Mussoline committed to following through on educational shift

District’s 21st-century learning overhaul proceeds full steam ahead.

Haddonfield School District Superintendent Larry Mussoline has been on the job for 18 months, and in that time, has overseen the plotting of a course toward a 21st-century educational mindset. Mussoline is looking forward to collaborating with fellow administrators on additional changes in 2020 and for the 2020-21 school year.

Haddonfield School District Superintendent Larry Mussoline has been on the job 18 months, and while the changes which his schools must undergo to meet 21st-century learning models are turning out to be a long-term project, he’s nonetheless confident that plans in place will ultimately bear fruit. 

During a Dec. 6 conversation with the Sun, Mussoline offered his take on a wide variety of issues facing the district as it approaches 2020 and back end of this school year, leading into the 2020-21 academic session.

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With seeds already planted in the middle school with its “Bulldawg Block,” Mussoline spoke further about proposed changes in scheduling at Haddonfield Memorial High School as well as alterations in lesson planning to be introduced at the elementary-school level. 

“Schools are social organizations, so there’s no definitive answers. In high school, what we’re looking at is time, and using time differently,” Mussoline explained. 

“In a longer lunch period – some kids could go home, some kids could go into the community and have lunch, some kids could stick around campus and ask a teacher for five or 10 minutes of their time. They could have lunch whenever, so it staggers itself.”

Mussoline stated the new scheduling model would likely result in the losses of academic and lab time in the sciences. However, he believes that extending lunch to include extra discussion and provide extra breathing space would help students deal with their own awareness of their own thought processes.  

Mussoline additionally revealed that after two separate schedule tests during the fall, he’s received a majority of positive feedback from students and teachers.

“I think it’s on track, but it’s still not definite as of us talking today,” he offered, when pressed on a timetable for finalizing any changes.  

“Learning is a function of thought. Going through seven or eight periods a day, 42 minutes each … I think the whole concept of a treadmill, or a mouse wheel, everyday … why can’t we wake it up a little bit?”

A shake-up in academic policy for better health and well-being is also on the table: the idea of altering the traditional class valedictorian/salutatorian structure and opening it up to a college-oriented cum laude system. 

“(It) actually would recognize more people at commencement instead of two. We think that might take some pressure down, for social and emotional reasons. It’s like a pyramid. I think by doing this, you’re catching more people,” Mussoline related. 

Mussoline has collected input from a range of sources within HMHS, and the idea was sent to the board’s policy committee in mid-December. He expected that further discussion and action may come during a session in January, where the public will be able to comment.

Concurrent to final academic standing, the district head revealed that there are also internal discussions about altering its grading standards, through a single question: is our secondary grading system beneficial to our students? 

“Changing the numbers doesn’t impact standards. And if anyone says that, it would be the wrong thing to say. We’re asking this question and researching because we have some thoughts,” Mussoline added. 

Centralized planning for the core years and core subjects across all three of the district’s elementary schools are also set to become a reality. 

“Our core teachers – who teach third, fourth and fifth grade – do not plan together. So one of the first things I saw when I talked to the principals is this need for common planning time,” Mussoline explained. 

“For us to get into the core – to learn reading and writing and math and science – we have to change extra-curricular subjects, like Spanish. They’ll still get it, but the time frame will change. We’ll see what acrimony that will bring, but again, the theory of knowledge is common planning time for all the core teachers.”

Of course, certain corrections have to be made to steer the ship correctly and consistently with state-mandated guidelines.

Mussoline and his fellow administrators are taking cues from an eyebrow-raising 2019 QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum) report. Released in spring, it gave the district a no-holds barred view of what needs to be improved, based upon five key factors which the state Department of Education has deemed necessary for a school district to operate successfully.

“We got hammered, and this is the hand we were dealt. We’re almost through correcting things it told us to change. The most massive QSAC change is in curriculum writing. None of it was done properly, so we failed, (scored) like a 40-something (on a scale of 100). Now that we have Chuck (Assistant Superintendent Klaus), Colleen (Chief Academic Officer Murray) and myself looking at these systems, we’ll have to see,” he said. 

“For us to dig out on (proper curriculum writing), it’ll likely be a two-year dig, not a one-year dig. We can’t take the scores we got and think we’re going to turn around on a dime, but you’re going to see a great improvement. Mid-February is the next review.”

On the hot-button issue of the board finding ways of generating revenue streams by charging for use of athletic fields, Mussoline talked up the long view. He urged the public to understand that there are multiple costs to facilities, equipment and manpower to consider and that any charge ought not to be seen as a fee, but a small share to cover what taxpayers already pay for. 

“I think what this board is trying to do, is to set a future board up and set the community up to have these streams coming in,” he stated. 

In light of public participation and complaint across several public meetings this fall on the subject of school security, Mussoline said that approval for – and installation of – vestibules in each building is an ongoing process. 

“This board is doing a lot for security, and it’s on the top of our list, top of my list,” he intoned. 

The board itself will hit the ground running with two new members: November addition Lynn Howard-Hoag and Linda Baker Hochgertel, who will be welcomed at the board’s reorganization meeting on Jan. 2. Once that is formalized, the board will count five women among its nine-member body. 

While unwilling to bargain in the public eye or make any statement which could trigger either side, Mussoline concluded by stating that negotiations with the teachers’ union are expected to begin in January, in anticipation of the union contract’s expiration in June. 


Former radio broadcaster, hockey writer, Current: main beat reporter for Haddonfield, Cherry Hill and points beyond.
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