Home Palmyra News Lighthouse Award brings ‘great pride’ to Palmyra schools

Lighthouse Award brings ‘great pride’ to Palmyra schools

The district was one of five that earned the distinction

Courtesy of the Palmyra Public School District
“The Palmyra School District takes great pride in its designation as a New Jersey Lighthouse School District, acknowledging our standing among the top schools in the state of New Jersey,” interim Schools Superintendent Mark Pease said of the award.

School officials in Palmyra could not help but feel a sense of pride as the district earned a New Jersey Department of Education’s (NJDOE) Lighthouse Award for 2023.

The award recognizes school districts and charter schools in the state who illuminate the path toward educational improvement and equitable outcomes, according to the NJDOE website. The Palmyra district – with its 984 students – earned the award for increasing equity in advanced placement (AP) and international baccalaureate (IB) enrollment.

The NJDOE launched the Lighthouse Award in 2017 to recognize the advances made by state school districts and charter schools. The selection process takes place every two years. Palmyra was one of five districts to earn the prize.

“The Palmyra school district takes great pride in its designation as a New Jersey Lighthouse School District, acknowledging our standing among the top schools in the state of New Jersey,” interim school Superintendent Mark Pease said.

“We are dedicated to hard work, innovative teaching methods and fostering an inclusive and equitable learning environment,” he added. “Our commitment to these principles remains a central focus of our district’s goals and initiatives.”

Pease noted that his district shares its accomplishment with the Palmyra community and those in Riverton and Beverly, who he maintained “play an integral role in the success of the Palmyra school district.”

Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan and other dignitaries from the NJDOE visited the pre-K to 12 district on Jan. 23 to present the award to district officials. In her speech, Allen-McMillan noted, “You can truly sense the collective investment that you all are making in this school district, which is representative of the town.”

Pease acknowledged that Palmyra’s success did not happen overnight and takes years of building. He thanked his predecessor, Brian McBride, and also recognized the cooperation of the board of education, Mayor Gina Tait, Council President Tim Howard and Councilman and former board member John Liebe. 

Palmyra High Principal Lisa Sabo spoke of an overwhelming sense of pride in the school and the community.

In its narrative for the award, the district noted that Palmyra’s board of ed prioritized equity as a five-year strategic goal and partnered with Equal Opportunity Schools, an organization that works with New Jersey local education associations to increase equitable enrollment in rigorous courses.

Through that partnership, the district solicited feedback from students and educators with a focus on improving enrollment in advanced courses, in addition to establishing open lines of communication with families. The district’s administrative team includes a new coordinator of accountability and data analysis.

“This role plays an integral part in dissecting the current district data and disseminating that data to teachers and staff members to drive instructional decisions in the classroom,” a district statement said.

Equal Opportunity Schools gave the district a targeted participation rate for minority students based on the outreach list it provided to the district, which was in turn based on the survey results. It proposed enrollment of 30 African American students, 18 Hispanics and eight white students. Based on spring 2023 enrollment requests, the district has 34 African American students, 23 Hispanic and 11 white students who’ve requested AP or dual credit courses next year.

“We have met our goals designed by Equal Opportunity Schools in all populations,” the district stated.

After the close of the award ceremony at Palmyra High, members of the NJDOE team took a tour of a few classrooms, guided by Olivia Ottenbreit, the school board’s student representative.

Allen-McMillan took the opportunity in each room to ask students, “What can I do for you?” “What do you think your school, your state needs?”

Answers ranged from cafeteria space to better desks to more bathroom access, and a suggestion for four-day school weeks so students would have more reflection time.

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