SOMERSET, NJ – The Franklin Township school board approved a new principal for Franklin Park School and heard reports on student safety and academic achievement at last night’s board meeting. 

Rebekah Solomon, who attended Franklin Park School as a student, will take over for former principal Purvi Shah after the board unanimously voted in favor of her appointment. 

“I remember being a student at Franklin Park Elementary School and look forward to encouraging students and, specifically, saying to them that I was once in their shoes and looking forward to bringing them to a moment of full circle and that they can do anything because anything is possible,” Solomon said.

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The district is required by the state to submit biannual reports tracking student safety and academic achievement, which the board heard last night. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic altering the final months of the school year, administrators said these reports reflect some of those struggles. 

State-mandated testing of students in grades three through 10, for example, was canceled last spring so the schools lack results tracking student achievement through those tests. But Daniel Loughran, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, presented local benchmark data to the board. 

“Since we had the state testing canceled, we thought it would be good to share with you our local assessment,” he said. 

The data tracks student progress by defining their performance using one of four categories: above grade level, on grade level, one grade level below, and two or more grade levels below. 

The data presented last night tracks test results from the Fall to Winter months, and the goal of the district is to increase the number of students moving up to grade level or above over time. 

Students in grades one through five saw improvement in both math and English with students continually moving up in proficiency level over the school year. While the math scores grew at a slower rate than English, the upward trend continued across both subject areas and extended into the results presented from grades six through eight. 

The district’s Director of School Management and Student Advocacy Orvyl Wilson said that the data on school safety presented last night was impacted by the facilities shut down at the end of the school year due to COVID-19. The normal full-year report covers September through June. 

“The shutdown, in effect, shortened the period so it became in essence September to March 13,” Wilson said. 

At Franklin High School there were a total of 1166 discipline referrals handed out to students between September and March of last year, with 745 of those referrals coming from students cutting class, which Wilson identified as an area of concern.

“There were a couple of areas that caused us some concern, one of them being cutting class,” he said. “The 24 incidents of CDS (controlled dangerous substance) in the first period and 24 in the second period was also cause for some concern.” 

The district tracks referrals across two periods during the school year, typically reporting the first half of the year in the winter and then looking at the whole year combined. 

What caused Wilson to be concerned about students cutting class was an 85% increase in the behavior in the second period of the year, rising from 260 incidents to 485. Other types of referrals, including CDS, disruption and physical aggression, remained relatively flat across the year. 

At the middle schools, each type of referral saw marked increases, with the notable exception of bus disturbances, which dropped significantly due at least in part to district programs aimed at curbing bad behavior on busses, Wilson said. 

“We instituted in December a bus academy for students who had bus behavior issues … and while I can’t say that the reason there is only six is because of the bus academy, I would like to believe that the bus academies had a significant role,” he said. 

The more than 100 % increase in referrals for being late to class or school from the first period to the second, Wilson attributes to the colder weather in the winter and the high rate of students who take the bus at the middle school level. 

“Samson G. Smith is our middle school campus and most of the students who attend that campus are bussed. In January when it’s cold and students have a hard time getting out to the bus stop and they miss the bus, that accounts for a lot of that lateness,” he said.

The trend of decreasing bus disturbance referrals as the year progressed continued at the elementary school level, where the bus academy program was also put in place last year. These referrals fell by 20 %, dropping from 114 to 91 in the first period. However, it’s unclear how these numbers would stack up if the school year hadn’t been cut short. 

Wilson encouraged the board to remember that at all levels of the district, the vast majority of students never receive disciplinary referrals. Only 7%, 31%, and 18% of students account for all referrals at the elementary, middle and high school levels, respectively. 

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