Following funding cuts, Peretti said she hopes to continue to provide a quality education to students in the new year despite the loss
By KRYSTAL NURSE
The Harrison Township School District superintendent looks to continue a close relationship between the township committee and the board of education into 2019 as they collaborated closely following news of cuts in state aid in 2018.
Superintendent Margaret “Missy” Peretti said her district and the district it sends to, Clearview Regional, had a decrease in state aid for the next five years as the state Department of Education in July changed how much funding it provides to the districts. HTSD is projected to lose around $1 million in funding.
“It is disheartening to hear that we’re going to lose so much funding, however, I have full confidence in the whole community,” said Peretti. “Not just the district and the staff, but also in the Harrison Township community and the board of education in their willingness to think outside the box in how we’re going to respond because I know every single member of my board of education has the students’ needs first.”
She pointed support to Harrison Township Mayor Louis Manzo in reaching out and getting the township committee closely involved, the board of education and community to devise a plan to work through the budgeting issue without affecting the students’ experience (or doing so as little as possible).
As she and her own children move throughout the district, Peretti said she hopes to continue working closely with the board and the township as they move through the cuts, but emphasizes that with it being a negative topic, conversations don’t have to follow the same tone.
“We’re all working together and our focus continues to be the students,” said Peretti. “They’re our most precious commodity of the community, I really believe that and all of those people I mentioned before, we’re going to continue to keep that precious focus on the kids and we’re going to get through it like we have in the past.”
Peretti said the board is thrilled with the overall success of the full-day kindergarten program, which began in September.
“We have our youngest learners fully participating with the school community,” she said. “It’s already a different feel for them and I feel like it’s also a different feel for the families.“
Peretti said she hopes to add more independent opportunities for the students as they’ve been in the program for four months, and could “start to behave like a first-grader” in the winter months. They’ve participated in many school-wide activities at Harrison Township Elementary and have a lunch period, much like the older grades.
In the 2018–2019 school year, Peretti added the district created a branding committee to help unify HTSD under one brand, led by supervisor of instruction Chad Flexon.
“That committee includes a number of our staff members who are volunteering their time to be a part of it, administrative staff, board of education members and business owners in our community, general community members and leadership, and we’ve all kind of come together and circled around this project,” said Peretti.
The first step in the branding process was completed with the launch of a new website (www.HarrisonTwp.K12.NJ.US), which allows visitors to see the district in one central, user-friendly location.
Peretti added the branding is being done so those in Mullica Hill and other surrounding communities will know when anything is being communicated by them, such as students’ performances, activities and other areas they are excelling in.
The creation of the committee wasn’t an overnight thought, as the district was named as a “Schools to Watch” by the National Forum To Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, a nonprofit organization, for the 2017–2018 school year and was a reference district in the Google for Education.
With the anticipated changes for the state’s standardized testing procedures, Peretti said she has no worries about students and teachers not adapting well to it, as the teachers don’t prepare students for the PARCC, per se.
“We certainly focus on really good writing practices, or really good time management, and we subtly prepare the students for any academic setting,” said Peretti. “When we’re teaching students to write, we’re focusing on areas that are really good. What we say are ‘strong writing with a lot of spice and eye-catching’ and just teaching a child how to write to the attention of the reader.”
HTSD, she said, has a number of events planned for students, including Harrison Township Day (sometimes called Mullica Hill Day), a traditional pillow polo game between staff and sixth-graders and a sixth-grade trip to Camp Ockanickon in Medford, which will be the first year.
“We do really like to plan ahead and focus on the fact that our children are elementary school students,” she said. “So as the demands of academics increase, and we want our kids to excel, we want to remember that they’re still elementary children.”