School district moves ahead with technology, security upgrades

Laptop initiative and security software are two of the most important additions this school year, Superintendent Joseph Bollendorf says.

The Washington Township Public School District has seen a lot of changes this year, such as the high school’s 1:1 laptop initiative, the continued installation of new, innovative security technology, and the implementation of full-day kindergarten, redistricting and staff turnovers.

Laptops were distributed to Washington Township High School students and faculty at the beginning of the 2016–17 school year as part of the 1:1 laptop initiative. The laptops allow students to engage in real-world projects, as well as have access to software and online resources used in class.

“The thing you have to recognize, from an educational standpoint, is that we have to evolve on how we’re conducting business in the classroom to help prepare our kids for this very rapidly changing world,” Superintendent Joseph Bollendorf said. “You can’t expect results, and to prepare kids for an ever-changing world, if in education you’re not prepared to evolve as well. That’s what we’re in the process of doing; we’re evolving.”

Every one of the approximately 2,300 students were given the opportunity to have a Dell 3340 or Dell 3350 laptop, which they will keep with them throughout the four years they attend WTHS. The district believes by providing laptops to students, it will also help to promote life-long learning, responsible digital citizenship and college readiness.

“Our kids are expected to be creative and flexible, to be able to problem solve and evolve with a world that is constantly going to continue to change. That creates a new dynamic for what needs to happen in our classrooms,” Bollendorf said. “Education is catching onto that, and we’re trying to provide our staff and our students with not only the mindset and belief system to help us get there, but the tools that are going to implement that mindset and belief system as well.”

Another innovative development is the security technology that is being developed and installed in all of the schools in the district, including software that would allow doors to be locked down with a press of a button on a phone app or computer.

“There are push buttons in each of our main offices right now, and we’re in a two-year process of creating an environment where with just a single press of a button on a phone or computer, every single door in the school building can immediately be locked down,” Bollendorf said.

The software would also allow teachers to communicate in real time with administration and law enforcement as to their status while locked down in their classrooms.

“If there is a threat, the more quickly authorities can get to the threat, and neutralize that threat, the better chance you have at saving lives and protecting our most precious investment, our kids. We’re investing in this technology because we want to be able to provide this to our community,” Bollendorf said.

The schools are in the process of changing all of the locks on every door of the district. As locks are changed, the ability to create a locked-down environment from the press of a button will be available. Bollendorf believes by the start of next school year, this process will be completed and the installation of the software will be introduced. Not only will the software allow for quick communication from classroom to authorities, but it will also allow police to access the district’s surveillance camera system. In a lock-down setting, cameras will switch to a motion-activated mode. If there were to be an intruder, all cameras would go blank except for the ones that detect motion, allowing law enforcement to efficiently and quickly locate the intruder and neutralize the situation.

“I hope that the investment we made in this technology is never fully utilized, but I believe that by having it, we give our community a certain sense of peace of mind, that we are doing all that we can possibly do to hope for the best possible outcome in the face of a terrible event,” Bollendorf said.

To better secure the schools, vestibules have been constructed in every building, two of which are being built in the high school. The vestibules are a way to monitor entry into the schools with a double-entry system. Visitors are greeted through the front door, and then let into a second entryway, still not inside the school where classrooms would be located, creating a controlled, safer environment for students and staff.

Another change that took place earlier in the school year was the redistricting of the township. The goal of the redistricting process was to address pockets of the community that were traveling across town, sometimes spending up to 90 minutes on a bus each day, and assign them to a school closer to their neighborhood. The last time the Washington Township public schools were redistricted was in 1997, with a few shifts made in 2004. Before the update this school year, there were nine neighborhoods going to school out of their geographical area. With redistricting also came full-day kindergarten, provided in the Grenloch Terrace Early Childhood Center, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and Whitman Elementary School from 8:50 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.

In the past 16 months as superintendent, Bollendorf has also hired at least eight new senior administrative positions, three of whom are new principals at Orchard Valley Middle School, Bunker Hill Middle School and Washington Township High School. Colleen McLaughlin’s position as OVMS principal began July 1, 2015, replacing former Principal Steve Gregor, who advanced to district director of secondary education. Prior to her new position, McLaughlin served as principal of the Millville Public Charter School for three years, managing students and staff for the K-6 school. The newly appointed principal for BHMS, Michael J. D’Ostilio, started on Jan. 3, replacing interim principal Joe Vandenberg, and becoming the fourth full-time principal in the school’s 19-year history. Ann Moore, named Washington Township High School’s executive principal after Bollendorf, had worked in the district since 1984, holding positions of teacher, coach, department supervisor, assistant principal and executive assistant principal.

“I’m very proud of the education systems and what it has done for my children, as well as what it has done for me as a person,” said Bollendorf, who has been a member of Washington Township since 1988 and raised four children who have all attended the township public schools. Bollendorf has worked in education for 34 years, having spent the first 14 years in Millville, and the past 20 years in Washington Township.

“It’s been an exciting journey since taking over as superintendent. I am happy and grateful to have had the opportunity to do the work that we’ve been a part of over the past 16 months. I am fortunate to have a Board of Education that is progressive in their thought and in their desires, and the willingness to work hard to try to accomplish these goals on behalf of our community, and most importantly on behalf of our students.”