How New Jersey Educators Are Addressing the Burning Issues of the New School YearPosted by Dr. Richard G. Bozza, NJASA Executive Director on 9/20/2023
Adam Clark of Advance Media for nj.com recently delved into the crucial issues poised to define New Jersey's new school year in his compelling article, "5 Burning Questions that Will Define N.J.'s New School Year." In this thought-provoking piece, drawing from perspectives shared by two Chief Education Officers, the director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, and the spokesperson for the New Jersey Education Association, Clark underscores enduring challenges in public education and spotlights issues that have confronted New Jersey schools throughout the pandemic and beyond. Let’s examine each of the five critical areas and the collaborative strategies that New Jersey educators employ to address these pressing questions.
Q1 - What happens when the teacher shortage gets worse?
The shortage of educators in New Jersey is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. An NJASA task force led Dr. David Aderhold, Chief Education Officer of the West-Windsor/Plainsboro Public Schools, and Dr. Suzanne McCotter, Dean of the School of Education at the College of New Jersey, released a comprehensive report earlier this year, along with a range of recommendations aimed at addressing this critical challenge. While some of these recommendations have found their way into legislative actions, there remains much work to be done. Advocating for competitive compensation packages and improved working conditions should be at the forefront of our efforts. Additionally, forging partnerships with local colleges and universities to develop teacher preparation programs tailored to New Jersey's unique needs is paramount. To bolster our educator workforce, we should also proactively mentor and support aspiring educators from as early as middle school, nurturing their interest in joining the profession. Removing recruitment obstacles through administrative and legislative actions continues to be a focus. Reinstating the Teacher of General Science and Teacher of the Handicapped endorsement for example can provide flexibility in instructor assignment and scheduling to meet student needs.
Q2 - How much uglier will the culture wars get?
In the complex landscape of education culture wars, New Jersey educators are rising to the challenge with a proactive approach that keeps the focus on quality education while addressing contentious issues constructively. Here's how they are navigating this terrain:
Open Dialogue and Transparency: New Jersey educators are creating opportunities for open dialogue with parents, community members, and school boards. They're making sure parents feel heard, addressing concerns transparently, and regularly communicating about curriculum decisions to build trust and reduce misunderstandings.
Education and Information Sharing: To combat misinformation, educators are providing parents with accurate information about school curriculum. They're actively dispelling myths and explaining the curriculum while sharing resources and reading materials to help parents understand educational content, especially on sensitive topics like sex education and LGBTQ+ issues.
Professional Development: Investment in professional development is equipping educators with the skills and knowledge to thoughtfully address controversial topics. Training also focuses on creating inclusive and respectful classroom environments that celebrate diversity.
Community Engagement: Community events, workshops, and forums serve as platforms for constructive conversations and dispelling misconceptions. Collaborations with local organizations and leaders are bridging gaps and promoting understanding within the community.
Legal and Policy Support: Educators ensure they are well-versed in local and state laws related to curriculum and parental rights. They advocate for policies that protect educator autonomy while respecting parental rights and concerns.
Media Literacy Education: Media literacy is now integrated into the curriculum, helping students critically analyze news sources and navigate information effectively, indirectly addressing some of the issues fueling culture wars.
Strengthening Relationships: Despite external pressures, educators continue to prioritize strong relationships with parents, finding common ground and emphasizing shared goals, such as student well-being and education. They highlight the positive contributions of parents and community members to the educational process.
Political Awareness and Advocacy: Educators stay informed about political developments impacting education, engage with elected officials, and advocate for policies that support a balanced and inclusive curriculum.
Resilience and Focus: While addressing culture wars can be emotionally draining, educators understand the importance of maintaining a focus on quality education. They encourage mutual support among colleagues and prioritize self-care to remain resilient in the face of challenges.
While the culture wars may persist, New Jersey educators are committed to playing a pivotal role in promoting constructive discussions and ensuring that the primary focus remains on the well-being and education of all students.
Q3 - Are students making up enough ground from COVID-era learning loss?
In New Jersey, educators are facing the critical challenge of addressing learning loss, and they're taking a multifaceted approach to help students get back on track.
First, they're creating Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) tailored to each student's unique needs. These plans pinpoint areas of weakness and outline targeted interventions, with input from specialized educators, counselors, and support staff.
Educators are also forming collaborative teacher teams within schools and districts. Through professional learning communities (PLCs) and workshops, they're sharing successful teaching strategies, exchanging ideas, and learning from each other's experiences.
To provide additional support for students, they're expanding after-school programs, enrichment activities, and extended learning opportunities. These initiatives are designed to target specific academic needs, offering tutoring, homework assistance, and engaging educational activities.
Maintaining open and proactive communication with parents is another key aspect. Educators keep parents informed about their child's progress and areas of improvement, organizing parent-teacher conferences, workshops, and information sessions to involve parents in the learning process.
Data-driven assessments are being used to monitor students' progress continuously and identify areas where additional support is needed. The results guide decisions about adjusting teaching methods, modifying curriculum, or offering targeted interventions.
Mentoring and peer support play a vital role in helping struggling students. They're paired with mentors or tutors who provide one-on-one assistance and encouragement, fostering a sense of responsibility and leadership within the school community.
To prevent further learning loss during extended breaks, educators are developing and promoting summer learning programs. These programs focus on both academic enrichment and recreational activities, allowing students to catch up on missed content.
Collaborating with local community organizations, libraries, and businesses is another strategy. These partnerships provide resources and expertise to support student learning, creating a network of support that extends beyond the school walls.
Flexible teaching strategies and differentiation techniques are embraced in the classroom. Educators adapt instruction to students' skill levels and learning styles, ensuring that no one is left behind.
New Jersey educators invest in ongoing professional development, focusing on addressing learning loss and supporting struggling students. They stay up to date with research-based methods and tools to effectively remediate and accelerate learning.
By adopting these comprehensive strategies, New Jersey educators are making substantial progress in addressing learning loss, ensuring that every student can reach their full potential. This collaborative effort is not only bridging learning gaps but also strengthening the overall education system in the state.
Q4 - Are schools better prepared to tackle the mental health crisis?
Prioritizing students' mental health is of utmost importance. Prominent figures like NJASA Past President Tony Trongone and leaders of other state organizations are actively involved in the New Jersey Statewide Student Support Services (NJ4S) Advisory Taskforce, providing practical input from the field on expanded student mental health services. Many county associations are doing exemplary work in this area. The Monmouth County Schools Partnership for Wellness (MCSPW) provides one example.
As educators in New Jersey, we foster supportive and empathetic classroom environments. Training to recognize signs of distress and connecting students with available mental health resources is crucial. Promoting the new mental health support centers in New Jersey's schools and communities is an opportunity to help students access the assistance they need.
Q5 - Will a new school safety initiative work?
NJASA leaders across the state acknowledge the ongoing challenge of maintaining secure and safe school environments. Chief Education Officers Dr. Mary Jane Garibay (Colts Neck Schools) and Dr. Charles Sampson (Freehold Regional Schools) led a task force that explored school safety and student security, issuing a report with recommendations earlier this year. Many of these recommendations are now part of New Jersey legislative proposals. As educators, we must actively participate in the state's latest school safety initiatives. This includes organizing newly required threat assessment teams and ensuring their preparedness in identifying and addressing potential risks. By nurturing a positive school culture that values empathy and conflict resolution, we can contribute to safer learning environments. Regular training exercises and drills tailored to New Jersey's unique needs are essential for preparedness.
In summary, as educators in New Jersey, we hold a unique position in addressing these challenges within our state. Through collaboration, advocacy, and an unwavering commitment to the well-being and education of our students, we can wield a significant impact and ensure the success of New Jersey's education system. Together, we can navigate these burning questions and pave the way for a brighter educational future in the Garden State.
Prioritizing School Safety and Security in New Jersey SchoolsPosted by Dr. Richard G. Bozza, NJASA Executive Director on 6/29/2023
The unanimous acceptance of the NJASA School Safety & Security Report at the recent NJASA Executive Committee meeting is a significant step towards ensuring the well-being of students, staff, and faculty in New Jersey schools. This report, spearheaded by Dr. MaryJane Garibay and Dr. Charles B. Sampson, sheds light on crucial findings and recommendations that demand our immediate attention and action.
One of the key findings highlighted in the report is the disparate access to specific school security measures across different school districts in New Jersey. This inequity in access not only undermines the safety and security of students but also perpetuates the sense of inequality among communities. It is imperative that we address this issue head-on and strive for a standardized level of security measures that are accessible to all schools, regardless of their geographical location or socioeconomic status.
The report also emphasizes that safety and security are the top priorities for Chief School Administrators. This finding reflects the deep concern and commitment of educational leaders in New Jersey to protect the well-being of their students and staff. It is crucial that we provide them with the necessary support and resources to address these concerns effectively. Enhancing training programs and providing ongoing professional development opportunities for school personnel in safety and security should be a top priority.
Another important recommendation put forth by the report is the need for a comprehensive and exhaustive guide to replace the 2015 NJDOE School Security Task Force report. As threats and challenges evolve, it is vital that our strategies and protocols remain up to date and adaptable. By providing schools with an updated guide, we can ensure that they have the necessary tools and knowledge to navigate the complex landscape of school safety and security effectively.
Furthermore, the report underscores the need for legislative support in terms of infrastructure and personnel upgrades for school safety and security. NJASA recognizes the importance of advocating for resources at the legislative level. Adequate funding for school security measures and staffing is crucial to ensure that schools can implement the recommended safety protocols effectively. We call on policymakers and legislators to prioritize the allocation of resources to address this urgent need.
In conclusion, the NJASA School Safety & Security Report serves as a wake-up call for all stakeholders involved in education in New Jersey. It highlights the pressing issues that require our immediate attention and collaboration. As a society, we have a moral obligation to provide safe and secure learning environments for our children. It is our responsibility to act swiftly and decisively to implement the recommendations of this report and ensure that no student or educator lives in fear within the walls of their school. Let us come together, prioritize the safety and security of our educational institutions, and build a brighter future for the students of New Jersey.
Harnessing the Power of Technology in Education: Insights from TECHSPO®Posted by Dr. Richard G. Bozza, NJASA Executive Director on 3/8/2023
I recently had the privilege of attending TECHSPO®, the annual conference on educational technology organized by NJASA. The conference was a testament to the dedication of New Jersey’s educational leaders to provide their students with a high-quality education and stay at the forefront of innovation in Education.
Nearly 2,000 participants, including educators, administrators, and technology experts gathered at TECHSPO® to learn about the latest advancements in technology and how they can be applied in the classroom. The conference offered inspiring keynote speeches, informative breakout sessions, and a display of products and services aimed at supporting school leaders and their students.
Attendees learned about various tools such as online learning platforms, digital textbooks, and interactive whiteboards, which can enhance the student's learning experience. The conference also covered the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in education, including ChatGPT. AI has the potential to transform the way students learn and teachers teach by providing personalized and real-time responses to student inquiries, analyzing student performance data, and automating routine tasks like grading. These tools make learning more interactive and meaningful for students.
The conference highlighted the positive impact of technology on education and provided attendees with practical ideas and approaches for integrating technology into the classroom. However, to fully harness the power of technology, educational leaders must ensure that their schools have the necessary infrastructure and policies in place and provide teachers with the training and support they need to effectively use these technologies.
TECHSPO® was once again an extraordinarily successful and informative conference that offered educational leaders valuable insights and ideas on integrating technology into their classrooms. By embracing technology and leveraging its benefits, these leaders are working towards equipping their students with the skills they need to succeed in today’s rapidly changing world.
A shoutout to Conference Chairmen Glenn Robbins and Scott Rocco and the members of NJASA’s Technology Committee, as well as the dedicated NJASA staff who made the conference a success. Be sure to include attending TECHSPO® in your schedule for January 24 – 26, 2024 at Harrah’s Conference Center in Atlantic City for a unique and rewarding professional development experience.
I look forward to seeing you at NJASA's 41st Spring Leadership Conference at Caesar’s Hotel and Conference Center from May 17 – 19 where the program theme is Lifting Leadership...Knowledge, Relationships and Empowerment!
TEAM — Together Everyone Achieves More!Posted by Dr. Richard G. Bozza, NJASA Executive Director on 1/3/2023
2022 Student Assessment Results – No Surprises and Recent Improvement!
Educators have shown little surprise learning of the state and national outcomes for 2022 student assessments compared with those of pre-pandemic years. Presentation and discussion of the 2022 NJ Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA) results at the December New Jersey State Board of Education meeting acknowledged that proficiency rates fell back to 2015 levels, after gradual increases from 2015 to 2019. Scores fell more steeply for lower-performing students than for higher-performing ones and the gaps in achievement among subgroups remain large.
Students unable to attend school in-person, many without information and communications technology to participate in remote instruction; homes with little or no adult supervision due to parent work schedules; and siblings competing for technology time are factors explaining a great deal of the lack of academic progress when compared to pre-pandemic levels. As New Jersey State Board of Education member and White Plains Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Joseph Ricca observed during discussion of the recently released 2022 NJSLA results: “Politicians will be quick to grab these numbers, and they’ll be quick to point their fingers at whatever the blame it is that they feel will suit them. The reality is what we’re seeing here is the outcomes of the human struggle. Behind the poor test results are scores of pandemic-related deaths, lost jobs, and other hardships that kept students from thriving — and that schools had no control over. There was a tremendous amount of challenge and trauma that took place all throughout the state of New Jersey and the world.”
We know that students throughout the nation have suffered historic learning setbacks with math and reading scores falling to their lowest levels since before the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as The Nation’s Report Card, also support this observation. While the New Jersey NAEP results remained above the national average in both English and Mathematics for 4th and 8th graders in 2022, the average scores dipped from the 2019 administration except for grade 8 reading. The state’s national ranking fell in 2022 from 2019 in all but grade 8 reading as well.
Politicians and some education advocates have reacted with great intensity in recent weeks to these newly released results. What seems to be missing in the conversation is the recognition of the effective work accomplished by all New Jersey educators throughout the pandemic and the work currently being accomplished to bolster student learning. Support for the diligence of educators and their work is garnered in NWEA Research that signal students are continuing to rebound from the pandemic. A new research brief for 7 million students in grades 3-8 in 25,000 schools who took MAP Growth reading and mathematics assessments between 2020–21 and fall 2022 shows the gap between achievement in math and reading this fall relative to pre-pandemic levels continues to narrow from spring 2021, when pandemic-related achievement gaps were at their widest.
Key Findings Include:
- Students continued to rebound in reading and math in fall 2022, but rebounding hasn’t occurred evenly across school years and summers
- Students are rebounding faster in math than reading, though learning gaps were and continue to be larger in math
- Summer slide in 2022 wasn’t as large as compared to pre-pandemic trends
- Student achievement remains lower than in a typical year and a full recovery is likely still several years away.
These are positive signs reflecting the effective work being accomplished in the classrooms across the state and nation. Still, much remains to be accomplished and a new initiative of Governor Phil Murphy seeks to include 5,000 individuals to serve as mentors, tutors, wraparound service coordinators, and to provide that additional support for students and educators. NJASA supports this major initiative to assist state educators in further improving student achievement and well-being.
I have always appreciated the acronym for TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More! Let’s put the divisive rhetoric aside and provide the resources and support that our professionals need to truly make a difference in bolstering achievement and closing the gaps among student groups!