In Somerville, as in many school districts, children come to kindergarten with varied levels of preparedness, because in the years before they enter public school, they attend different preschools.
Recognizing this, in 2012 the Somerville school district began holding a “Kindergarten Summit,” that brought together educators from area preschools, as well as the district’s own preschool, for a day of sharing ideas, discussing expectations for kindergarten, learning from experts, and getting to know one another.
“It is an attempt to bridge the physical boundaries that separate our institutions, and provide for a continuity of focus,” wrote Dr. Tim Purnell, Somerville school superintendent, in his blog, “Superintendent’s Corner.”
The program has received overwhelmingly positive feedback among Somerville’s preschool education community. And, this year the Kindergarten Summit was highlighted by the New Jersey School Boards Association as one of its A+ Ideas, Programs and Practices.
“Somerville’s Kindergarten Summit is a relatively simple idea that could provide great benefit to children. It allows sharing of expectations for kindergarten with local area preschool providers, and gives preschool educators the chance to meet, discuss best practices and essentially create an early childhood education community,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.
“It also seems like a program that could be replicated by other school districts – which is one of the goals of A+ Ideas,” Feinsod said.
A+Ideas, Programs and Practices is NJSBA’s newest webpage, launched in January as a resource for local boards of education. Located on the NJSBA website, it is a place where districts can learn about – and find inspiration from – successful programs.
The site includes more than 50 programs in the categories of Curriculum/Student Achievement; STEM Education/Technology; District Governance/Board Leadership; School Climate; Shared Services; Facilities and Financial Operations; Special Education; Sustainable Practices; and Community Relations.
Some of the programs have been previously cited or nominated for other awards, while some were submitted for A+ by their school districts. The webpage will be updated later this spring, with more programs added.
“Experience is often the best teacher…and it doesn’t have to be your own,” Dr. Feinsod said. “The A+ webpage is an information center and library of best practices. It’s a place where school leaders learn from the success of their colleagues throughout the state.”
School board members, superintendents, school business administrators, charter school leaders, curriculum supervisors, teachers and other educators are invited to submit their best practices for consideration. Information should be submitted by completing a brief survey that is available through the NJSBA website. The survey is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/A-Plus-Ideas.
“The A+ webpage shows the breadth of exciting programs taking place in New Jersey’s public school classrooms and school districts every day,” Dr. Feinsod said. “We look forward to the participation of all New Jersey school districts in this exciting project.”
The A+ entries include programs from elementary through high school, along with school administrative practices, and good governance work done by school boards. Each entry includes a descriptive summary, contact information and, often, photos and website addresses for further information. A few entries also feature videos.
While there are dozens of interesting, inspiring and – perhaps most important – replicable ideas on the A+ webpage, some highlights are:
Three Bridges School Sustainability, Readington, Hunterdon County
At Three Bridges School in Readington, students believe they can save the world through sustainability. The elementary school has made a conscious effort to follow sustainable practices, teaching students, staff, parents and the community how to “green” their world and reduce their carbon footprint. These efforts earned the school recognition as a Green Ribbon School in 2014, from the U.S. Department of Education.
The school has gone green in almost every way possible. In use are a water bottle filling station for drinking water, rain barrels to collect water, and compost tumblers. The school participated in an energy audit and, based on recommendations, upgraded fixtures and light bulbs, and installed HVAC systems and room lights on motion detectors. The maintenance staff is careful that all trash and recycling is sorted properly.
Students and staff embrace recycling, and remind each other to make good choices when disposing of waste. The Student Leadership group created a video about recycling that has been posted to the school webpage. Efforts have been so successful that bigger recycling containers were needed!
The district also hired an Energy Efficiency Coordinator who works with the schools, resulting in data collection about energy usage and a new energy conservation policy. Three Bridges students even put signs on computer monitors and printers, to remind everyone to shut them off when not in use.
For more information, contact Kristen Higgins, principal.
View the school’s video.
Genocide Studies Program, Hanover Park Regional High School District, Morris County
Students and members of the Hanover Park community learn about caring, tolerance and respect through a “gallery walk,” the service learning portion of the high schools’ semester-long Genocide Studies course.
The program involves students at Hanover Park and Whippany Park high schools, which alternate hosting the event each year. Visitors enter under a replica of the Auschwitz “Arbeit macht frei” gate (which translates to “work makes you free”), and weave through classroom displays that recall various genocides. The walk culminates with a performance in the school theater. The event is open to all students during the day, and community members in the evening.
Holocaust survivor Maud Dahme, a former long-term State Board of Education member and a recipient of NJSBA’s lifetime education achievement award, has taken part in the program.
The Gallery Walk has had a widespread impact on the community, fostering respect for other cultures and their past, reconnecting many students with their own family history, and developing a sense of unity.
For more information, contact: Maria Carrell, director of curriculum, instruction & assessment.
Galaxy Club, Clifton School District, Passaic County
What if all elementary students earned a “gold star” for reading? In Clifton’s Elementary School 11, they can and they do.
Students in grades two through five who have access to the district’s online Accelerated Reading program strive to achieve individual goals, set by his or her teacher, using assessment results. Children who reach or surpass that goal receive a personalized, large yellow star, with a shimmery, gold Mylar tail, that hangs in the school’s main hallway as long as they maintain their status.
The program, which was a People’s Choice Winner in the 2014 Follett Challenge, provides an excellent incentive and has led to the school’s new, unofficial motto: “Read, Read, Read.” Parents enjoy their children’s success, too, when they are invited to a ceremony where the mayor presents certificates to Galaxy Club members. Last year, the school had a full house for the awards ceremony. It has run out of space for stars in the main hallway – and is now had to continue in another hallway.
For more information contact: Theresa Evans.