Editor’s note: The following is an interview with Lenape Regional High School District Superintendent Carol Birnbohm. Responses have been edited.
Q: The transition from the HSPA to the PARCC has presented issues for school districts across the country. Do you feel the LRHSD schools are prepared?
The Lenape Regional High School District utilized the 2013–2014 school year to prepare for the upcoming PARCC assessment. A committee made up of teachers and administrators from across the school district assembled early in the year to create an implementation plan with strong input from computer and network technicians. We designed and implemented a full-scale infrastructure test that tested technology while the students were able to navigate a tutorial and sample online questions in language arts and mathematics. The test included approximately 4,500 students engaging 260 different test sessions in 70 computer labs. In this infrastructure test, we were able to assess hardware, operating systems, Internet connectivity and bandwidth while utilizing the proctor caching offered by Pearson. In addition, it was important to have students answer sample online questions and go through a tutorial utilizing the new online platform in order to familiarize thousands of students with an online assessment. In the end, the district-created large-scale infrastructure test did not present any major problems for the district. However, we were able to give Pearson feedback regarding some possible issues with their test design that may help alleviate future confusion. After the infrastructure test, the Lenape District participated in a PARCC pilot test offered by the New Jersey Department of Education. As a result, 260 students in March were assessed on the Performance Based Assessment, and 308 students in May were assessed on the End of Year Assessment. The pilot, given in the content areas of Algebra I and Language Arts, once again, allowed us to expose our students to the online platform and rigor of the new PARCC assessment. In addition, this experience allowed us to coordinate proctor training for this new online assessment and develop the collaborative relationship between test coordinators, proctors, as well as computer and network technicians needed for a successful implementation of an online assessment. The PARCC assessment is a test of the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and mathematics presenting a new test rigor compared to PARCC’s predecessor. The Lenape District curriculum in both English Language Arts and mathematics has been aligned with the Common Core State Standards since 2011, soon after New Jersey adopted the standards in 2010. The rigor will not be unfamiliar for our students due to this alignment.
Q: What initiatives, whether from the district level or the individual schools are you most proud of?
We are very proud of all of the individual schools’ efforts to prepare our students for success beyond high school. College or career readiness is vitally important for all of our students’ independence.
In our senior exit survey, 90 percent of the Class of 2014 reported they would be attending a two- or four-year college this fall. Hopefully, they left us with the mindset that their high school graduation was only the first they will experience. The second will be the thrill of receiving a college diploma. I am very proud of our efforts as a school community to reinforce our two graduation initiative. In addition to academic programs, such as providing the PSAT for all ninth, 10th- and 11th-grade college prep students, we made a collective effort to celebrate college acceptance. Celebrations were simple activities like Lenape’s and Shawnee’s Academic Awards, where one by one, seniors walked up to the podium and proudly announced where they will attend college and, that they are a member of the Class of 2018 of that college. At Cherokee, the hallways were decorated with a colorful display of the colleges their seniors were going to this fall; and each morning last spring, Seneca’s morning announcements were highlighted by a new list of students congratulated upon their acceptance to college. These simple activities helped build enthusiasm among staff and students in every class for our two graduation initiative- planning for, applying to and celebrating acceptance to college and then, equally important, attending and finishing college to pursue their passions, wherever life takes them after their second graduation.
For the students who choose college, we have a responsibility to ensure our programs meet their expectations and give them the best possible shot to fulfill their pursuits. We also have a responsibility to ensure students who do not choose college, have the social and employable skills needed to succeed beyond high school.
The Lenape Regional District has unique learning experiences for all learners. Students in our special education programs have an opportunity to hone their skills through job sampling in venues both in the school, such as the Lenape School Store or the Cherokee Annex, or through Morning Cafés at Shawnee and Seneca and the surrounding community. In our Transition Services Job Placement program, we match many students with positions in local businesses. Last year, in more than 50 different locations throughout Burlington County, these students entered into internships with the help of their job shadow. These valuable opportunities, such as our co-op programs for all students and many more like them, help prepare teens for their next steps beyond high school, in a supportive setting.
Q: It has been 10 months since the Defy the Issue-Chris Herren presentations, did it have the impact you thought it would on students and how has that effect been visible?
During the 2013–2014 school year, the Lenape District welcomed dynamic guest speaker Chris Herren, who spoke to more than 7,000 students and more than 1,000 parents in nine presentations about the dangers of substance abuse while telling his personal story. We felt that the timing was appropriate for our students to build upon the strong foundation of education for the negative consequences of substance abuse built by the district’s Defy the Issue initiative originating in 2011. After the presentations, follow-up activities discussing the subject included the promotion and participation in Chris Herren’s initiative named Project Purple, which promotes the commitment to live drug- and alcohol-free. The Chris Herren presentations, along with the Defy the Issue campaign and quality follow-up activities, provided the appropriate ingredients for a successful initiative. The effects of Chris Herren’s presentation were immediate as it made many students reflect on how making the right choices are vitally important. One student said, ‘I thought about my priorities and what I choose to do every day.’ Another student shared his reflection by saying, ‘It was by far the best assembly I’ve ever seen, and it really made me think.’ Chris Herren told his story, but consistently related to the high school years that hit home for many district students. One student said that the part that made the most impact was when Chris Herren said, “How come you can’t just be yourself on Friday and Saturday night? Be happy being you.” Lasting effects of the Herren presentation were also evident as students continue to demonstrate leadership in district programs and initiatives needed to promote the qualities needed to defy the use of drugs and alcohol.
Q: What is the district hoping to accomplish with its recently launched Facebook page?
We hope to highlight the many wonderful accomplishments of our students and staff through social media. We realize Facebook is popular with many of the parents or guardians of our current and future LRHSD students and we want to meet our parents where they are, on Facebook or other social media outlets. As you can see from the posts on www.facebook.com/LRHSDHighlights, we have been piloting it for several months to ensure we provide a balance of coverage for all four high schools. Followers will be able to see accomplishments, milestones, or other unique learning opportunities for students and staff, which take place during the school day and would be otherwise unseen by the public. What you will not see when you follow our LRHSD Highlights Facebook page are emergency notifications. We will continue to rely on the many other means available, our district website www.lrhsd.org, our district television broadcast system LDTV, Twitter @LRHSDstatus, or text messaging, phone calls, etc. for communicating emergency messages, such as school closings due to inclement weather.