EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - After a year filled with increased security due to a national rise in school shootings; vacillating statewide politics surrounding standardized testing; and the loss of lots of school days due to hostile weather, it was finally time to celebrate the achievements of the East Brunswick Public Schools and to remember why residents are proud of the schools in the first place.
Over 800 residents, teachers, staff, and administrators filled the Magistro Performing Arts Center at Hammarskjold Middle School last night for the Fourth State of the District Address as Superintendent Dr. Victor Valeski shared the accomplishments of the District. Preceding the presentation were performances by various student groups. Following the Superintendent's remarks, teachers and students showcased a cross-section of the district’s innovative classroom practices in the Hammarskjöld cafeteria.
Valeski began his "State of the District Address" by noting that the East Brunswick Public Schools is the largest employer in the township and has the responsibility for 10, 241 students every school day. "We have developed partnerships," said Valeski, who discussed the local agencies and groups who support the schools.
When it came time to acknowledge the work of all school employees including cafeteria workers, custodians, administrators, teachers and grounds people, the packed house applauded the loudest for the school security officers. In this troubled school year that witnessed several school shootings, most notably that in Parkland, FL, security has been at the forefront of concern by the administration and the Board of Education, bringing the East Brunswick Public Schools national attention. In February, Valeski and the BOE accelerated existing plans to place armed police officers in each of the district's 11 schools. Judging by the audience's enthusiastic support for the security officers and the police, the decision was a popular one.
Later in his speech, Valeski pointed to additional efforts to keep students safe. He listed perimeter surveillance, entrance security, entrance screening, increased visibility of security staff, interior surveillance, and the cooperation with the East Brunswick Police Department as elements of an overall program. However, he noted, that "relationships with students" remains at the core of creating a safe environment and that "students are learning to report" things they are concerned about.
Academics, though was at the core of Valeski's speech, as he gave a nod to this year's 668 graduates of East Brunswick High School, 166 of whom are members of the National Honor Society, the largest number in EBHS history.
The Superintendent gave special attention to the German program in the district's schools, which has been named a German Center of Excellence by the American Association of Teachers of German. Only one program in the nation receives this award each school year.
Transition was the theme of a student video about those East Brunswick kids who come from one of eight elementary schools to the much larger and intimidating world of Hammarskjold Middle School. In the video, students assured their parents that they were fine. Valeski joked that he would try to develop more support for parents as their children move into middle school. On a more serious note, Valeski promised a "broader range" of outreaches to parents to help them "Navigate your child's experience in the schools."
Emphasis was placed on the "Future Ready Schools" state initiative, an effort best summed up by a student who said in a video: "I need to learn how to learn anything."
Valeski reviewed the targets of the strategic planning program that began in the district three years ago, saying that "many priorities have been addressed."
What's ahead for the 2018/2019 school year?
Valeski cited an intense focus on curriculum and assessment. He apologized for recent changes from the New Jersey Department of Education that have impacted 10th graders all over the state. On May 18, the NJDOE mandated a passing grade on PARCC exams for the class of 2020 as a graduation requirement. Therefore, those students who opted out of the testing this year in Grade 10 will be required to take them anyway. "Now we are re-testing them, " said Valeski, "I apologize for the frustration.
In response to the loss of numerous days due to inclement weather this school year, the Board of Education has modified the district calendar so that students (and families) do not lose spring break again.
There will be facility improvements at Chittick and Irwin that will upgrade the multi-purpose rooms at those locations. Warnsdorfer School, celebrating its Fiftieth Anniversary this year, will get a new roof. He described the school as "future-ready at 50."
Valeski also talked about the district's desire to "model success" by establishing connections with the professional communiteis in teh township so that students could learn more about careers and how to prepare for them.
The Superintendent closed with a promise to improve "customer service" to stakeholders in the district. "We are a big organization and serve lots of clients and constituents. "We will invest in training to meet the needs to improve the way we interact and respond to the public."
Missed the event? Here is a link to the presentation and to Dr. Valeski's PowerPoint.