Township schools beat NJ averages

By MELISSA DIPENTO

Students at Lenape High School had the third-highest SAT scores in Burlington County for the 2010 school year, according to the state Department of Education School Report Card released last week. On average, students scored 558 in math, 520 in verbal and 517 in the essay portion of the test. Students averaged a total score of 1,595.

Carol Birnbohm, assistant superintendent of the LRHSD, said the district performed well on the test.

“The first thing that stood out to us were our improved SAT scores. We’re really proud of the students this year,” Birnbohm said.

All four high schools in the district finished with top five SAT scores in the county.

Shawnee finished second on the list, with a total average score of 1,626. Seneca and Cherokee High Schools finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Moorestown High School finished first in Burlington County, with an average total score of 1,709.

Lenape High School outperformed state averages, as well. Statewide, students averaged 520 in math, 497 in verbal and 499 in the essay portion, tallying up to an average total score of 1,516.

Birnbohm said the district is encouraging younger students to practice for the SAT.

“There’s been a concerted effort in the district to increase the number of students taking the SAT. We’re encouraging sophomores and juniors to take the PSATs to bump students’ scores on the SAT,” Birnbohm said.

Students at Lenape High School also surpassed state scores on the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA). Students must reach proficiency or advanced proficiency on the test to graduate from high school.

In the language arts assessment, 93 percent of LHS students scored proficient or advanced. Statewide, 88 percent passed the test.

In math, 83 percent of students passed the test. Meanwhile, statewide, the average was 75 percent.

At the elementary and middle school level, Mt. Laurel students also achieved above state averages.

Mt. Laurel Schools Superintendent Antoinette Rath said she is proud of the success of the students.

“The district does very well compared to the state. Generally, our strengths are math and science,” Rath said. “We’ve had consistent inquiry-based curriculums, and our teachers are very comfortable with that method of teaching.”

Elementary and middle school students, under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, are required to be tested in language arts and math from grades three to eight. Sixth grade students in the district scored higher than state averages on the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge(NJASK6).

In language arts, 77 percent of sixth graders passed the test in the district, while 66 passed statewide.

In math, 72 percent of sixth graders across the state passed the test, while 85 percent in the district passed.

Rath said teachers pay extra attention to students who did not score proficient or higher on the NJASK.

“We’ve implemented goal-setting sheets and developed road maps for each student. We’re also adding additional benchmarks to pay particular attention to students,” Rath said.

Rath said she attributes the success of the district’s students to the teachers and the Board of Education.

Rath added that teachers are vigilant about using the inquiry approach to teaching, which allows the opportunity for the teacher to be the facilitator of learning, pulling out essential questions for each unit of study.

“They map out what it is they want the students to be able to do,” Rath said. “It’s more hands on and it works well.”

Finances/Salaries

For the 2009–2010 school year, the Lenape Regional High School

District spent $14,456 per student, just above the state average of

$14,354.

The components that make up the cost per pupil include faculty and administration salaries, classroom instructional costs and support services, among other items.

James Hager, school business administrator for the LRHSD said the district stayed reasonably close to the state average.

In 2010, district administrators averaged a salary of $129,812, compared to the state average of $119,066.

District faculty salaries averaged $64,605. Statewide, faculty averaged a $66,220 salary.

Hager said even though district salaries are slightly higher than state averages, the district is consistently ranked as having fewer of them.

“Our salaries might be slightly higher that the state average, but we have less faculty and administration.”

Hager said a separate document, issued annually by the NJDOE called the Comparative Spending Guide, addresses the balance between spending and the number of staff.

In the 2008–2009 school year, Hager said, there were 186 students for every administrator.

“That’s the lowest in the state,” he said.

The CSG’s Student/Administrator Ratio shows the district as having the highest rank in the state for the 2008–2009 school year and the second-highest rank for the 2009–2010 school year. Schools with lower, meaning a higher number, state rankings have more administrators per student.

The CSG also indicates a Faculty/Administrator Ratio. In 2009, the district ranked first in the state, with 17.4 faculty members per administrator.

In 2010, the district ranked second, with 17.6 faculty members per administrator.

The state average for 2010 was 11.7 faculty members per administrator.

“Our administrators make a little more money, but we have a lot less of them,” Hager added.

The eight elementary and middle schools in the Mt. Laurel School District spent $12,125 per student in 2010, just under the state average of $12,681.

Rath said the district came in at 4.4 percent below the state cost figures.

“We’re an effective running district that is respectful to taxpayers, and we certainly achieve results,” Rath said.

Class Size

Lenape High School averaged 40 percent higher than the state average in total class size.

The school averages about 26 students per class, while the state average is 18.2.

Birnbohm said the district would like to see the class size numbers come down in the future.

“Certainly, the state average would be ideal for all classes,” Birnbohm said. “It’s a direct result of a failed budget and reduced state aid.”

The impact a larger class size has on students, Birnbohm said, is a less personalized learning environment.

“It lessens individualized instruction and feedback from teachers may be delayed,” Birnbohm said.

Birnbohm said the district plans to hold additional professional development sessions to help teachers with individualized instruction.

Statewide, the average classroom size for fifth to eighth grade is 18.2 students.

Mt. Laurel’s Hartford School averaged near 22 students per classroom. Harrington Middle School averaged about 20 students per class.

Rath said sometimes the higher class sizes are a result of scheduling. Rath said students often pick the same elective classes, increasing the amount of students per class.

“We monitor our class sizes seriously. We believe lower is better than higher for students for efficiency purposes, but sometimes it happens,” Rath said.

To view report cards, visit http://education.state.nj.us/rc/rc10/index.html.