MIDDLETOWN, NJ - Middletown parents and other community members got to observe two guest presentations, during the Aug 28th Middletown Township Board of Education meeting, during which they also got to learn about numerous recent happenings and news updates from throughout the school district. 

The first presentation discussed an educational research project, and the second presentation was about nutrition and fitness promotion projects by the school district school nutrition vendor. 

The research project was authored by Stephany Hesslein, an educational doctorate degree student at Monnmouth University who works as an educational technology specialist at Bayview and Fairview Elementary Schools, with the goal of measuring the potential benefits of a recent educational initiative by the district called MTPS SPARK, in which students gained greater freedom and support to determine their own learning goals.  MTPS SPARK stands for Middletown Township Public Schools Student Pathways to Autonomy, Relevance and Knowledge.

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Hesslein’s project entailed a survey which asked questions of student & teachers both before and after the MTPS SPARK initiative about student engagement with school; such as how they thought about school success and failure, whether they were stressed out by school, if they feared bad grades, and so on – and also on how much opportunity for personalized learning they believed they were getting, she said.  

Hesslein said her survey found that since the initiative; fear of failure, student stress, and fear of bad grades has been going down by about 20 percent – and that student & teacher perceptions of having access to personalized learning opportunities have also meaningfully improved.

“After implementing these personalized learning practices, there was a statistically significant increase (meaning improvement) in both of those things,” she said. 

Hesslein also said that her observations from the survey indicated that success should not only be defined by academic achievement alone, but also by whether students find passion and purpose and are able to explore creatively, since those things are also essential for real world student success. 

“I think it’s important that we continue to encompass a broader view of success,” she said. “As educators, it’s very easy to define success by something that’s quantifiable, like academic achievement.”

After Hesslein presented her research project, Jessica Ritz, a representative from Whitson’s, the school district’s student nutrition vendor, gave a presentation about the relationships her company has formed with the community over the past year – with one example being Chef Phil Defina of Char Steakhouse in Red Bank hosting cooking lessons to Middletown’s High School home economics students for a day and presenting a short-rib and other dishes to students that day. 

For the upcoming school year, Whitson’s plans to introduce new food items, such as “Bowl it Over” tortilla bowl dishes, Acai Berry Bowls, an overnight oats breakfast option which has oats and yogurt as a base and allows student to pick from numerous fruit or other toppings they wish to complete the meal; and a “Simply Boxed” menu with full meals in a box; such as a pizza pack, mighty egg pack, and Belgian Waffle Bites, among other items. 

“It’s a whole meal ready to go,” Ritz said. 

Marjorie Caruso, the District’s Curriculum and Instruction Director, then announced new rules for AP students, saying that students must sign up for the AP exams by October 4th, according the AP College Board. 

“They have to make the decision early on,” Caruso said. 

David Siwiak, the District’s Manager of Information Services, thanked the student interns who helped update classroom technology throughout the Middletown School District, such as updating all the computers to Windows 10, among other things. 

“They’ve been of tremendous value this summer,” Siwiak said. “Without their support, Windows (10) probably would not have been installed on time.”

Next, Board Secretary Amy Gallagher, who’s also the District’s Business Administrator, mentioned the district would be inviting a consultant firm to provide recommendations on how to achieve energy savings, and also discussed some of the services the district provides to its homeless students and their families. “We really take that responsibility very seriously,” District Superintendent William O. George said of the services provided to the district’s homeless students.  “I think for us, that’s the most rewarding work we do.”

Board member Nicholas DiFranco then mentioned that Board members were able to meet with the Township to get updates on the potential impact of upcoming new housing developments, such as the one at the proposed Village 35 site and others, on the school district.   DiFranco said that the district would not be hurt financially by the project, since the developers will not receive any more tax exemptions from these projects. 

“The mayor assured us pretty strenuously that the township is no using PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreements for these housing developments,” DiFranco said. “All these developments will be paying regular taxes.” 

DiFranco also mentioned that it was important for Middletown community members to participate in the strategic plan survey now available on the district website, as well as the upcoming public comment forums scheduled to run from October to December. “This is where we’re looking outward to all of you to help us steer the ship for the next five years,” he said. 

Mary Ellen Walker, in charge of student services for the district, said that third grade classes will now be capped at 25 students instead of the originally planned 27, and that the class sizes in all elementary schools will be within the maximum allowable sizes.  “What we’re looking at is that nobody is over cap,” she said. 

Superintendent George then announced that Brookdale was making progress in developing its Middle College Academy program, in which students get one year of college credits once they graduate from high school, and that both Middletown Public Schools and Brookdale look forward to a formal agreement on setting up the program by the middle of the upcoming school year. 

“The development of Middle College Academy is a really exciting opportunity for us,” George said. “I know (Brookdale President) Dr. Stout is as committed to this as I am.”