Tuesday, August 26, 2008

High Hopes, Low Bar

Superintendent O’Malley has launched an ambitious and exemplary initiative to “produce high achieving students.” The program covers all aspects of the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District from education, to staff training and retention, to financial controls and facility maintenance. The best news of all is that the program is already a success. Already, you ask? How can that be? You see, in our school district, success is measured by effort, not outcome. As far as our school district is concerned, the program is already a success simply because we tried.

The superintendent’s initiative includes six goals, supported by an array of “action steps” to accomplish its objectives. The six goals are:

  1. To improve student achievement for all students through high expectations, frequent monitoring of student progress and staff development activities with specific focus on standardized tests
  2. To provide a vigorous comprehensive and fully articulated preK-12 curriculum designed to produce high achieving students, who are both responsible citizens and life-long learners that challenge and engages all students to reach academic excellence
  3. To obtain, retain and support a superior staff that values creativity, innovation, professional growth and development, and the individuality of students
  4. To continue to examine the provision of special education services within the least restrictive environment, seek to improve the communication with parents, the quality of the instructional delivery systems to students with special needs and providing consistent procedures that are in compliance with IDEA
  5. To ensure quality management, financial integrity, meaningful accountability and an effective operating infrastructure
  6. To provide safe, clean and efficient facilities to successfully implement our instructional programs
The goals sound terrific but haven’t these been our goals all along? Look at the first goal – to improve student achievement for all students through high expectations. Is this a new goal? Were we previously using low expectations?

I tried to pigeonhole Dr. O’Malley into defining high expectations. His initial response was to see each child reach his potential. Not good enough. I wanted to know what we, as a district, expected of our students as a group. I wanted numbers. Just like we grade our students, I wanted to grade our district.

Dr. O’Malley finally conceded that our district’s goal, at least in the short term, is to see our students score 50% on the state assessment exams. In fairness, even that modest goal may prove difficult. A third of our seniors are enrolled in remedial courses because they failed the HSPA exams.

Still, is this the vision we’re communicating to our staff and students? Is this how we define “high expectations”? Scoring 50% on a state exam?

Bear in mind, Dr. O’Malley only confessed this goal after repeated questioning; it is not part of the program being distributed among the staff. In fact, the initiative only has two measurable “action steps” – reducing both out-of-district placement and energy consumption by 10%.

Goals without measurable objectives are nothing more than good intentions. Every prior administration could have presented the same goals and claimed success. Seven of our nine BOE members have been re-elected at least once on a platform of “look what I’ve done.” This may be the first time our goals are fully articulated but they’re certainly not new.

I questioned Dr. O’Malley regarding out-of-district placement for special needs students. From the board agenda, it appears that, without exception, every special needs student is being reassigned to the same school he attended last year. Does the administration monitor their progress? Yes, he answered. Could he cite a single instance of a student whose progress was unsatisfactory and was therefore assigned to a different school this year? No. Over 70 students are being placed out-of-district at an annual cost around $4 million and not one child was advised he may do better in a different institution.

Is this what they mean by helping our children reach their potential? Dump them out-of-district and pay the bills on time?

I argued with a member of the high school guidance department that our students weren’t being sufficiently challenged. Fewer than 10% of juniors and seniors passed an AP exam last year. The school staff member responded that it was perfectly reasonable to assume only a minority of students could handle an AP course. After overcoming my shock and dismay, I asked how our students could be expected to handle a college course after they graduated if they couldn’t handle a single AP course during their senior year. The response – AP courses are more difficult than courses at Brookdale Community College.

Is this what we mean by “[engaging] all students to reach academic excellence”?

Will our school district ever have the courage to design a standard whereby we can measure ourselves? My definition of excellence for our school district is a 90% SAT participation rate with an average 1700 score and 80% of graduates have passed at least one AP course.

Matthew Bratsch, the new student representative on the school board (and an active student advocate) reported to the board he recently read Tuesday’s With Morrie as part of Matawan-Aberdeen’s summer reading list for seniors. His friends from New Brunswick read the same book four years ago as part of their 8th grade reading list.

High expectations, indeed. >>> Read more!


Anonymous said...

The accolades put on O'Malley by this board of education for what he has done are unfounded. As aberdeener reported this is nothing new, only put in a fancy presentation. These are basic goals that every district strives for and could have been written for any school district. Where are the measurable goals? Only two and they are subjective. Way to be held accountable. This district is in trouble, as test scores declined again. No one is held accountable as salaries continue to rise. If everyone is doing a great job, why the decline. This system is seriously broken, yet few show up to complain. You better wake up people, time is running out on our children. Nice try aberdeener, but you need more support.

Anonymous said...

Compared to Quinn & the Barza gang who raised taxes, lowered expectations, gave away the keys to the teaacher's union, and ran this district into the ground, if O'Mally did absolutely nothing for one year, he still would be better than Quinn!

Anonymous said...

obviously anon has an axe to grind with the last super. I did not have the same experience. Don't let you anger paint O'Malley as a visionary- I think you will be setting yourself up for dissappointment.

Anonymous said...

People crack me up. We all have these great ideas about what should be done or what we dont like.

You know what? I cannot remember the last time there were more that 2 candidates for the same seat on the BOE. In fact, Kenny last year in Matawan ran UNOPPOSED!!!! BOE meetings have 100 empty chairs - I have been there with plenty of leg room. Parent conferences are rarely attended after the first one - I have my choice of appointment the 2nd and 3rd time around.

That staff member is correct. There are students in those AP classes that do not belong in there. And you know what can get you in sometimes - A parent letter or complaint. God forbid someone is told little Johnny cannot handle the work. AP courses earn you a COLLEGE credit. My kid's friend took a few of those classes and the workload is unreal, then the state AP board has them take an exam based on a year's work in early MAY. It is not realistic.

I am not saying things are perfect around here in the least. But do not let us think that high taxes pay for good grades. On one hand people think we pay high taxes = our grades on tests should be great. But when someone opens up the socio-economic talk as I have seen on here = they are blasted. you cannot have it both ways. THERE ARE OTHER FACTORS and levels of parenting here in this town that are not seen in other towns. Do not let your high taxes or perfectly manicured lawns disguise truths. THINGS COULD IMPROVE = I can agree with that.

But it is a joint effort. Go back 2 supers ago if you want. Since then the staff in MARSD has seen a huge roll over in that time - teacher and principal. Yet we all try to blame others for some of our shortcomings. Get 12 and 13 olds out of Strathmore Shopping center at 930 on a school night or stop having a kid play on 4 different sports teams in hopes of a future payday, check your kid's homework or know when EVERY test and quiz is due - hell know their teacher's names before we talk about who is to blame. But this is common not only in Mat- Ab.

I have lived here my whole life. The district has always been you get what you put in. It still seems to have those qualities. But if parents do not start to take responsibilities for their children - it is all MOOT.

Aberdeener - though I like your perserverance - those goals you listed are totally unrealistic in this day and age AT ANY SCHOOL of our size and stature. If you lived here a little longer you might have a better feeling for what I am saying - that is not meant as deregatory. But your high goals are admirable for your child and your right as a parent. Others goals for their kids are not that high.

I looked at that report card - and we are ahead of the state in most areas which is acceptable on many levels. There are definately places for improvement= Yes. I also looked at that AP stat - If 193 took the AP exam and 149 got a 3 or higher - that is not acceptable on some level? That is a state test for students who strive for betterment and you cannot use grade inflation for those results.

I just cannot sit here and kill a district that is very congruent to school districts nearby. If you take a look at Raritan HS, we are very similar. Heck, 151 took an AP exam and only 81 got a 3 or higher. And their taxes are high too.

But I am sure this different opinion will be blasted as I have seen on here before.... so........

Anonymous said...

Wait isn't this the Matawan-Aberdeen School District?

I have the solution to all of our problems.

Just turn the whole thing over to Norman Kauff then we could have real change and accountability.


Sorry I was dreaming, that would be a real

Aberdeener said...

A Different View,

Thank you for your comments and I agree the home environment is a very big part of the equation. However, I did want to make one small correction.

The state report card's numbers for AP classes are a bit misleading. A student taking multiple AP courses will count more than once. For example, if someone is taking AP Calculus and AP Chemistry, he'll be counted twice. Therefore, I had to use some inference by using the number of students enrolled in an AP course and the assumption that if a student passed one AP exam he was more likely to pass a second than a student taking only one exam.

Thanks again for your comments. I believe improving our schools and improving communication will also improve parental involvement.

Anonymous said...

A Different View,
I am a very concerned and active parent with my childerens' education. I do check their homework when it is assigned,(which is not often), test, and attend every parent teacher conference. I've attended some BOE meetings, and watched the rest on TV, even when I had to strain to hear them, because the sound quality was so poor.

What do you have to say about teachers who don't review work, unless a student raises their hand and says they are having a problem with a specific math example? What if a student doesn't realize they don't have the material 100%? The students only realize that on the exam. Then teachers who don't assign the children correct their test, because the teacher doesn't want to check it.

Why does the district have a homework policy that only cares if a student made an effort to do the homework, and not concerned if the homework was done incorrect? If you put a check on a kids homework, and tell the parent the child has a 100% homework grade, they are assuming the work was done correctly, and that is not necessarily the case. All it means is that the child handed in all their homework.

Yes, parents do need to be actively involved in their childerens education, but the school district also needs to implement policies that insist teachers be concerned if a child UNDERSTANDS all the information, not just covering the material and moving on. And administrators need to be held accountable and insist teachers are actively reviewing classwork and homework, making sure the material is understood, and not only concerned about effort. Understanding the material is what matters!

This district spent how much $$$ to find out why the kids are doing so poorly on standardized test? Make sure the teachers not only cover the material, but are more importantly concerned with students understanding the material. That is only done when a sufficient amount of homework is assigned and reviewed!

Anonymous said...

To different point of view-whew are you going to get blasted for telling the truth. to th mom that is not happy with homewrk and tests etc-talk to the teacher-you have that right and responsibility.

Anonymous said...

A Different View doesn't understand why we have opinions and ideas on what we don't like because we are the ones paying for it. You must be on the payroll if you can't kill this district. The performance has been dismal and continues to get worse. For those parents who do take responsibility for their children, we are demanding more. So tell your fellow employees, thanks to the aberdeener and people who crack you up, the spotlight is on you to show student improvement.

Anonymous said...

Well I was waiting for a malcontent. I said a few times things could improve. Why do I have to be on the payroll to not agree with people who CONSTANTLY kill this district.

To the other poster, it sounds like a personal problem that happened to you. My kids always have grades AND corrections on their homework/classwork - from the teacher or by my kid who corrected it aloud with classmates.

Read what I wrote again. I am not going to come out and say it but it is in my post. There are several factors and inconsistent parenting is just one of them. There are hundreds of great parents in this community but there are many other factors as why our district has shortcomings. I also wrote that we are similar to other communities of our size and stature.

Go to that website the Aberdeener gave the link to and backtrack to other districts and look for yourself. We are not that out of the ordinary. Though I do compliment those who aim high for their kids.

I will say it again - there are rarely more than 2 people for run for BOE and Kenney ran unopposed in Matawan in the last election and there are plenty of seats at BOE meetings as there are at town council meetings.

But please, just because I do not agree with you, does not mean I WORK FOR THE DISTRICT. I have lived here most of my life and would not want to move anywhere else. I am not totally happy with some aspects of our distrct but I wouldnt go as far as to label us a total failure just yet. I choose to fight and it starts IN MY HOME.

Anonymous said...

A different view has every right to defend yourself and your belief that this district is far from a lost cause on many topics and far more.

However the reality for many of us comes down to dollars and cents. Tens of millions of dollars over the years that did not go to educate students for the past ten years as 65% of our taxes directly connected went to pet projects of certain school board members and School superintendents, defending lawsuits from parents of special needs students because this school district did little to control such costs and instruct such students and their special needs within the district instead of controlling costs which over the years has been in the millions of dollars sent elsewhere from our taxes wrongly and counter to a districts message, legal fees paid back to parents of students who DARED to fight the district for that which the State DOE says their student deserves and is entitled to.

The above is just a short description of a small percentage of the problems and considerable costs placed on the taxpayers many of whom have no children who are also paying the price. Do not give me that "it takes a village" bull either as our superintendents have run wild with spending and little accountability. We have had superintendents who could not answer a simple question without a ten minute long circular answer that did not answer the question posed to them originally. It is called mumbojumbo and tell them anything that will have them go away thinking they just got answered.

Tens of millions of dollars spent on construction and more that was mishandled from the politically connected offices in Trenton to the connected contractors to the monies spent statewide that should have had hundreds of people indicted and serving prison sentences for robbing the taxpayers.

That is the reality of ours and many other districts in New Jersey. While our new district has a new superintendent that should shake things up around this district as it is deserving of a complete shake-up from top to bottom.

Years of the above examples and the overwhelming complacency and failed policies is the proof of what is needed so desperately and to ensure this districts taxpayers and students are finally properly and financially represented finally.

Anonymous said...

I happen to think that "A different point of view" guy is not in contradiction with n-section guy or anyone else on here, including me.

Many of us have seen our children be successful because they had great teachers and good support at home. Whether or not you accept Aberdeener's math and conclusions on the statistics, it is clear to most of us that the district has wasted millions of dollars on administration and feel-good programs, while foregoing basic classroom support.

Test scores are only one measurement of student success and they are used because they are a quantifiable measurement. Individually, we know how successful our children are, even if we paid more than we should because of Board and Administrative mismanagement.

I will criticize the Aberdeener on what seems to be a premise of his arguement - that only quantifiable measurements count. The world, let alone education, is not that simple. If it were, you would be able to solve all of our problems on an Excel spreadsheet. I appreciate what you are trying to accomplish, and you've created a great dialogue -- but things are not that simple. But, yes, we must strive for a better product from our school system.

Aberdeener said...

For those who share A Different View's perspective, I'd like to pose the following question.

Two teachers are equally qualified. One believes your child has the potential for greatness and wants to push him further. The other teacher believes your child is average and should find his own "comfort zone".

Which teacher would you want for your child?

Anonymous said...

Understand what I am saying. you have all answered me in some way. That the money has been mismanaged on some level.

Many arguements I hear and read say that "we pay high taxes - and our grades are not to my liking." We are agreeing that some of the money is misspent. But you cannot correlate taxes with grades. I have said I have lived here most of my life and this town has SEVERAL factors that make the grades on state tests what they are. SEVERAL factors that are congruent with others towns in this area of our size and stature.

As per the teacher question: My aunt was a teacher and she said something that I read on here before. You have to deal with 120 different personalities, family lives, ability levels, and educational levels in a MS or HS format. I would want the teacher who can realize my child's potential and challenge it and/or see what my child's limitations are and build curriculum that can show success on other levels. The world is not full or nuclear physicists. But if my last child who is young cannot live up to my oldest, I would want the teacher to be able to educate him in a manner that helps build future success.

That is the kicker. Now to be fair - are there teachers who need a refresher course or two after 20 years to keep up with the times and today's child ? YES. But if teaching were that easy, there would not be such a shortage.

I read a saying = Educate the child you have NOW. Not the child you wish you had or the child of 10 years ago -

and we all know times have changed which led me to the conclusions in my FIRST POST.

Anonymous said...

A Different View,
I wonder what profession a person would have who starts off a sentence with "Understand what I am saying". We will get back to that later.
You want the truth. You can't handle the truth. High taxes and perfectly manicured lawns could disquise truths if we don't expose them.
According to the district website as of 1/1/2007 our superintendent made $143,660.It's now at over $170,000. Deputy Super made $132,668.00. It's now over $150,000. Business Administrator made $106,590.00. It's now over $120,000. Administrators and teachers over 4%. I could go on and on. Our elected board members have been on a spending spree the last year. Shouldn't we expect better test results?
A Different View, as your salaries and our taxes continue to rise why can't we expect better results on state tests. If the curriculum is in place (lot of money spent here), teachers trained and cover material(lot of money spent here), students are tested and graded on material(more money), administrators make sure all of the above is done(a lot more money), they would do fine on these low expectation tests(score 50%).
More money should equal better results, but your unions don't see it that way, so why would I expect you to.
This is not rocket science, but then again you are not a rocket scientist, are you?

Anonymous said...

Wow. I seem to have struck a chord. I am sorry that my first sentence offended you since it was not grammatically correct.

I did say that there is a mismanagement of funds. Those numbers you gave in pay raises from the top down does not make sense. I agree with you wholeheartedly. That is where the school portion of the money increase is going.

I also said that I agree there is ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT. I am not on a platform to praise teachers, administrators, or the district. I was merely responding to the Aberdeener's blog - and in my opinion that scores are based on many factors. There are many truths that no one wants to face when they think of this town.

But all of that money is being spent when no one is at the BOE meetings and no one wants to run for school board to make changes. These are just a few of the many factors that make up a distrcts achievement.

Anonymous said...

Another sector heard from but the only one that made any sense was Nsectionjoe as he handled all aspects with the absolute truth.

I met him some time ago and asked him to run for the school board. His explanation that he has been asked and is considering it for one reason and one reason only.

They do not want a man like Joe on the school board.

For that reason alone I will vote for him and work hard to let everyone else know that he will upset the status quo and he would no doubt piss people off.

One other reason I would vote for him would be to see Barbato and Zavorskas lose their minds when he takes the oath as they will know their party is over. They think Kenny upset them imagine what would happen if he was able to ask the questions and point out to BARZA the truth.

By just running on the truth they lose. Who is next to run for reelection to the school board in Aberdeen?

Tell them people are talking to Joe and a few others who will not be welcome by BARZA. There needs to be a new slate, A slate built on the truth and students first ONLY.

Let the comments fly.

Middlesex Jim

Anonymous said...

Different Point of View,
Why are you comparing our district to Raritan HS? Yes they are one of our neighboring towns, but so are Holmdel and Marlboro, two towns that greatly out shine out MARDS.

You should be comparing our district to other districts of the SAME socio-economic make up, use the DFG comparison. Take a look at our own school district's presentation back in March 2008, of our schools test scores. According to scores among OUR DFG (District Factor Group), in most grades, our district is dead last or near the bottom in all subjects tested (Math, LA, and Science).

We are also dead last on SAT scores (Math, Verbal, and Essay) among towns of the SAME socio-econimic make up as ours.

What is hopeful, are the 5th grade Math scores. MARSD 5th graders in math, are the top score in our DFG!!! So now these are the children from the ENTIRE district, ALL of Matawan, and ALL of Aberdeen, ALL of the children, with ALL of the parents and their parenting styles; Black, White, Brown, Asian, rich and poor. Why are these students able to achieve what most other grades in our district can not. The only reasonable answer to that is the school they are in...
Lloyd Road

Apparently, the principal holds all those in her school to higher standards! If teachers teach a higher standard, and expect the children to succeed, you get a much better outcome.

The Middle School and High School have so many class levels per subject, kids are put into classes that teachers know they will ace, rather than tougher classes that force the kids to work harder. If we don't teach a higher more challenging level of material, so many our kids will never reach their full potential.

Anonymous said...

Please do not say our 5th grade test scores are good! Our test scores across the district on the state assesment are in the toilet. We can thank our former Superintendent and the Bazar crew for this status.

Anonymous said...

Once again - I never said things were "roses". I do not like the level of our scores either. You can put Marlboro and Holmdel in our conversation - sociio economics. Money is king and always has been.

I accept your argument about the DFG. I would like to see those towns that we match up with. I think our town to be special in many ways. But your point is taken.

I will also agree with your assessment with Lloyd Rd. school. Same principal for years. The HS and MS have been merry go rounds. Take a look back and see. I think the HS has had about 8 in the last 13 years. That is a major problem. It is hard to manage always looking over your shoulder.

From there my preivous posts make my arguement.

Anonymous said...

meant to say CAN NOT put Marlboro and Holmdel in our conversation

Anonymous said...

Look at meI went to Matawan and gradeated.and cause i want my kids to have a good edication u teachers should get medical benifits and pension up the wasu for ever.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That was interesting. I am not an educator though. But if that gives you material for jokes on a very seriuos matter - go ahead. Show another reason why our town has very important issues that are left unresolved.

Anonymous said...

The towns that are in the same DFG group as Matawan/Aberdeen are Monroe, N. Brunswick, Ocean Township, Old Bridge, S.Plainfield and Pt. Pleasant Boro.

Anonymous said...

In response to the opinions and concerns raised by some individuals concerning the last BOE election, specifically the concern that only one individual ran for Matawan Borough...
Yes, Chuck Kenny ran unopposed and I offer you a very simple explanation. Chuck Kenny ran unopposed because many of us appreciate the time, talent, energy, dedication and commitment Chuck has made to our community, our children and our schools. We considered ourselves very fortunate that Chuck was willing to return for a second term.
And, as concerened parents, we appreciate the great job that Chuck has done on the BOE and we stand behind him 100%.
With this in mind, I would like to take a moment to thank the parents that serve our interests and serve as members of the MARSD BOE. I appreciate the tremendous sacfice, the time, energy and commitment each BOE member extends to our community, at the expense of their own personal and family time. Our BOE representatives are elected to represent our interests and many dedicate their time and talents to ensure that our children get the quality education our district should/could provide. Once again, I thank those BOE members that make this commitment, to serve their communities, as representatives of an extended school community. Personally, I am very thankful that our voice is heard in Matawan in that our elected representatives remember to serve as our collective voice. My wish, for our extended school community, is that someday, all nine elected BOE members take actions that clearly indicate their commitment to serve this community as our collective voice, for the benefit of all our children. With all the concerns we have as a school community, there is no room for narrow mindedness, personal agendas or self-serving interests. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all nine BOE members could work together, find some common ground, and work for the common good of all? A BOE that works cohesively for the benefit of our children and our community...this is what we should be concerned about as a community.
Matawan Mom with an Opinion :)

Aberdeener said...

Matawan Mom,

I share your appreciation and gratitude for those who selflessly serve our community on the school board. However, I believe we disagree on one point.

I'm not interested in conformity on the school board. I would happily debate anyone who's first and foremost interest is our children's welfare. And I would fight to defeat any official who does not put our children first.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the dialog and the opportunity to openly discuss and debate issues that are important to our community. With this in mind, I'd like to make one point perfectly clear. I, too, am not looking for a homogenous group. I appreciate different opinions, different points of view and different styles and approaches. I believe our interests are better served when we have this type of forum. What I want to see from our school board is a group that can work together for the benefit our our children and our community. As I have witnesed all too often, some appear to serve a different good than the one we expect. I am troubled by those that pander and plunder the public trust for their own gain or insatiable ego.
Matawan Mom with an opinion

Aberdeener said...

Matawan Mom,

My apologies for suggesting otherwise. May all our arguments be for the sake of doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...


No apology necessary. I wasn't the least bit offended. And, I agree with your statement. It is important that those we elect to represent our community do the right thing...plain & simple.
Thank you for providing this great resource/outlet for the community!

Matawan Mom