The November meeting of the State Board of Education featured presentations on efforts to make New Jersey schools “green,” updates on the state-operated district of Newark, and on PARCC. The State Board also adopted amended regulations on teacher preparation and certification.
Schools Going Green
Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director spoke about the Association’s efforts to advance the greening of schools in New Jersey, including the role it has played in Sustainable Jersey for Schools (see related story in this issue of School Board Notes). He also noted that local boards of education have saved some $166 million through NJSBA’s energy aggregation program, ACES. A copy of his presentation is available here.
Dr. Jim Elder, the creator of the national Green Ribbon Schools program, told the State Board that 3,000 to 5,000 schools across the country in 40 states identify as green schools. Goals of the green school program include ensuring that 100 percent of graduates are environmentally literate; creating a positive impact on student and staff health; minimizing any negative impact that school operations might have on environment. Scott McCartney, chief school administrator for Egg Harbor Township schools shared information on that district’s efforts as a Sustainable Jersey for Schools participant to become Styrofoam-free, eliminate plastic water bottles and support student gardens in the schools.
The State Board also received a report on progress in the Newark school district over the past year. The graduation rate is up, with 70 percent of students graduating in 2015. The suspension rate is going down. Teacher retention and professional development is increasing. Newark has helped to develop a masters’ program centered around the Common Core. If teachers successfully complete the program, they become eligible for bonuses. Newark has also increased its investment in technology with the purchase of 11,000 Chromebooks and 12,000 Smart Boards for use in the district, becoming a leader in integrating technology into the curriculum. Superintendent Chris Cerf also spoke of the fiscal challenges facing the district, including a persistent budget gap of $13 million. Contributing factors to this budget gap include rising enrollment at a time when state aid remains flat, while costs such as facilities, among others, remain high. Cerf also spoke to the challenge of budgeting while meeting the parents’ demand for more school choice.
Assistant Commissioner Bari Erlichson provide the board with updates concerning the department’s PARCC efforts. Dr. Erlichson spoke about the PARCC results for the first year of the test. Her presentation included a discussion of the efforts to create cutoff scores for each of the performance levels in PARCC, a release of test questions so that parents and teachers could know with greater precision the questions that students had to answer, and a release of statewide results for NJ students. Erlichson also spoke about professional development efforts related to the PARCC. (See related article in this issue of School Board Notes.)
The department also continued its efforts to increase the rigor of New Jersey’s educator preparation programs, certification requirements and professional development. Among the most significant changes to these regulations is a requirement that increases the amount of clinical experience that pre-service teachers need to have before achieving standard certification. Pre-service teachers will need 50 hours of clinical experience and two semesters of clinical practice in order to achieve certification.