Superintendent John Alfieri Progress Report: 'Livingston Schools Focus on All the Things That are Right'

Credits: Jackie Schatell
John B. Alfieri at a Dec. 11 Board of Education Meeting Credits: Jackie Shatell

LIVINGSTON, NJ – Last June, John Alfieri was appointed superintendent of the Livingston School District by the Board of Education, filling the role formerly held by Dr. Brad Draeger, who retired last June.

Alfieri, previously superintendent of the Vernon school district, is now moving into his ninth month as Livingston’s superintendent. Wednesday afternoon, talked with Alfieri to learn how his tenure has gone so far and what his future plans are for the school system.

 “The school year is going really well,” said Alfieri. “I feel really honored to be a part of this wonderful school system. I’ve never seen a place that focuses all its energies and all of its time and all of its resources solely on academic learning, as well as success on the field, success in the library and success in the world. Livingston schools focus on all the things that are right.”

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New Workshop Meetings with the BOE Provide Open Dialogue

In September, Alfieri implemented a new workshop meeting, in addition to the school district’s traditional Board of Education meetings. Alfieri said the workshops were put in place to engage issues facing the school system in an open dialogue. No votes are passed during the workshop meetings

When asked how the workshop meetings have gone so far, Alfieri said, “The meetings have gone very well. We’ve only had a few opportunities for workshop meetings. But in the few meetings we’ve had, the board feels their role has been more fulfilling. We appreciate hearing from them because we normally don’t have much time to have direct communication with the board. Some of the public have said they’re glad to see how well we work [with the board].”

Common Core Implementation Adds Content and Deeper Meaning to Lessons

In attempt to improve the New Jersey education system, the State Department of Education put into motion a new education initiative, Common Core State Standards (CCSS), for school districts across the state.

Alfieri explained the benefits of CCSS. “The idea of the Common Core is to bring more depth to fewer topics,” said Alfieri. “They say the United States curriculum is a mile wide, but an inch deep. What we’re trying to do in Livingston, as well as in other districts in New Jersey, is teach content with a much deeper meaning. We’re trying to ask more of the ‘why questions,’ not just the ‘recall questions.’ We’re trying to move up the taxonomy in terms of critical thinking and having students produce knowledge, rather than just consume facts. That’s what the Common Core is designed to do. All of our curricula reflect the Common Core.”

Alfieri gave a simplified example of the type of learning the Common Core attempts to initiate. “…Questions that ask, not just 2+1=3, but why is 2+1=3. Mathematically speaking why can’t it be 4?”

The Livingston school system is also working toward purchasing new math series’, connected text books and ancillary items, for many grades.

“We’re looking for more than your basic math book,” said Alfieri. “[We want] a text book that ties together with all the good work currently being done in the classroom. We’re looking for a math series that allows our teachers to teach with creativity abound, yet still gives a foundation to work off of—that foundation being a textbook or ancillary item. [The new math series] will help parents to help their children. When the student comes home at night there will be more than just a worksheet staring at them. I also want the text series we purchase to have an online component for students who need more basic instruction and also for students who can expand their thoughts and be pushed a little further.”

A new math series has already been chosen for grades 6-8 and will be implemented next year. A new math series for grades K-5 will put in place for the 15-16 school year.

Safety in Schools Being Addressed

Early in Alfieri’s tenure, he hired Matthew DeLaRosa as Director of School Safety, Energy Management and Strategic Construction Planning and Operations. Alfieri said DeLaRosa’s initial job was to assess all that Livingston has in place before making any decisions. He added that this process is still ongoing.

Despite the aforementioned learning curve, Alfieri spoke about several projects DeLaRosa is currently working toward setting up, including fixing traffic problems, strengthening the relationship between the police and the school district, and increasing safety measures at elementary school recesses.

“Matt’s been very busy dealing with traffic safety. For example—the Mt. Pleasant complex—there’s definitely a traffic issue there. I asked Matt to make that issue one of his foremost priorities. Matt is the type of guy that will sink his teeth into any project. I told him to take his time and do this well.”

“Another thing he’s done is build an incredible relationship with the Livingston police department. I feel right now we have a relationship that is different from the one we had just a few months ago. Now, the Livingston Police Department is really our partner on an everyday basis in dealing with issues that come up at the schools.”

“We’re also focusing on some of the elementary schools in terms of lunch recess safety. We’re positioning aides and staff to make sure that no child is unattended in any way. We’re working to make sure that on the playground there are very clear boundaries. We’re working to create a safer more organized recess—but to not take away the freedom that the children deserve.”

According to Alfieri, the security systems inside the separate schools have not been entirely changed, but rather adjusted and enhanced.We haven’t really put any new tangible materials in place. What we’ve done is we’ve tightened up what we already have. And, we’ve tightened up process and procedure. We’ve done some faculty training and we’ve tried to be more responsive to the balance between safety and normalcy.”

At a September Board of Education Meeting, Alfieri said the Livingston School system comes down to three words: “People, people, people.”

Livingston’s superintendent said that he feels those words are truer now than when he spoke them seven months ago. “What I’ve seen so far amazes me. I’ve seen teachers who will stop at nothing to give their students the best educational opportunities. I’ve seen parents who want to participate in the educational process in so many ways to benefit the kids. And, I’ve met amazing students who want to make the most out of the opportunity that’s presented to them [at Livingston schools]. So far, I’ve been really proud of the students. And, I’m really proud of the teachers and their response to their students. The teachers want to do the best they can for the students at every turn.”

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