Friday, August 29, 2008

Back to School

Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. We do the best to enjoy the time we have left knowing it is about to end. It’s also a time to make a school year’s resolution. Time to resolve that this year will be better than the last. Time to make goals and set standards. Time to set the stage for a great academic year.

Below are some of the best ideas I’ve heard, most of them from community leaders.

Student/Parent Surveys
At the end of the academic year, send each student home with two surveys, one to be completed by the student and the other to be completed by a parent/guardian. Ideally, most surveys would be completed online to avoid the time and expense of data entry.

The surveys, covering all aspects of the school experience, would provide valuable feedback and direction for the administration and faculty.

Raising Graduation Requirements
Each school district has the discretion to determine its own graduation requirements. Matawan-Aberdeen uses the statutory minimum. Different ideas for graduation requirements range from requiring students to take a minimum number of advanced classes to developing a masterpiece. The state’s minimalist standards should not be our standards.

Developing Special Education Programs
Each year, we send scores of children to other districts at a cost of millions of dollars per year. All these children would be better served closer to home but we lack the capability.

We should develop a special education center that not only allows us to educate our own children but also attracts students from other areas. Such a center would not only save us money but could generate revenue as well. We would start the program by selecting a single specialty and slowly expand from there.

Maximizing Data Capture
With nearly 4,000 students, we have a tremendous opportunity to collect wide-ranging data and identify trends over a substantial timeline. What’s the impact of tutoring programs? Which instructors consistently outperform their peers? What’s the relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement?

Creating such an application would be remarkably easy. Simply build a database that matches each student to his grades, his classes, his extra curricular, and his surveys. Then, over time, create a series of reports that can be reviewed by the administration.

Partner with the Chamber of Commerce
Last year, Dana Egreczky of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce gave a shocking presentation on the correlation between high school academics and later success (such as students who only take Algebra I and Geometry have a 23% chance of getting a bachelor’s degree). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has provided much of its research and recommendations online at www.LearnDoEarn.org. By working closely with the Chamber of Commerce, we can better prepare our students for the challenges ahead.

Community Involvement
This has been a perennial problem and there’s no easy solution. The powers that be have both the organization and the incentive to maintain the status quo. Most people have long stopped believing their votes matter. The schools have not improved. Spending keeps rising. And we haven’t had candidates offering a vision and roadmap for a better future.

Several people have already contacted me to offer their support. I believe far more people are out there, ready to answer a call to arms. Later this year, I hope to initiate a grassroots campaign. We will be organized, we will have a message, and we will have candidates prepared to fight and win on our behalf.

The school year is about to begin. May each year be better than the last.
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14 comments:

mat ave blake said...

Interesting ideas. I have not always shared your view on the school system in the past, but these are good ideas.

I like the correlation between after school activities and athletics and academic achievement, the survey idea for parent and students to help the powers that be get a feel for what people are thinking, and your call for more community involvement. We used to have that special education school you speak of years ago and it is no more.

Interesting.......

Anonymous said...

The minimum should never be our standard! All our children deserve much more. They all deserve the chance to exceed any pre-concieved limitations others put on them, and this only can be done if we raise the bar across the district.

How is a child supposed to learn material that was never presented and taught to them?

U C Brother & KennyCB said...

Nice subject. As for the school board and both the Matawan and Aberdeen town leadership it might be good to start a community committee on a voluntary basis and one that would not be appointed or shall we say not be so hand selected to finally allow independent input in exacting contrast to Norm's puppets serving in Aberdeen.except in Aberdeen of course.

Of course we elect people to be representatives of the community but how much really gets put up for consideration from the everyday taxpayer.

Our road program in Aberdeen has been the only major investment and that cost is eaten away by fees and engineering studies in reality. The fact that some oversight is always needed, the costs to us as taxpayers is excessive and all too questionable on many fronts. It is the roads that deserve the attention not the firms doing business with the towns that seem to be the first and foremost consideration annually. It is called a cash-cow by Norm. Right Norm?

We have seen time after time the failures and betrayals by our public officials and their handlers as these connections between big business, developers, politicians, engineering firms, accounting firms fail miserably and betray the public trust.

These questionable and cemented relationships that seem to have no true accounting or cost analysis for such services or for any actual work is never really questioned or disclosed. It is just approved as presented by the same people these entities contribute, bribe or entertain in many forms. Most representatives never even open their mouths on any of these subjects or dare to ever ask a question or an independent opinion. In Aberdeen for the most part that is forbidden. Right Norm?

It may be politics as usual but it is also far too costly to the everyday taxpayer/ It is time for us to rise up and say "I'm mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore". Whether it be the Aberdeener or a door to door flier that shows the truth to every homeowner of what is really going on. Norm would not like that. Right Norm?

There is much to unfold that Norm will not like very soon.

Enjoy the little time you have left Norm.

Have a Norman Kauff Day.

Rise up against the machine and take back your school board and town leadership. Otherwise just sit there and keep doing nothing.

The truth shall set us free. Right Norm?

THE TRUTH IS COMING NORM.

KimsMom said...

Nice post Kenny and UC. It is good that some of us are joining forces. Aberdeener once again has opened a discussion that makes us all think about our everyday situations and how we can contribute to all that affects us.

mrsb said...

I agree with many of your ideas. I do not, however, agree with the idea of a special education center.

I think this would only allow the district to shuffle more kids into a "specialized" center, keeping more of them out of the mainstream classes with their peers. Some of the kids that are out of district really need very specialized care. I know of some that just have some behavior issues who would absolutely be able to function in their mainstream local schools if the staff of the schools was just more well educated on kids with disabilities and how to deal with them.

I say forget a center and spend the money sending all school personnel to intensive training on how to educate special needs kids.

Invest in trained para-professionals to assist teachers and act as aids. Hire more special education teachers to co-teach in classes so that the district can have more in-class support situations.

There are some kids that will always need very specialized care. There are already schools in the area set up for this. Trying to start a new one and lure districts into sending their kids there, hoping to make money off of the small percentage that might -- I don't think that is financially the best thing to do.

Getting the kids that can function in a mainstream class back into the district by making our district more special ed user friendly -- that is the way to achieve something that will last.

Let's put the money into training the teachers that we have, and filling open teaching slots with teachers that can teach all kinds of kids.

NSectionJoe said...

This district has not dealt with the needs of special needs children and their parents for far too long. It is time we facilitated their needs and sent only those most in need and those who of course require very specialized instruction or safety requirements to schools out of district. The costs incurred for far too long by sending most of our students out of district could have started and maintained an in district educational program for these students at a considerable cost savings to the taxpayers.

Do not get me wrong the costs should not be the only consideration but this districts leadership did not handle the situation in house, they sent it away. These students require and should have all they need But sending the situation away was a far greater costs to many parents,students and taxpayers on many fronts.

Perhaps Dr. O'Malley has a few ideas on this subject.

Anonymous said...

What's with the Township's special COAH affordable housung meeting tonight? Are Norm's people looking for away to build the to Centex projects that they said they were against before the election? Anyone know?

Aberdeener said...

COAH is not on the township council meeting agenda but it may be used to backdoor approval for the Centex projects.

Several municipalities are fighting against the new COAH regulations. I don't understand why we don't simply join the fight and wait until the courts render a final verdict.

Aberdeener said...

Regarding out-of-district special ed programs, our district is plainly using them as a dumping grounds for our neediest children.

At the last BOE meeting, Dr. O'Malley said that, to his knowledge, once a child is placed in an out-of-district program, he is never moved to another program the subsequent year.

Does anyone believe every child has been ideally situated every year or that a child's needs don't ever change?

The more kids we keep in-district, the more we'll be able to hold our administration accountable for ALL of our children.

Anonymous said...

If you read the online BOE minutes available for just this past year you can see that at least 6 special Ed children had a change in placement during the year.

Aberdeener said...

Anonymous,

In response to your comment, I've only found two cases involving a change in placement. In one case, the placement was terminated by the instructional facility and we needed to find the student a new facility.

The other case is because the student was not developing properly. I'm willing to give 10 to 1 odds that the new placement was upon the advice of the instructional facility and not by our district's initiative. Any takers?

Nov. 19, 2007
Student demonstrates defiant behaviors toward staff and administration and was placed at Huntowski Academy in January 2007. This placement was terminated by Huntowski on October 24, 2007. Student requires a more therapeutic setting to address these behaviors.

Aug. 27, 2007
Student’s current placement is no longer appropriate to meet his educational and behavioral needs. Student has made little if any progress in both areas over the past year.

mrsb said...

I agree that the out-of-district schools are used as a dumping ground more often than necessary.

My fear is that if a in-district "center" is created, instead of just pushing to mainstream as many kids as possible, that even more kids will be shuffled off into a special ed setting, because the cost is no longer as prohibitive as it was to send them out.

For example, if a child starts showing behavioral problems in the mainstream class, and the teacher can't handle him/her, instead of going through all the steps to correct the problem, it might be easier to just send them off to the in-district center.

Aberdeener said...

MrsB,

You make an excellent point. What's to stop a teacher or administration from labeling a difficult student?

Do objective criteria exist or is it an inherently subjective review process?

mrsb said...

I'm not sure what the "official" line is, but by law, a child is to be educated in the "least restrictive environment". The district gets to choose what that is for each individual child.

There seems to be a checklist of procedures to go through - getting an aid for the student, behavior plans, consults with the district psychologist.

I have seen in the past parents who felt so frustrated with how their child was treated, they practically begged for out of district placements. I know of one child who is currently out of district who's parents were so disgusted with his treatment in the mainstream class room, they completely skipped trying to do a special ed class and went straight to insisting on the placement out-of-district.

Please don't get me wrong -- there are a lot of dedicated, wonderful teachers and administrators doing a great job every year with the special needs group. There are many teachers who really want to do right by these kids, but just need the extra training and knowledge of what to do with them.

Any training does need to be mandatory, though, as there are still some teachers in the district who don't think they should have to deal with "those" kids. They've made that very clear to both the parents and to the children.