Head of the class

Weehawken school officials talk about measuring success in the district

Long gone are the days of simply ensuring that children learn their reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic during their time in school.
Schools throughout the country are now inundated with various programs, tests, and measurement tools to make sure kids are learning at the right pace as they advance through the grades and also to keep tabs on the administration to make certain they succeed in doing their part for education.
In New Jersey, that means keeping scores up for NJSMART (NJ Standards Measurement and Resource for Teaching), NJQSAC (New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum), private agencies like the Middle States Association, and federal programs such as No Child Left Behind.
The various evaluations can be daunting, but for Weehawken, they have presented a chance for the district to improve and shine.


“We have quality teachers performing to their utmost in their classrooms each and everyday. That says it all.” – Kevin McLellan

According to Richard Barsa, president of the Board of Education, the reformation of Weehawken schools began approximately 20 years ago and since then everything from changes in curriculum to capital projects have been taken on to improve the schools.
“We are doing what we have to do in order to give students a quality education,” said Superintendent of Schools Kevin McLellan last week.
McLellan credited the faculty in Weehawken’s three public schools as well as the administrative team and support from community and town leadership with delivering high marks for the district, which was recently named as a “high performing district” for its achievements over the last school year.
“Performance is driven by what happens every single day in the classrooms,” he said. “We have quality teachers performing to their utmost in their classrooms each and everyday. That says it all.”

Quality assurance in the classroom

NJQSAC is a monitoring and evaluation system that focuses on the day to day operations of NJ public school districts.
The state monitors the school districts on five different components including operations, instruction, governance, fiscal, and personnel.
According to Joseph Little, the curriculum director for the district, the state requires the district to present a total of 537 items for the evaluation and to include justification that each of the items are being carried out properly.
If the district satisfies 80 to 100 percent in each of the five performance indicators, it is designated as “high performing.” If it fails to achieve 80 percent, the areas that need to be improved are detailed and focused on for improvement.
Last year, a committee comprised of school board members, faculty, administrators, and parents from all of Weehawken’s schools met monthly to go over each component to make sure everything was on par.
And their efforts yielded excellent results. For the most recent school year, Weehawken scored 100 percent on four of the five categories, with the exception of the fiscal category.
According to Little, the school district specifically chose not to go after the two items it would’ve needed to achieve 100 percent in that category – increasing class size and increasing lunch costs – in an effort to maintain quality in the classrooms and not pass on increased costs to parents.
Now that the designation as a high performing school district has been achieved, the work of monitoring the standards will be taken on by Little who is charged with making sure it stays that way.

Future of Weehawken schools

For McLellan, evaluations like NJQSAC are an opportunity to show the state the great job that the district is doing and monitor policies and recommendations for continued excellence in the future.
“It gives us a snapshot of where our strengths and weaknesses lie,” said McLellan. “We use that assessment tool for the future in order to continue our excellence. I believe that it’s always good to have somebody from the outside looking at you and giving you another perspective of your operations.”
Several initiatives being taken on by the district over the next couple of years are the result of such self-assessment.
There is a greater emphasis on the elementary learning level as children are being required to learn greater amounts of information in shorter periods of time at a younger age.
McLellan said that the district is trying to prepare young students in order to keep up with trends that are going to be necessary at the high school level when they get there.
Another critical element, according to McLellan, is professional training for teachers. He said Weehawken’s teachers are trained in the latest techniques in workshops throughout the school year and are also encouraged to utilize summer programs to stay at the top of their field.
The district is also in the process of implementing Learnia, an information technology assessment system that students will be tested through which will provide teachers with a comprehensive evaluation on both a class and individual level.
It’s anticipated that students will begin taking tests on the system by early 2011.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at ldiaz@hudsonreporter.com.

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