With summer winding down and September just around the corner, parents and children alike turn their thoughts to the coming school year (often with opposing levels of excitement), and they are joined, of course, by the Palmyra school district, which has been busy setting the wheels back in motion.
The Sun sat down with Superintendent Brian McBride to discuss this process, what district administrators have been up to over the summer and what parents can expect in the 2019-2020 school year.
While teachers enjoy a well-deserved vacation, McBride says there is plenty of work that continues through the summer months in the district’s main offices. Student data collected during the school year is analyzed to determine placement, curriculums are updated, schedules are built, IEP (individualized education plan) meetings take place for children enrolled in special education programs and building maintenance is kicked into high gear by the custodial staff.
In the days preceding the district’s starting date of Sept. 5, they will be using one of their in-service days to collaborate with nearby districts Riverton and Cinnaminson for joint professional development sessions. The three districts will be sharing the cost of bringing in a guest speaker to talk about innovation in education.
“It helps keep our team energized and think differently towards education. There’s a lot of sharing between the three districts in terms of different resources over the course of the year so we’re hoping that opens up the opportunity for more professional development,” said McBride.
This year, according to the superintendent, he will be working with the board to introduce SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, time-bound) language to established district goals.
One of these new SMART goals will be to have 50 percent of English and language arts students be proficient by district benchmark assessments utilizing the OnCourse System by June.
“We’ve identified areas we’re not strong in, and my belief is that if we use SMART goals, they are very direct, specific, we can measure them, they are written into our professional development plans and teacher plans, the teachers will know what they are driving towards. It narrows our focus,” said McBride.
QUEST (questioning, understanding, exploring, solving, thinking) is aprogram being introduced this year at Charles Street involving setting up a maker-space environment where children take the theory of what they are learning and put it into practice.
“It’s to expand their problem-solving skills in real-world scenarios, thinking as they work in teams to work through scenarios,” said McBride.
One of the most significant structural changes the district is undergoing this year is the introduction of a standalone middle school, a project that has continued through the summer. Sixth-graders are moving up from Charles Street Elementary and joining seventh- and eighth-graders on the second floor of the high school, which, starting this year, will exclusively serve those three grades.
Kenneth Holloway has taken on the role of principal for the new middle school, however he will retain his responsibilities as chief academic performance officer.
The incoming sixth- and seventh-grade students coming from Charles Street were recently invited to what will be their new building in September for orientation. Upper-classman student council members acted as ambassadors for the newcomers, introducing them to their new surroundings.
“Sometimes students prefer to hear from a peer versus an adult,” said McBride.
Safety remains a top priority for the district, and there are a number of security upgrades that will be introduced this year. In accordance with Alyssa’s Law, each school in the district will be equipped with a panic alarm for use in emergency situations. According to McBride, a portion of the cost of the installations will be covered by a safety and security grant from the county freeholders office.
“It’s a challenge because every school in New Jersey is doing it so contractors are busy and resources are thin. It’s just a matter of getting a time slot so we can get those contractors here,” said McBride.
The grant has also allowed the district to make upgrades to security cameras at Delaware Avenue School and to install a vestibule system at the high school. With the new vestibule system, visitors will need to check in and be identified before the doors to the building are remotely unlocked. Similar vestibule systems are being planned for other district buildings and will be built into the next budget.
The superintendent sees student performance in math and language arts as areas he would like to see improvements in throughout the district this year. Although they have seen some growth in these areas in the past, McBride says it hasn’t been enough when it comes to state assessment growth indicators.
“We need to do a better job,” said McBride.
To address this issue, district officials have been working to align their instructional models to support learning in these areas, especially at the early levels. Early intervention at the elementary school level will be implemented to close gaps in reading and math and additional staff have been brought in to reinforce basic skills and supplemental instruction.