SPECIAL SECTION: COMMUNITIY RELATIONS

The Golden Years Meet the Wonder Years

Is Your Board Ready for Some Extra Help?

Disabling the ‘Dis'

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The Golden Years Meet the Wonder Years

How New Jersey's public schools stay connected with their community's senior citizens

By Marianne Kligman.

Senior citizens are a major constituency in most school districts. If that seems counterintuitive – after all, they are neither students nor the parents of students – consider this fact: in many districts, seniors are the fastest growing population group and the largest single group of non-parents. Seniors also tend to be among the most active voters in a community and can be a major factor in any school budget or referendum vote.

Seniors are also often overlooked as a resource for public schools. Senior citizen volunteers can offer their considerable wisdom, experience and time to help schools and students. Interaction between seniors and students builds trust and understanding on both sides. Students gain a better understanding of their grandparents’ generation, and the senior citizens get to know and appreciate society’s youngest citizens.

Many New Jersey districts have developed innovative programs to help build support among their older citizens and to forge lasting ties between the two generations. Here is an in-depth look at how they keep the two cohorts connected.

It was about 9:30 a.m. one spring morning, and several third-grade boys were anxiously pacing in the front office of the Mahala F. Atchison Elementary School in Tinton Falls, Monmouth County. They were nervously fingering some colorful capsule-shaped items in a plastic bag as they anxiously awaited some very special visitors.
“The bus is here!” one of the boys announced. The senior citizen guests began arriving at the school entrance. Hooked arm and arm, several ladies negotiated their way to the school gymnasium; one gentlemen traveled the halls with the aid of a walker.

Principal Mary Polese escorted the VIP guests to their chairs and explained that the big mystery of Mighty Beanz, the latest toy craze sweeping through the K-3 set, would soon be revealed. The ten guests sat intrigued as three teams of third graders proudly and adroitly demonstrated the many games played with these tiny toys. The games included pitching Beanz (like marbles), bowling Beanz (like bocce) and propelling Beanz from a self-made trampoline (a student original invention.)

“The seniors visit the school each week and they had heard the buzz about the beans and wanted to know what this was all about,” said Assistant Principal Susan Ross. “Three boys decided to organize separate teams to demonstrate for them.”

This is just one example of how the two generations – the youngest school members in the Tinton Falls School District and their senior citizen pals – learn from one another.

“I always like to bring in a little show and tell for the kids,” Edwin Walley, one of the senior visitors, explained as he prompted two children with clues while playing a literacy game of Bingo in the small learning station of their classroom. By his side sat a worn antique baseball glove, one of his favorite show and tell items.

A Lasting Relationship The Tinton Falls School District has operated this senior citizen volunteer program for over a decade in partnership with Seabrook Village, a local senior citizen community.

“Residents at Seabrook Village continually demonstrate that retirement does not mean it is time to stop giving,” says Art Sparks, Seabrook Village executive director. “These ‘retirees’ give their time, talents and knowledge to so many people outside of Seabrook by volunteering in many different ways, including their participation in the volunteer program at the Mahala F. Atchison Elementary School. This exciting and important program not only benefits the children, but provides immense satisfaction for the residents who love working to shape young minds.”

The school district administrators work to maintain the program by visiting the Seabrook community each summer to explain the special relationship to a new group of volunteer recruits. An important aspect of the program is its consistency. Every week, all school year-long, the Seabrook Village bus brings the same volunteers to the elementary school to fulfill their agreed-upon volunteer assignments. Senior citizen assignments are decided according to the classroom teacher’s needs and volunteers are assigned to specific classrooms, except for those who choose to work in the office. The senior volunteers also have an open invitation to come to school programs and performances throughout the year, which many choose to attend.

“The seniors do a number of things,” explains John Russo, superintendent of the district. “They read with students, help the teacher, and help out in the office.The kids love the seniors. Some do not have a grandparent and they really miss the volunteers when they are not here.”

Polese operates the program in liaison with Rosemarie Claflin, the program coordinator and fellow program volunteer and Seabrook resident.

“This program really keeps us connected to the outside world,” says Polese. “When you work so intensely with one age level and group of people, you seem to focus on them alone. We get a breath of fresh air with our senior citizens. They identify one-on-one with our children and teachers and create different relationships. Particularly today, when it is difficult to bring our students to other places, the fact that they come to us is irreplaceable.”

Assisting Teachers First grade teacher Carolyn Belena has been fortunate to have two volunteers this past school year who the children refer to as Miss Dorothy and Miss Regina. On the last visit day of the school year, the children read thank you cards (adorned with portraits of the classroom helpers) they wrote to the ladies. “They provide us with so much help in the classroom and we love to have them,” says Belena.

Down the hall, Ellie Garfunkle, another Seabrook resident, is sorting through boxes of books for the end of the year clean-up in Jennifer Wolff’s third grade classroom. “I have been coming to Mrs. Wolff’s class for six years and I wouldn’t want to be any other place,” Ellie Garfunkle emphatically explains.

A Two-Way Street The seniors essentially act as a second set of hands for a teacher, and many have formed strong relationships with the teachers they assist. Rosemarie Claflin started volunteering ten years ago in then-art teacher Mary Polese’s classroom. She now works across the hall from her favorite teacher, now principal, doing whatever clerical tasks are needed that week.

The seniors also get quite attached to the students and vice versa. If a volunteer cannot make an assignment due to illness, he or she is sure to receive dozens of get-well soon cards. Some graduates have been known to correspond with their former senior volunteers well after primary school graduation.

“The volunteers like to work with the children. Some are retired teachers, but when I recruit for the program, I am careful to remind them that they are working for the teachers, and aren’t the teachers. But I think the school would be lost without the volunteers,” says Claflin.

The Brick Township Public Schools in Ocean County have similar opportunities for senior citizens to volunteer. In fact, representatives of the Brick Township School District sit on the Mayor’s Senior Citizen Advisory Board which meets monthly and constantly looks for ways to engage the senior citizen community. The school district arranges for transportation on school buses to and from the fall and spring high school drama productions and provides passes which entitle the senior citizens to free admission to all events held and sponsored by the school district.

A “Senior” Prom Now in its fourth year, one very popular senior citizen event is the Senior Citizen Prom. It is held around the same time as the high school senior prom each spring and jointly organized by the town council and the school district with help from a large number of enthusiastic high school student volunteers.

According to Dina R. Silvestri, Brick community relations officer, the school district works closely with the township for months organizing the event, which is held in a central school location. They also provide staff to host the event. The district manages all publicity, invitations and RSVPs and coordinates with the student volunteers from both Brick public high schools. The students determine a prom theme, decorate, set-up, serve, entertain, dance, and clean up after the event. They also play an important ambassador role in engaging the many seniors in dance. The township solicits local businesses for food, beverages and generous door prizes and arranges for the band. Last year’s band was a popular 10-piece orchestra featuring a big band swing sound. Some young people were observed learning dances such as the fox trot from their senior guests of honor. Over 200 seniors attend the event each year. “The Senior Prom is an event that our high school students look forward to as much as our senior citizen community,” reports Silvestri.

“Our students worked together to put their prom ideas into action making the 2010 Senior Citizen Prom a memorable one for all who attended,” says Walter Hrycneko, Brick superintendent. “The event provides a fun way for our students, staff, and the citizens of our town to come together and enjoy an evening of food, dancing, and fun.”
For the past four years, the South Brunswick School District in Middlesex County has also held a Senior Prom for its senior citizens. It is exclusively organized and sponsored by a high school volunteer club. Students decorate their high school cafeteria for the popular evening event and also provide the music.

Engaging Seniors According to Rebecca Leonard, who, as the district’s Information and Communication Coordinator, was its liaison to the town’s senior citizen center, this is just one example of many ways South Brunswick embraces the senior community throughout the school year.

“We always had senior citizen outreach, but programs had been done sporadically, so we met with representatives from the South Brunswick Senior Center (The Center) and brainstormed ways we could engage our senior citizen population,” says Leonard. “We learned that the senior citizens who frequent The Center enjoy music, the visual arts, and dance. They also enjoy partnership, food tasting, and games of chance such as door prizes. Each year our staff members donate goods and services that become part of the “give-aways” that we provide at some of our events. Transportation for daytime activities was provided by The Center.”

As a result of the planning, senior citizens that attend The Center are regularly invited to popular school events including “International Night” where a light buffet of tapas is served by the high school. The food is usually homemade and donated by students, their families and local restaurants. Students also perform an international-themed fashion and talent show. Over 75 citizens among other guests attended this event last year. According to Christine Wildemuth, the director of The Center, the International Night has become very important to the South Brunswick senior population as it has grown increasingly diverse. While the program was open to the general public, a special reception was held for the senior citizens one hour before to accommodate their preference for an early evening time.

Similarly, the Student Art Gallery also offers a special preview hour arranged just for senior citizens who are bused in one hour earlier than the general opening. The district’s second graders take part in the “Senior I Love Essay Contest.” Essay finalists are invited to The Center for an award presentation. Additionally, the ELL (English Language Learner) students visit The Center to share their writings and illustrations on a given topic. The event helps the students improve their presentation skills and gives the senior population an opportunity to connect to the students.

Of the many programs that South Brunswick offers its senior citizens, the annual “Day with the Characters” is probably the most popular. Approximately 140 seniors attend. Here senior citizens are invited to a morning dress rehearsal of the student middle school musical. The students then remain in costume and accompany the seniors back to The Center where they conduct a sing-along and assist in awarding door prizes.

“The seniors have a great day and really learn to appreciate the kids’ talents,” says Christine Wildemuth. “They tell me, ‘I feel like I went to a Broadway show!’”

Wildemuth believes that the South Brunswick program has been of mutual benefit to the school district and The Center, and on a personal level between the students and seniors. On one hand, the senior citizens actually get into the school and see the high level of educational programs, which are supported by their tax dollars. Students also come to The Center where they have an opportunity to get to know the seniors and some return to work as volunteers.

“It helps breaks down the stereotypes,” says Wildemuth. “The students see these are very valuable people in the community.” She hopes the district will be able to continue to operate these worthwhile programs during the current economic crunch, especially since one of the many positions cut with the loss of state aid was the district’s information and communication coordinator.

Expanding Outreach
This past year, however, the South Brunswick school district expanded its senior citizen outreach program, forging a partnership with another entity, the Aging in Place task force – a group of community, municipal and business members who identify needs of senior citizens who have chosen to live their lives in their own homes.

“The task force has a different set of ideas (more long-term and service-oriented) and we are hoping to partner with them as well,” notes Joanne Kerekes, a South Brunswick assistant superintendent. “Two projects we have completed so far are the Opera Project with one of our elementary schools, and a Veterans Legacy Project which involved a high school drama class. Future projects include Library Legions, a collaboration with our school librarians, and possibly an Intergenerational Band.”

Honoring Individual Seniors
For several years, the Red Bank Regional Visual and Performing Art (VPA) students and staff of Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver have collaborated on a heartwarming intergenerational program and unique tribute to senior citizens entitled “Keeping Things Centered.” The program usually begins with an early winter visit to the Red Bank Senior Citizen Center where the creative writing students conduct interviews with the senior citizens. The creative writing majors are accompanied by the commercial photography majors who photograph the seniors as they are interviewed. Their likeness is then painted by the commercial art students and incorporated into a creative montage representative of the student/senior interview. Over the next few months, the creative writing majors compose a creative biographical piece of the senior citizen’s life in prose or poetry. The honored seniors and their families are then invited to a special presentation at school in the spring where they see their likeness in student artwork projected on a giant screen while the poets and authors read their tribute to the senior’s life. One year, a clever student duet performed a skit, mimicking the interchange the students witnessed among the seniors at the Center. During intervals of the presentations, the VPA dancers, musicians and singers perform exclusively for their VIP guests.

Throughout New Jersey, senior citizens are invited to participate in Read Across America and Veterans Day programs. Some take advantage of the close proximity to various senior citizens’ communities. For instance, in Middletown, New Jersey, the Lincroft Elementary School third graders simply have to cross the street to visit with the residents of the Sunrise Senior Living community. They usually visit on the holidays and entertain with their repertoire of Christmas carols. Other school districts print and distribute Senior Citizen Cards or Passports entitling senior citizens to come to all athletic home games and middle and high school plays and musicals gratis or at a discounted price.

Seniors and the Budget
Over the years, many school districts also take the opportunity to visit senior citizen centers just before the critical school budget vote to present information on the school budget. Senior citizens are among the most participatory groups in government attending civic meetings and regularly exercising their right to vote on all issues, including school budgets which are funded by their property taxes.

Four years ago, this writer had the privilege of interviewing superintendents or their surrogates in many school districts in Monmouth County while researching a graduate thesis on public relations in public schools. One of my questions involved public engagement of each school district’s senior citizen population.

I learned that wonderful programs were conducted for seniors in many school districts. However, it took a deliberate effort to institutionalize some of these programs for them to endure, particularly beyond a change in administration. There was a clear correlation between the communities that had developed sustained and long-standing relationships with their senior communities and those who had a good record of passing their school budgets. This concurs with the long-standing communications theories which suggest that an organization needs to maintain a healthy two-way communication with all its stakeholders for its long-term viability.

Senior citizens are one important stakeholder in the school community. Engaging them on a regular basis is good for our public schools and just as rewarding to the senior citizens and the students who mutually thrive and benefit from their rich relationship.


Marianne Kligman is community information coordinator at Red Bank Regional High School and a public relations consultant. She holds a masters’ degree in communications from Monmouth University. She can be reached at mariannekligman@gmail.com.

Is Your Board Ready for Some Extra Help?

Special purpose committees can foster community involvement

By David Bosted

Community involvement is an important tool that a school board can use to improve operations. Parents have valuable information about what is actually happening in the schools, and they often have specialized expertise that is useful to the district. Parents can provide facts and analysis to the board members about each school, each grade, and each classroom.

But how can the board collect and sort through the information from parents? Two good techniques for gaining community input are (1) special purpose committees and (2) surveys. These techniques are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they are most powerful when used together.

A special purpose (or “ad hoc”) committee is a powerful tool to tap into information from parents. A temporary committee that is created by the school board for a specific purpose is called an “ad hoc” committee because the name derives from the Latin words “for this,” as in for this particular task.

When is it most useful to set up a special purpose committee? When a topic is particularly complicated, such a group can be especially helpful. For example, when considering any topic that affects students in multiple grades, there will be many aspects to consider. A committee can investigate the situation and make recommendations. If your committee is large enough, it can buffer the influence of any one point-of-view or outspoken member. Some committees divide themselves into sub-groups, or sub-committees, which can then perform any research the group might need before it makes recommendations.

When a topic is highly technical, confusing or perhaps controversial, an ad hoc committee might be established to investigate. The committee would study the issue, discuss alternatives, and make recommendations to the entire school board. For controversial issues, an ad hoc committee can seek consensus and defuse anger that might otherwise be (mis-) directed at board members.

Municipalities have been especially active in using boards, commissions and temporary committees to investigate options and to make recommendations to the local governing body. School boards can learn from their municipal governing bodies about the use of committees. Ask your mayor or council members about their experiences, plus and minus, in using committees.

Your school district may already have policies that allow the board to create special purpose committees. Under the NJSBA file code system, this policy on committees is located at file code number 1220. But not every board with such a policy has actually created ad hoc committees to solicit community input.

Your ad hoc committee can also be called a “task force” or a “study group” if that conveys a better sense of how the group will operate. No matter what it is called, you should issue clear instructions at the onset that the group’s findings will be used as recommendations to the school board – and that the group doesn’t have the authority to do anything beyond making recommendations. You will also want to be clear that there is a definite timetable to complete the study, and that the group will dissolve at the end of its work. An interim report, such as at the halfway point, can be important if there is any concern that the committee may “run out of steam” and not be able to conclude its mission with a final report.

Specifically, what topics have been particularly suitable for special purpose committees? Here are some ideas:

Homework
Does your current policy on homework match what is actually happening in the classrooms? Is there enormous variation in amount or type of homework among the teachers in the same grades? Does excessive homework in some grades interfere with your students’ community involvement, such as church, volunteering, or Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts? Is some of the homework mere busywork, with no real educational value? Lawrence Township (Mercer County) created a large ad hoc committee to investigate this topic. The district jump-started the discussion by distributing paperback copies of Alfie Kohn’s provocative book, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing. For a topic like homework, a survey of parents (online or paper, or both) can provide the committee with useful information about how community members see the issue.

Shared services
Howell Township Board of Education in Monmouth County currently has a six-person ad hoc committee with three citizen members to investigate the possibility of shared services. An ad hoc committee does not have to be huge to be effective. Sharing services has the potential to lower district costs and to share expertise with nearby districts.

Budget and finance
Also in Monmouth County, the Middletown Board of Education authorized the establishment of a citizen’s ad hoc committee many years ago to share information on the budget and finance. The committee was so useful that it still meets from November until April, advising and contributing to the formation of the largest K-12 school district budget in Monmouth County. The 2010-2011 budget is about $144 million for more than 10,000 students and 1,000 staff members in 17 school buildings. The committee is open to any Middletown citizen who wishes to learn in detail how their tax dollars are being spent. Could an ad hoc committee on budget and finance help your district gain citizen input into financial issues and alternatives?

Drugs, alcohol and tobacco Every generation of youth confronts this challenge anew. Many districts have faced the tragedy of a high school senior or a recent graduate being crippled or dying in a car accident due to driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. N.J.A.C. 6A:16-4.2(a) requires the board to solicit community input into the effectiveness of the district’s substance abuse policies and procedures, so this topic may be particularly suited to an ad hoc committee. A committee might suggest placing a wrecked car for a week in a specific firehouse, rescue squad or high school parking lot, to graphically remind drivers of the danger of a DWI or DUI smashup. Towing companies will hold the junk title or salvage title to an appropriate wrecked vehicle. This type of idea might occur to many, yet not get implemented without the “push” of a committee.

Grievances
Princeton Charter School has an advisory grievance committee that hears complaints on the part of individuals or groups who allege a violation of the provisions of the school’s charter. This grievance committee is an ad hoc committee of the board of trustees, including trustees, parents, and teachers as members.

School facilities
When you start talking about school facilities, soon other related topics, such as school sending areas, costs, public use of facilities, configuration of schools, and overcrowding, enter the conversation. These topics affect each family differently. Therefore, a large ad hoc committee can be useful to see the facilities questions from many viewpoints, such as having K-8 schools versus other configurations. In the early 1990s the South Amboy Board of Education created an ad hoc committee concerned with the overcrowding of the South Amboy school system. Committee members helped to establish the concept of a community school which integrated the public school with community services. Some districts created a facilities advisory committee to help plan for expansion or renovation of school buildings when there was substantial facilities financing available in New Jersey in the early part of this decade. Medford Lakes, for example, had an active pre-referendum Facilities Advisory Committee in 2001.

Technology
Most districts have parents and citizens with special expertise in technology and communications. Does your website need improvement? Is the technology in the schools adequate to meet the needs of your students? Your district could start a committee to solicit public input into what is needed and how to be cost-effective. In some cases, the technology committee can go beyond identifying the problems to providing “how-to” expertise on fixing any problems that are identified in technology and communications.

Curriculum
Last but not least on this list, curriculum can be an appropriate topic for a committee. One “hot” curriculum topic (with many names) is “interest-driven learning,” also known as “personalized career-oriented curriculum.” The New Jersey Department of Education uses the phrases “dual enrollment” (high school + college) and “Option 2.” The individualized curriculum is a second option to the standardized district graduation requirements. Voluntary courses and elective subjects that match the areas of interest of the pupils can turn a disinterested learner into a motivated learner.

By law, curriculum is the domain of the school board: “No course of study shall be adopted or altered except by the recorded roll call majority vote of the full membership of the board of education of the district.” [N.J.S.A. 18A:33-1.]

The benefits of dual-enrollment programs include savings of both time and money; promoting efficiency of learning (reduced repetition in grades 11 and 12 and the early years of college); enhancing admission to and retention in college; improving the transition from school to college; allowing students to “test the waters” of college learning; improving student access to college; and providing professional development for faculty both in high schools and colleges. An ad hoc committee can provide suggestions on how to provide this option at a low cost to the district. In many cases, the cost for individualized curriculum has turned out to be less than the per-pupil district cost of the standardized curriculum.

Some ad hoc committees include members of the local school board. Others may be composed entirely of community members. Either alternative is acceptable. If your ad hoc panel includes board members, be sure that their number is small so as not to violate New Jersey’s “Sunshine Law” (N.J.S.A. 10:4-6). If a majority of school board members were to happen to assemble at a committee meeting, the committee’s discussion of board business would violate the law. Your little committee suddenly becomes the full board if a quorum inadvertently appears at a meeting! Also, it would defeat your board’s purpose to have a bloc of board members dominate an ad hoc committee; the point is to engage the community, not to drown out the community’s voice, participation and input.

The annual reorganization meeting is one good time to formalize any existing ad hoc committees. For example, at its May 3, 2010 meeting, the Hunterdon Central Regional High School Board of Education voted to re-establish existing board standing committees and ad hoc committees and to continue current committee membership until new appointments are announced by the board president.

Should the board president have the power to remove members from these committees, as well as to make the original appointments? Check your bylaws. The general rule is yes, the person with the authority to make appointments also has the authority to make additional appointments, reassign members, or to remove persons from committees. This is a useful power because personality conflicts unfortunately do occur. It is much better to deal with a personality problem quickly than to let it fester and boil. Be prepared to hear the dysfunctional member who has been removed claim that their point-of-view is being suppressed. But unless a friction-causing individual is reassigned or removed, the work of the entire committee can be derailed and lost.

Are you ready to begin? Your board can start a special purpose committee at any time. The benefits of community involvement from special purpose committees are available to your town, whenever you are ready. The ball is in your court.


David Bosted is a senior policy consultant in NJSBA’s Legal and Policy Services Department. He can be reached at dbosted@njsba.org.
 

Disabling the 'Dis'

How school officials can address the disinformation about public schools

By Michael Yaple

Maybe it will occur when you are in the check-out line at the grocery store, chatting with someone at a sports event or listening to talk radio. But sooner or later, someone is going to complain – yet again – about the quality of New Jersey schools. Maybe they’ll even start talking about “kids today,” and how public education was so much better when they were young.

Now, if only you had some verbal ammunition to make the case for the defense. You need something to counteract those comments, to neutralize the negativity. Because the truth is, New Jersey public schools are among the best in the nation.

The next time someone starts dogging New Jersey schools, ask them, “Well, did you see the front-page article in New York Times? There was an article called ‘Ignorance of U.S. History Shown by College Freshmen,’ and boy was it appalling!” Then you can explain how researchers found that recent high-school graduates were lost when it came to history and geography. They couldn’t find Alaska on a map. A fourth of the students didn’t know Lincoln was president during the Civil War. A vast majority of the college freshman couldn’t identify such names as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson or Theodore Roosevelt.

That sounds like everything that’s wrong with education today, right? Here’s the kicker: The Times poll was performed in 1943.

And here’s another kicker: The survey was performed on college freshmen. At that time, only 45 percent of students graduated from high school, and only about 15 percent of those graduates went on to college. The late Gerald Bracey, a public-school advocate and author of books such as “Setting the Record Straight: Responses to Misconceptions About Public Education in America,” explained that the students in that 1943 survey weren’t just ignoramuses – they were an elite group of ignoramuses.

The ‘good old days’ That begs the question: If so few students even graduated from high school at that time, when exactly were the “good old days” of education? Was it in the early 1900s, when only half of all children were even enrolled in school, and the high school graduation rate was 7 percent? Was it 1950, when barely more than a third of Americans had graduated high school, and 6 percent had a college degree?

For years, politicians have blamed “failing” public schools for hobbling America’s ability to compete in the world (although few thanked the public schools when the economy was strong again). In the post-Sputnik world, pundits feared that America’s schools were losing ground to those in the Soviet Union. By 1983, “A Nation at Risk” suggested that America had lost its ability to compete with economies such as the Japanese. The report even stated that if a foreign country had foisted such a “mediocre” educational system on America, “we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

The Japanese economy bottomed out a decade later, and the Soviet Union crumbled. Today, the graduation rate is pegged at 69 percent, and that’s defined as the percentage of students who graduate after four years of high school. If one looks at people age 18-24 who earned a high school diploma or equivalency credential, the figure rises to 89 percent.

Still, bashing America’s public schools has remained an apple-pie tradition.

In praise of New Jersey But all of this historical perspective doesn’t get us away from the grocery store or those places where disgruntled citizens are bashing our school system.

But the fact is: The Garden State’s public schools can go to the head of the class. One of the best available tools to compare academics is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the NAEP – also known as the “nation’s report card.” It’s considered one of the few apples-to-apples comparisons of public school students’ performance throughout the nation.

And the most recent NAEP scores found that New Jersey is:

  • The best in the nation in eighth-grade writing.
  • Tied for second best in fourth-grade reading
  • Tied for fourth in eighth-grade reading
  • Tied for second in fourth-grade math, and sixth highest in eighth-grade math scores.

New Jersey also is among the best in the nation in the percentage of schools offering Advanced Placement courses, and Garden State students outperform their private-school counterparts on those AP tests.

It’s no wonder that a state-by-state report called “Measuring Up,” from the National Center for Public Policy and Education, gave New Jersey an “A” in preparing students for college. According to the New Jersey Department of Education, nearly 87 percent of the state’s high-school graduates will continue their schooling in college or some other post-secondary setting.

Of course, no school board member worth his or her salt would declare victory. There are ongoing issues that need to be addressed, and New Jersey (just like every state) is certainly in need of improvement. In particular, the achievement gap – the disparity in educational performance between groups of students of different races or ethnicities or different socioeconomic status – persists and continues to frustrate educators.
Also, be aware that other factors are at work in the strong showing among certain states. For instance, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey tend to be among the same handful of states consistently listed as top performers, and all are considered relatively wealthy states – a factor typically linked with academic advantage.”

Still, no one can deny that in report after report – among organizations that have no stake in making any other state look better than another – New Jersey schools fare well.

With enough effort, the word will get out. Statewide organizations have been trying for years. Both the New Jersey School Boards Association and the New Jersey Education Association post “Good News” website sections that highlight the strength of the state’s public schools. But perhaps the most effective way to spread the word is through one-on-one conversations that local school officials have with citizens…in the grocery store, at a local sporting event or even on talk radio.


Mike Yaple is NJSBA’s public affairs officer. He also maintains the “Good News” section of NJSBA’s website. He can be reached at myaple@njsba.org.

FEATURES

A Sea Change in Special Ed Fuding

In 2008, the most significant change in special education funding in decades took place, courtesy of the School Funding Reform Act

By Michael Kaelber, Esq.

The funding of special education programs is a perennial budget issue for boards of education. While no one disputes the need for services for students with disabilities, the excess cost of providing special education services places an increasingly significant strain on district finances. The impact of having one or two unanticipated high-cost students with disabilities enroll in the district, some of whose program costs could be in excess of $100,000, can be devastating to a school district’s budget. Add to that the current challenging economic time period, and the issue of state support for special education is more important than ever.

But what has been often overlooked is the effect that the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 had on state special education funding. SFRA signaled a shift in philosophy on special ed; and promises to bring long-lasting changes to the field.

How does the state assist in funding the excess costs of special education?


The primary funding vehicle for state support of not only special education, but regular education as well, is equalization aid. School districts receive equalization aid based on a formula, established in accordance with SFRA, which takes into account the district’s student population demographics and the wealth of the community. The formula is an artificial construct designed for the distribution of state aid to school districts and may have little relationship to the actual local school district budget. The basic equalization aid formula is:

Equalization Aid = Adequacy Budget – Local Share

A school district’s local share is the amount, for the purpose of calculating state aid, that the state suggests that the district should be able to raise locally to fund public education. It is a measurement of school district wealth and, in most cases, is different than the actual local school tax levy. The local share calculation is based 50 percent on a school district’s equalized valuation or property wealth and 50 percent on a school district’s income, measured through state income tax returns attributable to the school district.

A school district’s adequacy budget is a complex calculation, which, for the 2010-2011 school year, starts with a base per pupil cost of $9,971, for students at grades K-5, $10,370 for students grades 6-8 and $11,666 for students at grade levels 9-12. After multiplying the dollar amounts by the number of students at each grade level, additional dollar amounts are added to a school district’s adequacy budget for the excess cost of each vocational education student; each at-risk student, through a sliding scale based on the school district’s free and reduced lunch percentage; each limited English proficient student; each student that is both at-risk and limited English proficient and special education students. A geographic cost adjustment is used to account for differing costs throughout the state. The adequacy budget is a measurement of school district costs that, in most cases, is significantly different from the school district’s actual costs, as established through the local school district budget.

What is the significance of funding the excess costs of special education by equalization aid through the adequacy budget?

Funding excess costs of special education through equalization aid is the most significant change in special education funding in decades. Prior to SFRA, special education funding was done almost exclusively on a categorical basis; funding went to the school district in which the student resided, regardless of location and, particularly, regardless of the wealth of the school district. The philosophy was that it did not matter where a special education student lived, the state would provide support for the excess costs of that student’s program, be the community rich or poor. That is no longer the case under SFRA as two-thirds of special education aid is delivered through equalization aid, a wealth-based calculation, while only one-third remains categorical, where community wealth is not a factor.

The special education funding impact on middle class and more affluent school districts has been significant. Many of these school districts receive little, if any, equalization aid. Most of the state aid received by these districts under prior funding formulas was categorical aid for special education. Since, under SFRA, two-thirds of that aid is now wealth-based, in those districts the state has considerably reduced its support for special education.

How is the special education portion of the adequacy budget calculated?


The second significant change in special education funding under SFRA is the actual adequacy budget calculation component through what is called the “special education census” in each district. The actual number of special education students and the actual excess costs to deliver their education in a school district no longer matter. SFRA’s special education census focuses on district resident student enrollment and state average classification rates and costs. The special education census calculation is below:

Special education census = (District Resident Student Enrollment x State Average Classification Rate for General Special Education Students (14.69%) x Average Excess Cost for General Special Education Students ($11,261) x 2/3) + [(District Resident Student Enrollment x State Average Classification Rate for Speech Only Students (1.897%) x Average Excess Cost for Speech Only Students ($1,118)]

Through SFRA, the state has indicated that not only will two-thirds of general special education and 100 percent of speech services funding be wealth-based, but the state will not support special education classification rates higher than the state average, nor will it support excess costs of delivering special education services that are above the state average. If your district has fewer than 14.69 percent of its student population eligible for general special education services, you receive a windfall of sorts; if more than 14.69 percent of your student population is eligible for general special education services, the students in excess of that 14.69 percent do not receive state support. Similarly, if your district has fewer than 1.897 percent of its student population classified as speech-only students, you receive a similar windfall of sorts; if more than 1.897 percent of your student population is classified as speech-only students, the students in excess of that 1.897 percent do not receive state support.

The averages game works with the cost of special education, too. If your district’s average excess cost of general special education services is less than $11,261 per pupil, you win; if your district’s average excess cost of general special education services is more than $11,261, the state will not support the additional expenditure. If your district’s average excess cost for speech-only students is less than $1,118 per pupil, you win. If your district’s average excess cost for speech-only students is more than $1,118 per pupil, the state will not support the additional expenditures.

The philosophical message is clear. Along with reducing the support to more affluent school districts, the state wants to see special education classification rates reduced and wants to see the excess cost of providing special education services reduced as well. By not supporting rates and expenditures above the state average, it is hoped that those numbers will decrease. Of course, should the rates and costs decrease, the average rates and costs will decrease as well, placing school districts in the unenviable position of chasing an ever-moving shrinking target.

Does SFRA provide school districts with any categorical aid for special education?

Yes. While two-thirds of the special education census becomes part of the adequacy budget calculation, ultimately resulting in equalization aid, the remaining one-third of each school district’s general special education census calculation is provided to the district in the form of categorical aid. Special education categorical aid is provided to school districts regardless of school district wealth. The special education categorical aid calculation follows:

Special education categorical aid = (District Resident Student Enrollment x State Average Classification Rate for General Special Education Students (14.69%) x Average Excess Cost for General Special Education Students ($11,261) x 1/3)

As with equalization aid calculations, categorical aid calculations are based on state average classification rates for general special education students and state average excess costs for general special education students. The actual number of special education students in the school district and the actual amount of excess costs for general special education students are not part of the calculation. Even in categorical aid, the state is not supporting classification rates above the state average and excess cost expenditures above the state average.

Does the state average classification rate ever change?


Yes. For the 2008-2009 through 2010-2011 school years the state average classification rate was 14.69 percent for general special education services students and 1.897 percent for speech-only students. For subsequent school years, the state average classification rates will be established in the Educational Adequacy Report. The first Educational Adequacy Report is to be issued September 1, 2010 and then every three years thereafter.

Does the state excess cost for general special education services students and speech only students ever change?

Yes. For the 2008-2009 school year, the excess cost for general special education services students was $10,898 and $ 1,082 for speech only students. The excess cost amounts were adjusted by the Consumer Price Index in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years. The 2009-2010 CPI of 3.34 percent resulted in an excess cost for general special education services students of $11,261 and $1,118 for speech only students. These numbers remained the same for 2010-2011 as the CPI was 0 percent, resulting in no increase. For subsequent school years, the excess cost amounts will be established in the Educational Adequacy Report. The first Educational Adequacy Report is to be issued September 1, 2010 and then every three years thereafter.

Are there any other changes in SFRA that have affected the funding of special education?


Yes. SFRA provides state support for high cost special education students through extraordinary special education aid. For special education students who are educated in an in-district public school program with non-disabled peers (inclusion) the state will provide state aid for 95 percent of incurred costs in excess of $40,000. For special education students who are educated in a separate public school program (non-inclusion) the state will provide state aid for 85 percent of incurred costs in excess of $40,000. For special education students who are educated in separate private schools for students with disabilities, the state will provide state aid for 85 percent of incurred costs in excess of $55,000.

Taken together the state’s message and philosophy is clear. The state will support inclusion programs for high cost special education students to a greater extent than separate non-inclusion programs and will support public placements for high cost special education students to a greater extent than private placements. While the school district’s decision on placement may be determined by student program need, student parent pressure and influence or court order, state support does not consider any of those factors.

Is SFRA special education funding stable and certain year after year?

No. In just about every budgetary year, the state, through the appropriations act, makes adjustments to the school funding formula. The 2010-2011 budget year was no exception. Many of the appropriations act amendments had an impact on special education funding. For example:

School districts received a reduction in 2010-2011 equalization aid in an amount equal to 4.99 percent of their general fund budget. For some districts, that meant an elimination of all equalization aid of which two-thirds of aid for general special education services students and all speech-only students was a component.

School districts saw a 15 percent reduction in extraordinary special education costs aid.

The CPI was calculated through a definition under the Municipal Property Tax Relief Fund, not the education laws. The CPI definition change resulted in a CPI calculation of 0 percent, affecting several areas of SFRA and, by extension, aid to special education.

The issue of funding special education programs remains problematic for school districts. Through SFRA’s inclusion of two-thirds of general special education services funding into equalization aid, the state has taken a direction that has significantly reduced state support for many school districts and district wealth has now become part of the equation. By using state averages in classification rates and excess cost amounts, and not actual school district numbers, the state is looking to influence local school district decision-making in both classification and placements. The implicit hope is that by reducing state support at levels above the average, classification rates and excess cost levels will decrease, resulting in reduced state costs.

Similarly, by supporting public, inclusion placements for high cost special education students at a greater level than private separate placements, the state is, through the funding formula, looking to influence local decision-making on placements. Add to that a weak economy, lower state revenues, reductions in equalization aid and extraordinary special education cost aid and you have a significant challenge for school districts statewide, particularly for the next few years. sl


Michael Kaelber, Esq., is Director of NJSBA’s Legal and Policy Services Department. He can be reached at mkaelber@njsba.org.

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Getting SMARTer

Here's an update on what’s new in the state education department’s student data system

By Bari Anhalt Erlichson

Nearly five years ago, the New Jersey Department of Education began work on a statewide, student-level data system that follows students from their first day of enrollment in a New Jersey public school, whether that day occurs in an early childhood classroom or at any other point. This system – called NJ SMART (the acronym stands for Standards Measurement and Resource for Teaching)– began in earnest in 2007 when every student in a public school was issued a unique student identification number (SID). Since then, more than 1.6 million SIDs have been issued. These unique numbers allow schools and districts easy access to longitudinal data such as a student’s enrollment history, assessment scores, and program participation.
While NJDOE has been steadily increasing the scope of what is collected in NJ SMART, there are many initiatives underway both within New Jersey and at the national level to accelerate our efforts to build and use student data in NJ SMART not only for accountability and reporting purposes, but to drive continuous educational improvement.

RECENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS


District Reports One of the most anticipated and widely used new enhancements to NJ SMART was the launch in April of District Reports. These reports are available to all school districts on the “District Reports” tab in the NJ SMART portal on the internet. The new suite of District Reports includes: School, Grade Level, Cohort Performance, and At-Risk profile reports as well as the Jump to Student List report.  Each profile report is designed to give school districts access to aggregate information about students, including their standardized test scores, special education data, enrollment information and other data submitted to NJDOE, allowing districts to analyze patterns and trends. Each profile report also gives users the ability to drill down to detailed student lists and individual student records.  By using the Jump to Student List report, educators can jump directly to a list of specific students to view their characteristics, program enrollment, and assessment performance information, something they have never been able to do before. The benefits of carrying out customized analyses have no limit. For example, a district could analyze the relationship between a student’s participation in a particular program and his or her achievement. Or they could contrast the achievement of students who have recently transferred into the district with that of continuously enrolled students.

NJ ASK Pre-ID Pilot During the 2009-2010 school year, NJ SMART worked with several representative school districts and the state’s assessment vendor, Measurement Incorporated (MI), to run a pilot use of NJ ASK Pre-ID data, a process by which assessment test book labels are created electronically through the NJ SMART portal. Based on the analysis of this pilot, we are pleased to say that beginning this school year, the assessment Pre-ID label for NJ ASK grades 3 through 8 will be generated from NJ SMART. This change will allow school districts to integrate the student data already in NJ SMART with the Student Identification number (SID), and supplement it with the information required for the statewide assessment system.

Practice Submission Periods Last year, NJ SMART implemented a new feature which allows districts and charters an opportunity to submit their data files in advance of the required submission deadlines, thereby giving them a chance to validate the completeness and accuracy of their data.

Career and Technical Education Submission NJ SMART has begun to collect Career and Technical Education (CTE) data for all students enrolled in state-approved CTE programs. The collection of these data at the student level through NJ SMART paves the way for improved data quality and capacity for CTE administrators and stakeholders at all levels. It will also eventually replace the Vocational Education Data System (VEDS) collection in coming years.

Data Quality Error rates in the submission of student records reached a historic low this past June, reflecting the school districts’ commitment toward establishing a more streamlined reporting of accurate student data to the state, and from the state to the US Education Department. The assignment of a precise SID is critical to meeting our goal of having unique student identification numbers for all students in the New Jersey PK-12 education system, and to allow educators to link student performance records from year-to-year, even with the high mobility rates we experience in New Jersey. This commitment becomes especially important as NJ SMART increasingly will be used as the source to fulfill multiple state and federal reporting requirements. Although NJ SMART can produce error reports when data do not conform to the rules of the student data handbooks, only the school district can confirm the accuracy and correctness of those data.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2010-2011

Fall Survey After comparing and analyzing data submitted by local education agencies (LEAs) to the Fall Survey collection and data submitted to NJ SMART as part of the October 15 state submission, we have determined that school districts will no longer be required to submit data to the Fall Survey! Previously districts had to submit enrollment and other data to NJDOE’s older software program, and it will be welcome news to school administrators that this is no longer necessary. This change again emphasizes the need for LEAs to report valid and accurate data as NJ SMART continues to replace previous data collection systems, thereby streamlining the process and eliminating duplicate tasks at the local level.

October 15 State and Special Education Submissions Several updates to the October 15 state and special education submissions are required for NJ SMART to meet upcoming reporting requirements for the 2010 – 2011 school year. The October 15 state submission will include a new data element, “Resident Municipal Code,” that will be required for all students. This will provide information on which municipality a student lives in, which is useful for school funding purposes. Additionally, the federal Office of Special Education recently promulgated changes to the reporting of special education student participation in Regular Early Childhood Education or kindergarten programs. This has necessitated a revision to the data element “Special Education Placement” and the addition of a new Special Education Submission element, “Time in Regular Program.” Further information, including definitions of detailed data elements, updated validation rules, and available code sets, is available in the Student Data Handbook posted to the Help tab of the portal. NJ SMART will also be hosting a series of webinar trainings to help local educators understand and prepare for these changes.

Graduation Rates Over the past year, NJ SMART has been developing additional functionality to comply with the requirements of the NCLB Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate to be reported for the graduating class of 2010 – 2011. The NCLB Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate relies on individual student data and is calculated by dividing the number of on-time graduates in a given year by the number of first-time entering ninth graders four years earlier. The denominator can be adjusted for transfers in and out of the local district. The primary source for proof of transfer will come from the Student Identifier (SID) in NJ SMART. The department will be issuing additional guidance and instructions regarding this change in the coming months.

State Agencies
Beginning this fall, NJ SMART will collect student data from the state agencies – the Office of Education in the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the Office of Educational Services in the Department of Corrections (DOC), and the Office of Education Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC).
SID Management Always Open Since the release of NJ SMART 2.0 in June 2008, SID Management has been available at all times except during official state, special education, and CTE Submissions. During these time periods school districts could not acquire or manage SIDs. Beginning in 2010-2011, SID Management will remain open for districts to acquire and manage SIDs all year, even during the official state, special education, CTE, and Pre-ID submissions.

District Data Warehouse Features We are excited to announce the launch of one of the most consistently requested features. NJ SMART will now provide the opportunity for school districts to submit unofficial state and special education data to the data warehouse in order to refresh their district reports at any point during the school year. This is of particular importance at the beginning of the school year when school districts have new entering students for which they want to retrieve and analyze historical assessment data. Beginning in August, school districts will be able to periodically upload state and special education files that can be used in conjunction with the most current SID management and state assessment data in order to provide a real-time picture of student populations and individual student information. We expect many benefits to be reaped from adding a real-time component to the reporting.

Optional Local Data
To add even more insight to the data available through the District Reports, districts will be able to submit optional local data to NJ SMART. Additional data uploads will include point-in-time attendance, cumulative credits earned and GPA, discipline and suspension information, and program participation. Once uploaded to NJ SMART, these data will be available in the district reports.

ROADMAP FOR THE FUTURE


As part of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), New Jersey received approximately $1.1 billion in exchange for a commitment to advance essential education reforms to benefit students from early learning through post-secondary education, including: college- and career- ready standards and high-quality, valid and reliable assessments for all students; development and use of pre-K through post-secondary and career data systems; increasing teacher effectiveness and ensuring an equitable distribution of qualified teachers; and turning around the lowest-performing schools.

While this represents an ambitious agenda that will require the cooperative participation of all stakeholders, NJ SMART has a solid foundation from which to build. All of these initiatives help support our overall vision for NJ SMART, which is to:

Provide the data quality and capacity needed to build and support a culture of systemic and sustained data use at the state, district, school, and classroom levels that will ultimately lead to academic success for all New Jersey students.

NJ SMART will play a critical role in fulfilling several of these commitments in the coming twenty-four months. Many of these initiatives are already underway with the development of the NCLB Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate calculation and the collection of additional data elements. Other initiatives will require NJ SMART to begin to collect new domains of data and develop significant new features and capabilities. For example, some of the future initiatives include:

  • Measuring relative student growth using a statistical model that takes into account assessment scores over multiple years and where a student starts relative to their peers, not just their proficiency level on state assessments.
  • Connecting NJ SMART data elements to post-secondary data sets to enable feedback information about the success of academic interventions, programs to prevent dropouts, and the success of students after graduation.
  • Building a module to link teachers to student-level data. This will include the collection or movement of existing staff and educator data collections to NJ SMART and the collection of student course and grade information.
  • Pulling these data sources together and developing new tools and functionality within NJ SMART to create better visibility of key student performance indicators for school and district administrators such as student-level growth percentile scores, progress toward graduation measures, early indicators of being at-risk of dropping out, and post-secondary outcomes.

The New Jersey Department of Education frequently conducts training sessions for NJ SMART users; information on the sessions is available through the “Training Resources” page under the District Reports tab on the NJ SMART portal.


Bari Anhalt Erlichsonis director of the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Education Data. She can be reached at bari.erlichson@doe.state.nj.us.

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Workshop 2010 "Must-See" Programs

By Mark Bonjavanni

Workshop 2010 will have nearly 80 different training opportunities and information sessions for attendees. The programs have been selected to appeal to attendees with diverse needs and interests and to cover a variety of topics.

The NJSBA Workshop website has a full listing of the programs available in a new format this year: an online scheduling tool. You can view the current schedule, and select the sessions you wish to attend. Then you can print out a personalized Workshop schedule and bring it with you – or view it on your Blackberry, iPhone or other mobile device. Go to http://workshop2010.sched.org for the schedule.

Below is a sampling of the highlights from Workshop 2010.

21st Century Skills and Readiness

Tuesday, Oct. 19, 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 20, 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon.

Your students will be coping with a world and a workplace that is increasingly diverse, is globalized and is rapidly changing. A student who is prepared to thrive in the 21st century is one who not only knows reading, writing, mathematics and other academic subjects but has also been taught to engage in critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation. This session will feature discussion on the tools your district needs to help students prepare for life after high school. The presenters will include Kathy Hurley, senior vice president for strategic partnerships at Pearson, the media company which publishes educational learning materials. Ms. Hurley is also chair of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Other presenters include David Byer, senior manager of Education Leadership and Policy at Apple, Inc. and Willa Spicer, deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education. This program will be held on Tuesday and repeated on Wednesday.

The Science Leadership Academy (SLA) of Philadelphia: School 2.0
Tuesday, Oct. 19, 10:30 am to 12 noon
The Science Leadership Academy is a Philadelphia high school, developed in partnership with the Franklin Institute, which opened in September 2006. This unusual and innovative school provides a rigorous curriculum that focuses on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship. This session will be a panel discussion on featuring Chris Lehman, principal of SLA, and school staff and students discussing their experiences at SLA.

Education: NJ, followed by A Conversation with the Acting Commissioner of Education
Tuesday, Oct. 19, 3:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
Education has been at the center of change and controversy this year. Issues like the 2 percent cap on school budgets, caps on superintendent salaries, the Race to the Top applications, and the expansion of charter schools have all involved, to some degree, the commissioner’s office. Join the state’s Acting Commissioner of Education, and members of NJSBA’s Governmental Relations staff as they discuss what’s happening in Trenton and what it means to your school district. Note: At press time, the acting commissioner’s attendance had been confirmed, but that schedule is subject to change.

Costing Out the Labor Agreement
Tuesday, Oct. 19, 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Now more than ever, boards are faced with limited financial resources and, in some cases, unrealistic demands by unions. In order to develop your bargaining parameters and to counter the union’s demands, the board must have a firm handle on its starting point in terms of all dollars, and how these dollars are distributed. This action lab will provide the necessary tools to calculate the cost of the existing salary guide, increments, employee health benefits, as well as how potential salary increases and proposed salary guides will affect district finances. The program illustrates how a “total compensation” approach can help districts maintain control over the total cost of any negotiated settlement. The program presenters are Patrick Duncan and Robert Greitz, senior consultants and negotiators, NJSBA Labor Relations Department.

NJ DOE/ NJ State Police: School Security Drill Laws

Wednesday, Oct. 20, 10:30 am to 12 noon
Staff members from the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and the New Jersey State Police team up to explain the new mandatory school security drill laws which will be in effect later this year. This is an ideal way to understand how this program affects your school district. Presenters will include Deborah E. Bleisnick, safety and security specialist at NJDOE; and New Jersey State Police Lieutenant Douglas Heath of the Office of Emergency Management.

Organizing Your Charter School Policy Manual

Wednesday, Oct. 20, 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon
Your school’s policy manual is a sort of all-encompassing handbook for the rules and regulations of how your district will be governed and operated. This session will acquaint charter school trustees with what should be in their school’s policy manual, how to organize it for quick and easy access and how to maintain their manual so that it will not become outdated. The presenter, Lou Schimenti, NJSBA policy consultant, will also discuss the different policies that address the unique needs of charter schools.

Social Media- It’s Not as Scary as You Think
Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Hear from two speakers using social media in very interesting ways. Jim Long is a cameraman with NBC News who covers the White House and President Barack Obama. The images he captures through his lens are only part of the story. The other part is what Jim shares with more than 30,000 followers on Twitter, offering a very unique look at the presidency and news gathering. You’ll hear how Jim got involved in using Twitter and the challenges that he faces having a direct relationship with 30,000 people while working inside a massive corporation. Our second presenter, Eric Sheninger, is a principal at New Milford High School who connects to his school and his community using Twitter and Facebook.


Mark Bonjavanni is NJSBA’s mandatory/academy training specialist. He can be reached at mbonjavanni@njsba.org.

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