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Taking steps forward

Board of ed hears NJSLA scores, calls for unity in light of mid-East war

Emily Liu/The Sun
The community came out in droves to share their experiences with hate at the Nov. 14 board meeting.

After an in-depth review and discussion earlier this month, Cherry Hill Public Schools Board of Education member Gina Winters gave her colleagues an update on New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA) 2023 spring test results at its meeting on Nov. 14.

She noted that the district overall saw improvements in scores from 2022 to ’23, but added that “two data points does not make a trend,” as board member Dr. Benjamin Rood would say.

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Winters went over the data in terms of subject and grade level and also shared what the district can do now to help each level improve.

For English and Language Arts (ELA), Winters explained that more students scored higher and fewer scored lower this year – especially in the third and fifth grades – but they are also struggling with reading informational texts. To support them, the administration recommended more collaboration with science and social studies teachers.

All grades did better than last year in math, except geometry. The board will talk more about that curriculum at its Nov. 28 meeting.

Although the district performed better than the state average, science continues to be a subject with which students struggle, Winters noted. With the exception of Sharp Elementary School – where 56% of participants got a proficient score – all other schools had below 50% proficiency in the subject.

To address low scores at the elementary level, the board and district administration recommended using the grant-funded, high-impact tutoring program to help kids in grades K to 6 over 12 weeks, three times a week, in 30-minute sessions.

“It’s something that’s been shown to really have a great impact for accelerated student learning, and trying to get them where they need to be,” said Winters.

The district is also considering the addition of more basic skills teachers at the elementary level, since only seven of the of 12 elementary schools have one and some teachers serve multiple schools.

At the middle-school level, the district wants to add an ELA support teacher so each middle school has one. For now, two are shared by three schools.

At the high-school level, the board talked about implementing a once-monthly professional development day to allow for more collaboration between East and West departmentally, starting in January. The full presentation is available for viewing at the district’s YouTube page and the slides can be found on the district site under Academics.

During public comments, Muslim and Jewish members of the community again spoke out about recent hate incidents in the area. A Palestinian woman shared how she was made to feel that Palestinian lives didn’t matter in the aftermath of the terrorist group Hamas’ attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s ongoing military response in the Gaza Strip.

Other speakers called for the district to take a stance against antisemitism and called for an acknowledgement of the rise in Islamophobic incidents around the country.

Cherry Hill East senior Nour el-Dein Raja shared how he could not focus in class work following the Hamas attack, and how he – along with his Palestinian, Muslim and Jewish friends – did not feel safe in school. Others simply called for people to come together.

“We need to teach our children to love each other,” said rabbi and longtime Cherry Hill resident Avi Ben Nun. “That’s where the budget needs to go, not antisemitism, not Islamophobia. This is not the discussion here. It’s the education of the kids, how to love, how to grow.”

Nun called for bringing parents and kids together to teach kids not to hate each other. His sentiments were echoed by Nicholas Gaudio Jr., who called everyone at the meeting his “family.”

“We’re in a situation where our family doesn’t agree with each other here,” he noted. “It’s obvious. You heard it from the whole room tonight. And bringing everyone together – not just Muslims, not just Jews – I’m Catholic. Do I have any standing here?”

“I do, because this is my family, and I don’t want to see my family fight.”

The next board of education meeting is Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 6:30 p.m.


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