerse themselves in professional development opportunities to further promote student achievement at all levels. To highlight just a few:
• DEPAC (District Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee), is a district-wide advisory committee comprised of 90 volunteers—administrators, teachers, and union representatives— who have been exploring new teacher evaluation models over the last few months. After the careful study and consideration of several models, the group unanimously voted to adopt and implement the Charlotte Danielson model of evaluation to enhance professional practice. Our district will continue to in-service staff this year and move toward total implementation for the 2013-2014 school year as required by the Department of Education. This is an exciting endeavor because it promises to lead to improved instructional practices and student outcomes.
• The elementary teachers and administrators continued their work on improving our literacy program. Multiple workshops were held, offering teachers opportunities to collaborate and develop strategies to support our reading and writing programs. More than 400 teachers attended these voluntary, week-long workshops to improve teaching techniques. Literacy teams will continue to meet throughout the school year. Additionally, our newest elementary teachers were invited to participate in the Toms River Regional Schools Elementary Literacy Academy. The purpose of the Literacy Academy is to assist teachers in using the best data available to support instructional and curricular decision- making within English Language Arts. A two-day workshop was held in August, with plans for additional professional development opportunities to be given later in the school year. With regard to elementary math instruction, there were six days of workshops on the updated Everyday Math program. Approximately 240 teachers took advantage of this opportunity. There were also four days of summer Title I professional development workshops offered to our elementary school teachers. Topics for these in-service days were chosen based upon the needs assessment given to teachers. These valuable sessions were attended by 475 elementary teachers.
• Our secondary teachers met to review and adjust the district curriculum to align to the Common Core State Standards. Additionally, intermediate teachers met by department to analyze quarterly assessment data. They used this student data to make adjustments to next year's assessments. High school teachers met by department to develop quarterly assessments to be given next year.
• Thirty-five intermediate teachers participated in our Title I Summer Professional Academy. This program offered four full-day workshops to gain insight and knowledge into addressing the needs of multicultural students, improving student motivation, understanding and using assessment data to adjust instructional practice, and using effective methods to improve student behavior.
• Our Special Education Department offered seven workshops for professional development to teachers over the course of the summer. Topics presented focused on communication skills and literacy, as well as applied behavior analysis.
We are energized about the new programs being developed and expanded for our basic skills students! At the elementary level, an extended-day format keys into providing our basic skills students with targeted and sustained instruction in both math and literacy in order to maximize their achievement. The intermediate program, 200 Club, which was piloted last year, will be expanded based on the positive results that were realized by many students who were involved. The basic principle is to offer students more time with their math or language teachers to work on specific targeted skill areas. One additional period is offered during the week to selected students during their scheduled physical education class.
A similar program, the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) Tutorial, extended secondary level math topics beyond daily classroom schedules by providing ten additional instructional lessons. Summer Read, the district's secondary summer reading program, is now mandatory at the high school level, with a newly enriched list of titles to create literacy opportunities for our students during their vacation time.
We are pleased to announce the initiation of multiple Fine and Performing Arts Honor Societies at our high schools for next year. The goal of these organizations is to recognize students who excel in areas of Fine Arts, much as we do with the National Honor Society's recognition for academic achievement. There is also a community service scholarship possibility for members. The availability of this type of recognition for another segment of our diversified population only enhances our overall student achievement goals. The program will be initially funded by an award from NJ Principals and Supervisors Association which was presented to Dr. Kim Defibaugh, our District Fine Arts Supervisor.
The High School Proficiency Assessment total scores of all three high schools saw increases or remained constant with last year. Overall, the district's average total scores on the HSPA exceed both the state and DFG (district factor group) average. In regard to Advanced Placement testing, since our initiative in 2006 to expand AP testing opportunities, the number of courses offered has increased. Over 200 more exams are administered annually, and our passing rate has grown 6%. Last year, Toms River students outscored the nation in 14 of 18 of the AP tests offered. District Alternate Proficiency Assessments (APA) are also positive, with over 80% of our students with significant cognitive disabilities meeting state-mandated benchmarks.
We are still awaiting Cycle II results for 2011-2012 NJASK scores and will report on these scores when we have this information.
It has been a busy summer for the Technology Department as we are completing the normal summer updates, reimaging, and installing software. In addition, our team has been setting up new PC's and working toward our wireless technology access goal. We have upgraded bandwidth at all three high schools and created a wireless guest network for teachers to bring in their own laptops, iPads, etc., to be used in instructional design. Intermediate East and South will be upgraded and teacher wireless access will be up and running by September. Work will continue in the fall at Intermediate North, bringing upgrades to network infrastructure and wireless access to all secondary school classrooms during the 2012-2013 school year.
Lazy, hazy days of summer are not the mantra within the Maintenance, Custodial and Grounds Departments over these months. Everyone is busy readying the schools for the start of the new school year.
The district is nearing completion of the 2nd Phase Solar Project which, when complete, will have solar panels on all the district's schools' roofs, as well as the 1144 Hooper Avenue site and the Vehicle Maintenance Complex. This project, part of a long-range initiative to rein in energy costs, has also provided the district with new roofs on the following locations: Cedar Grove, High School South, Intermediate East, East Dover, North Dover, Pine Beach, Silver Bay, Walnut Street, Washington Street, West Dover, and the Vehicle Maintenance Complex. Intermediate North, nearly 40 years old, is receiving the replacement of two of its air conditioning chillers. As this type of equipment typically has an expected life of between 20-30 years, we know that the Maintenance Department has been working diligently to ensure a long life through preventive maintenance and regular monitoring. The district has negotiated with Ocean County to repave two of Intermediate North's parking lots. These are just a few of the many projects being worked on this summer.
While the Maintenance Department is putting finishing touches on all the individual jobs at each school, the Custodial Department is busy cleaning the school from top to bottom to ensure that all students and staff are entering safe, clean facilities. This includes the stripping and waxing of floors, cleaning all furniture, assembling new furniture, and taking the deliveries to stock the school with supplies for the upcoming year, just to name a few. The Grounds Department, while continuing to keep the athletic fields in playing condition for all the outside groups that utilize our facilities, are trimming trees and bushes and inspecting sidewalks and curbs.
Finally with regard to our facilities, in 2012-13 the district will be implementing an energy conservation program called Energy Education. This behavior-based program is expected to greatly help the district in conserving energy and lowering our utility costs, now and in the future. With the support of our district staff, we will be able to fully maximize the benefits of this program.
Our Transportation Department, which is comprised of more than 200 drivers, aides and mechanics, has been working diligently to have all buses ready to go for the first morning of school. Routes have been finalized for our drivers to study prior to going through the dry runs planned for this week. Our drivers and aides are cognizant of their impact on our students and their families. Although this is a challenging job, our drivers treat the students in their charge as if they were their own children. For many, they have watched students grow from kindergarten on to high school and get to know them and their families. Often, it is the smiling faces of our drivers and aides that can make the difference for our youngest students who are naturally a bit nervous and uncertain on opening day.
With all that there is to do in our large district, we feel fortunate to have such a supportive school community. We must continue to work together toward achieving our common goal, to bring out the best in all of our students.
In closing, please know that I appreciate all who are dedicated and committed to keeping our students safe and providing each of our students with a quality education. "All" is inclusive of every stakeholder in our school community.
"It takes a village to raise a child."
These are our children; this is our village.
Stay strong, remain positive, and continue to be cognizant of how powerful you are in facilitating the learning process for all students.
Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent