The state Board of Education heard a number of reports and updates at its December monthly meeting. These included the following:
State-operated District of Camden: Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard gave the board his annual update on progress in Camden school district. The superintendent told the board that scores on standardized assessments continue to improve, although there is much more work to do. For instance, overall, the district had over 120 more proficient students in math and nearly 250 more in English language arts during the 2015- 2016 school year. The district also continues to strengthen its curriculum by making adjustments to its kindergarten through eighth grade math curriculum, and creating a new literacy block for students in kindergarten through third grade. The district has also begun a program where the ACT and the SAT will be given during the school day. The district has also begun to offer students a dual enrollment program through Camden County College.
The district continues to address chronic absenteeism. This year the district began to offer a trauma-informed care pilot program which utilizes home visits to 200 students. Schools will use a case management approach that is coordinated by a cross-functional team of teachers, guidance counselors, family coordinators, and others. The pilot is intended to address some of the root causes of chronic absenteeism, which decreased from 38 percent in 2014-2015 to 31 percent in 2015-2016.
The district is also embarking on the reconstruction of Camden City High School. In October, the New Jersey school construction agency approved a $133 million project to demolish and then construct a brand-new Camden High School building. In 2021, the state-of-the-art building will be home to four traditional district schools under one roof, including Brimm Medical Arts, the Big Picture Learning Academy, and the two existing academies, serving about 1,200-1,500 students in total. These schools will have new science labs, a mock trial room, two gymnasiums, two cafeterias, four locker rooms, and other modern amenities to prepare students for a successful future.
Social Emotional and Character Development: The State Board heard from the New Jersey Alliance for Social, Emotional, and Character Development which assists educators and all other stakeholders in their efforts to foster ethical, responsible and caring people as they model and teach the social-emotional skills and ethical and performance values that lead to good character. Affiliated with Character.org, New Jersey was the first to implement State Schools of Character, now in 29 states. Since 2003, 80 New Jersey schools have been named State or National Schools of Character. Many of these schools have been named more than once. New Jersey has the second-highest number of Schools of Character in the nation. New Jersey’s Schools of Character engage in outreach to other schools through Regional Network Centers in a model of continuous improvement. New Jersey schools have also been recognized for 229 National Promising Practices by Character.org.
ESSA Update: The State Board also received an update on the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Under ESSA, the state must submit a plan for accountability and data collection to the federal government by April 3, 2017. The state plan will describe how New Jersey will measure and report on how the state’s students are progressing toward achieving the NJ Student Learning Standards and leaving high school prepared for college and career. In addition, the state must describe how it will be identifying schools and districts in need of additional support and differentiating support to those schools and districts based on their needs. In preparation for submission of its plan, the state has engaged various stakeholders and the community by conducting surveys, generating over 5,000 survey responses, hosting four listening and learning sessions with over 140 attendees and 35 speakers; convened an ESSA Stakeholder Focus Group with, on average, over 40 representatives from organizations throughout the state; joined 10 roundtable conversations and heard from over 200 educators, participated in community conversations with over 100 community members from in or around Newark, Paterson, and Camden.
The State Board also took action on a number of other items including: approving a new organizational chart for the state department of education, appointing members to the State Board of Examiners and the State Special Education Advisory Council. The board also approved the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 persistently dangerous schools policy, which sets forth that each state receiving funds under this Act shall establish and implement a statewide policy requiring that a student attending a persistently dangerous public elementary school or secondary school, be allowed to attend a safe public elementary school or secondary school within the local educational agency.