District Administration magazine named Montville Township Public Schools a District of Distinction in the July 2015 issue. The Montville district has been chosen for this national honor due to its innovative Humanities Research Program.

Developed at Montville Township High School (MTHS) to engage all students, at all academic levels, the Humanities Research Program is designed to advance, for all students, the higher level thinking skills that are often expected only of students in honors or AP level classes.

A homegrown approach to student-centered learning in Montville Township School District in northeastern New Jersey ignites the passions of teens who had previously fallen through the cracks of the classroom” wrote author, Alison DeNisco, in her article “Classrooms turn into workshops,” for the July 2015 edition of District Administration magazine. (http://www.districtadministration.com/dod/awards/montville-township-school-district-humanities-research-program)

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DeNisco’s article highlights the factors District Administration considered in naming Montville a District of Distinction. It is that “homegrown approach” to support students who do not always perceive themselves as strong learners which earned Montville this national recognition.

“We are very excited to receive the District of Distinction honor,” said Superintendent Dr. René Rovtar. “Montville is passionate about education, and the Humanities Research Program reflects that passion and inspires the students’ excitement for learning.”

The Humanities Research Program was created to answer the questions: What is the basis for student economic accomplishment after graduation? And, how can we transition instruction to be more in line with those needs? By combining differentiated learning practices with student centered research, students across the spectrum are fully engaged. Students who do not typically think of themselves as scholars, become interested learners and develop strong leadership and management skills. 

“The success lies in two areas,” wrote Andrea Woodring, Montville’s Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction “1.) Empowering students with the ability to research the curriculum through the lens of their own passions, and 2.) Providing the framework for students to present research furthering the exploration of the curriculum and taking responsibility for learning.”

An important component of the program is the presentation factor. In-depth presentations require students to engage more fully than what is required in a traditional testing environment.

Launched in 2013, with two high school teachers; one in English and one in Social Studies, a total of 10 classes, and about 200 juniors and seniors, the curriculum remained the same, but the format changed from a lecture hall to a collaboration between the students and the teacher. In the Humanities Research Program the teacher acts as a facilitator, and the students explore the curriculum through research and presentations of facts based on research topics developed through exploration with peers and the teacher.

“What we see is student excitement,” said Humanities Research Program creator, David Tubbs, the Supervisor of the Humanities for Montville Township Public Schools. “Students want to work hard because they are interested in finding the answers. They are excited. Learning the curriculum is meaningful to them because they are being asked to research it based on perspectives that they already find interesting.”

By fall 2014, the program had expanded to 40 sections, eight teachers, and 675 sophomores, juniors and seniors engaged in a new approach to learning.

In 113 walk-through observations conducted in Humanities Research Program classes, and 113 walk-through observations of traditional classes of the same subject and level, during the program’s first two years, Active Student Engagement was found to be 88% in the Humanities Research Classes as opposed to 23% in traditional classes. Additionally, Peer Collaboration was at 72% as opposed to 19%, Using Multiple Sources was at 90% as compared to 30%, and Using 21st Century Skills was at 96% as opposed to 28%.

Data on student achievement and discipline referrals was also gathered during the first two years of the Humanities Research Program. The data compared the same students after one year of Humanities Research versus the same students prior to the start of the program, where they were placed in traditional English or US History classes.

The compared data revealed that there was an increase in the number of A’s, a decrease in the number of discipline referrals, and a decrease in the number of out-of-school suspensions for students taking the Humanities Research Program classes. These statistics included both general education and special education students, with special education students enjoying the greatest reduction in discipline referrals.

This fall the Humanities Research Program will expand again to include 900 of the school’s 1200 freshman to senior students. There will be 60 classes and 17 teachers.

District Administration magazine is a national trade publication for education leaders in public school districts in every community across America. The publication covers current trends and pressing issues in the American education system. 

Three times a year the magazine acknowledges innovation within American public schools. The goal of the Districts of Distinction program is to honor districts that are demonstrating ”courage and creativity in launching initiatives that have narrowed achievement gaps, enhanced professional development and brought greater equity  to education,” noted author, Matt Zalaznick, in his July 2015 introductory feature article: “Districts of Distinction: Paving new paths to success.” (http://www.districtadministration.com/article/districts-distinction-paving-new-paths-success)

As a District of Distinction, Montville Township Public Schools and its Humanities Research Program, have been identified as educational leaders in the nation. It is the goal of the District of Distinction program to encourage other districts across the country to implement innovative educational initiatives like the Humanities Research Program developed by Montville Township Public Schools. Montville’s faculty and administration are hopeful that other districts throughout the United States will reach out for advice, guidance and encouragement as they look to replicate the Humanities Research Program across the nation.