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Sparta Board of Education Discusses Progress Toward District Goals

Credits: Jennifer Dericks

SPARTA, NJ- At the December Sparta Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Dennis Tobin and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Dr  Melissa Varley presented  the district's progress toward meeting the district goals, as required by members of the board.

District  goals were approved  September 30, in a process that began  August 7 at the Annual Board Retreat for Board Goals, facilitated by Al Annunziatat, Field Service Representative for NJ School Boards Association.  Once the district goals are approved the administrators develop the action plan,  providing a framework  by which the progress of meeting the district goals can be measured.  

The first goal deals with the topic of student performance, specifically as it relates to test scores and attendance.  Varley presented initial student assessment data, as the board requested, though it seem to lead to more confusion than clarity.  For many of the categories, the data represents benchmark tests administered at the beginning of the year as part of the new state mandates for curriculum, assessments and  staff evaluation systems.  The standards in the benchmark assessments will be revisited at the end of the year to determine student growth.   Curriculum committee chairwoman Kim Yeomans had many questions about the assessments and the meaning of the results.

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Overall, most students fell within the 'proficient' category for math and reading.  The writing assessment for Alpine students showed predictably high 'partially proficient' rates due to the limited exposure primary students have had to writing in the previous year.  For example, first grate had 98% partially proficient rate because there is little writing experience in the half day kindergarten program in their prior year.  "Expectation is a significant increase in scores at the end of the year," according to Varley.

Efforts to improve attendance rates at the high school have been primarily punitive, with a reintroduction of lunch and Saturday detentions for excessive tardiness and absences.  At the elementary level, where student attendance is at the discretion of the family, the school can only emphasize the importance of attendance.  While Sparta does not historically have an attendance problem, it has become a focus for districts across the state with increasing mandates from Trenton.   Last year the Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf introduced the revised the state report card.  This included a "college readiness" standard that is solely based on attendance rates for elementary students.  Attendance plays an integral part for secondary students' college readiness ranking as well.

The second goal is specific to special education, addressing both student achievement and parental outreach.  Special Education Parent Advisory committees have been established and there are planned meetings with these parents and administrators throughout the year.  The next such meeting is planned for Feb at the Sussex County Educational Services Commission offices in Sparta.

Goal number three talks about communication. Both Tobin and Varley have held several parent forums.  Tobin has had a Superintendent's forum and several meetings of the Executive PTO council.    Varley has overseen two presentations about the new mandated curriculum changes.  One program was for elementary parents that also included information about the Balanced Literacy and Spelling programs introduced this year.  A second meeting for middle and high school parents discussed the implications of the new curriculum and assessment standards for the secondary student.  Varley also hosted an Assistant Superintendent forum.  Additional such meetings are scheduled throughout the year.

Focus on facilities is the fourth goal.  There have been many discussions in the operations and finance committee meetings with Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Keith Gourley.  This is a topic that will be addressed in depth as part of the larger budget discussion in the upcoming months.

Finally, the board discusses the future with the fifth goal; "Develop three year Long Range District Strategic Plan for years 2014-17."  The board president Frank Favichia directed each committee to discuss the process they would like to see followed in developing the Long Range District Strategic Plan.  At the Dec meeting each committee gave its recommendation as to how to proceed.  Karen Scott reported that the personnel committee recommended using NJ School Board Association professionals to develop the framework.  Richard Bladek reported  the curriculum committee suggested an alternate to NJSBA be explored.  Favichia reported that the operation committee agreed to have him "take a stab" at creating the strategic plan.  Additional discussion was that the finance committee had the same opinion as Operations.  Doug Mc Keernan cautioned that they be mindful that "one board cannot encumber future boards," when developing this plan. 

Progress toward district goals will be discussed each quarter, though many issues will be addressed throughout the year, as is warranted.  The goals can be found on the district webpage

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