New interim superintendent, classes and curriculum highlight the return to school in Mt. Laurel

While students in Mt. Laurel Schools enjoyed 76 days of summer fun, district administrators and staff were hard at work preparing for a number of new changes for the 2015- 16 school year.

Not only will the district open the school year with a new interim superintendent, but it will also implement new classes, curriculum and a new PARCC schedule.

The biggest change for 2015–16 is a new face in the superintendent’s position for the first time since 2002. Sharon Vitella officially took over as the district’s interim superintendent on Sept. 1 following the retirement of former superintendent Antoinette Rath during the summer.

The Mt. Laurel Board of Education is working with the New Jersey School Boards Association on the superintendent search. District director of communication Marie Reynolds said the board will this month release a timeline and information on how the community can give their input on the search.

In the classroom, some students will be participating in new programs and classes. This summer, the district unveiled a revised technology curriculum for all grade levels. In elementary school, the number of technology units taught to students will increase from two to three. In addition, students will have a chance to take a coding class for the first time.

“We had coding at the middle school level,” Reynolds said. “We’re moving it down to the elementary school levels.”

For grades five through eight, the curriculum was changed to allow greater flexibility with the technology and STEM classes. The new curriculum also allows for the integration technology in a variety of subject areas.

A new pilot program at Springville Elementary is going to be evaluated in the coming weeks. At the end of last school year, Springville’s third-grade students participated in Jump Start June, where they learned the first unit of fourth-grade reading and read the book “Because of Winn Dixie.” The idea behind the program was to use the final weeks of school to introduce students to the next grade level.

Students had to complete packets during the summer based on the book. Reynolds said teachers will be examining the effectiveness of this program in the coming weeks to see if student growth improved.

“The success of that will be assessed by the teachers of the classes they’re going in now,” Reynolds said. “There’s a review of what they learned through the summer.”

If successful, the pilot program could be expanded in coming years.

The district is also beginning implementation of a revised science curriculum this year. The new curriculum is being introduced to grades six through eight.

“The science curriculum (will) align with next generation science standards,” Reynolds said. “The goal is to help students understand core scientific standards on a deeper level.”

The new curriculum is being used on a pilot basis for this year and will be fully unveiled for the 2016–17 school year for grades six to eight. The district plans to re-write the science curriculum for the lower grades next summer.

The PARCC schedule is also changing this year. Students will only have one testing window after testing in both March and May last year. This year’s testing window takes place between April 13 and May 4.

Changes in the district aren’t just limited to inside the classroom. The district has completed a number of summer projects in time for the school year. The biggest change students and staff will notice are new cafeteria tables at all six elementary schools. Larchmont Elementary School also received a new roof over the summer, and Countryside Elementary School had all of its classroom doors replaced. Phase three of a carpet to tile replacement project was performed at Springville, and there was painting at four of the district’s schools.

There are no major changes to the school calendar for this year. The district will have winter break from Dec. 24 through Jan. 3 and spring break from March 25 through April 3. The last day of school is scheduled for Monday, June 20.