MADISON, NJ - Mark Schwarz, School Superintendent, schooled the Council on his State of the School Address which he had presented to the public on June 4. He explained that upon arriving at the district one year ago, he found there were huge variations in the opinions of the quality of the Madison school system. In response, he created this address, a data-rich presentation, which is contained in its entirety on the Madison public schools web site.
There are 2,532 students in the school system. Schwarz stated that Madison produces students who are highly competitive in acceptance to and performance in college. Madison High School graduates 99.1% of its students and over 90% of its graduates attend higher education. Many of its students attend the most selective colleges in the country. 89% of high school sophomores and juniors take the SAT every year and its average score places Madison students at 22nd in the state of New Jersey.
Further, he analyzed the results of the PARCC testing, which he opined “were given over way too many days but gives accurate data.” He stated that the testing showed that while the student body performs well overall, some groups of students struggle to reach grade level proficiency standards. He pointed to gaps in performance between the disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students. He stated that the “greatest determinant of academic success is a parent’s economic status,” and that the educator’s goal is to “level the playing field.” His takeaway is that the schools should do more to help the disadvantaged students to better support struggling students and that “we have plans in place to continually improve outcomes for all students, including those with unique needs.”
Schwarz gave a rundown of the rating systems that attempt to evaluate and compare schools. The NJDOE study shows Madison outperforming some of its more competitive peers. New Jersey Monthly in 2016 ranked Madison 32nd. Among other rating services are Niche, which is based on student-answered surveys, Schooldigger.com, which is based on PARCC scores, and U.S. New & World Report which did not rank Madison. That publication explained that Madison’s proficiency rates of economically disadvantaged students did not meet the minimum threshold that its formula required of the district. He emphasized that these ratings, except those by the NJDOE, are published by media companies and are most interested in increasing readership.
Schwarz also explained student surveys, which, as a whole, reflect a positive attitude toward the education students were receiving in Madison. Students opined that the schools need to improve on handling bullying and addressing the needs of students who have emotional issues. The surveys indicate that students like science simulations, field trips, debates, student choice in course material, STEM, video and technical classes, and graphic design.
Upon questioning by Council members, Schwarz stated that major fiscal concerns include staff health benefits, sustaining an all-day kindergarten, sustaining the technology of the school system, and upgrading school facilities. He agreed to come back in the Fall to advise the Council on school safety.