Madison School Board Has Full Meeting of PARCC Assessment, STEM Facilities and Calendar

Director of Curriculum Diane Schulthes describes the PARC report. Credits: Keill
William Bannister of Parette Somjen Architects presents STEM space plans Credits: Keill

MADISON, NJ – An extensive agenda covered a raft of issues at the Tuesday, Feb. 7, Board of Education meeting.

Director of Curriculum Diane Schulthes presented the PARCC and College Board Assessment Report.  Her graphics showed comparisons between Madison and other District I schools in Morris County. They include Long Hill Township, Randolph, Morris Plains and West Morris Regional among others. Both math and english arts are showing high scores and greater participation on the high school level, she said.

The three elementary schools vary by the demographics of the neighborhood and whether there are disadvantaged or disabled students enrolled. Resources for parents are being introduced, along with a new curriculum in science for 2017-18.

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Schulthes also noted that the number of high school students taking the SAT has decreased, as more students opt for ACT, which has shown an increase in scores and in the number of students. The areas of strength she defined as excelling in literacy and math. Students were also given a New Jersey Biology Competency Test, with the AP results showing an increase in the number of tests and number of students.

Action steps will include a broader scope, beginning in Kindergarten, with trimester benchmarks. A digital text, Learning A to Z will be used.  “This can be used at home,” she said, “ and the parents can read to the children and the students can use microphones for school.  We can see patterns.”

Another presentation involved facilities projects at Madison Junior School and High School. William Bannister of Parette Somjen Architects showed a blueprint of the MJS library that will be converted to two spaces, but can still be used together “Well make them cohesive, but they can function together,” he said. Two doors will give access. A smaller computer lab will be at one end.  A diagram shows space at the far end of the room for a class, but other areas for sitting and studying.

For the STEM lab, tables can be pushed to one side when space is needed for experiments or projects. He said the timeline would include bid opening on March 7, with a contract given out later in March. The space would be ready to be occupied by the start of school the next year.

Bonnister pointed out storage areas and layout of an orchestra room and chorus room. An addition would have an overhead door for storage, two supporting spaces, practice rooms and elevators. That project would start in June and be completed by the end of 2017. Renovated space would be finished by the fall of 2018.  The high ceilings will help acoustics, he said, and there will be a separate sound transition.

Buildings and Grounds Chair Debra Coen said the furniture shown in the drawings are not part of the project and would be ordered separately.  Diagrams of the projects will be on the district’s website.  

The board voted to approve the district calendar for 2017-18 after a lengthy discussion.  Interim Superintendent Richard Noonan said one of the calendars he had proposed at a previous meeting wasn’t “going to fly” because of a proposed spring break in March. The latest calendar has a spring break the second week in April, school ending on June 15 and three in-service days.

“I offered the earlier calendars as a framework for discussion,” Noonan said, “and met last week with the teachers. There’s never a perfect calendar and there are always upsides and downsides.”  Noonan said he feels strongly that school should not go on beyond the middle of June as classes are less productive. There was some concern by board members about staff training the last week in August. Noonan said one problem is finding enough blocks of time to work with the staff. “I hope we’ll take action tonight,” he said, “although we’ll never reach complete agreement. We’re adopting a calendar one year at a time, so we won’t be setting a precedent.” Board member Leslie Lajewski said that was one of her concerns. The board agreed on one change in the proposed calendar, which would include an early dismissal on Friday, May 25.

David Steketee of Ferndale Road said his son is a first grader at Torey J and he had spent some time in the cafeteria and observed the menu. “Everything is reheated frozen food,’” he said.  “The food is cooked at 10:30 a.m. and sits for two hours in warming trays. Vegetables are served raw and are left practically untouched. Nearly all of the students drink chocolate milk and a lot of the kids have ice cream with lunch every day.” The high cholesterol choices are unhealthy, he said. Steketee said there are no kitchens in the elementary schools and added of the food, “It’s not horrible, but it’s not good either.”

Steketee noted that roasted vegetables are tastier than raw ones and that frozen food isn’t cheap. He said there’s considerable waste, with half of the prepared food not eaten. “We’re paying double what fresh food would cost,” he said.

Business Administrator Gary Lane said schools that had their own in-house preparation were running into the red and that the focus should be on education, not meal planning.

Still, Steketee described a TED Talks topic on nutrition. Board President Lisa Ellis asked for more information and that the topic of healthier school lunches has come up before.

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