NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Janine Gregory joined the North Plainfield School District in August 2016 as supervisor of English Language Arts/Literacy and Library/Media Studies and, over the past six months, has been working to develop a fresh and modern curriculum for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. A resident of Greenwich Township, NJ, Gregory brings to North Plainfield close to 20 years of education experience.

Gregory earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Education and, later, a Masters in English from Montclair State University before going on to obtain National Board Certification in Early Adolescent English. She began her career as an English teacher at Ann Street School in Newark and then went on to work at Newark’s Arts High School.

After having her first child, Gregory later served for Montclair School District, working as a Writing Workshop teacher and Literacy Coach for K-8 students while also working to integrating English and History to develop a Humanities program at the district’s high school. For the past 10 years, she has been teaching a weekly Alternate Route course for second career teachers seeking standard teaching certification.  Prior to joining North Plainfield, she served as an English Language Arts Supervisor for the South Orange-Maplewood School District.

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When the opportunity to take on the position in North Plainfield arose last summer, Gregory saw it as the opportunity to work in a smaller, yet still diverse environment. “I’ve always loved to work in diverse environments and feel having multiple perspectives is important,” she said. “I love the fact that diversity in North Plainfield isn’t only about varied demographics, but also about diverse thinking and diverse approaches to learning.”

In her role as supervisor, Gregory oversees the district’s K-12 English Language Arts curriculum and said her goal at the middle and high school level is to create a curriculum where teachers see the value and opportunities to continuously create and recreate it so it is most constructive to students.

“Now, more than ever, English curriculum is about looking at literature and understanding how it relates to everything around us, realizing the importance of written expression and promoting global citizenship.  I want to create a curricular plan that exposes students to and sparks a love of reading while also teaching students that writing can be an enjoyable process,” said Gregory.

“Reading isn’t just about answering questions that live behind a book or a story; it’s about finding meaning. A curriculum should invoke debate among students and students should grapple with information that is before them through thoughts, debates, and arguments,” added Gregory.

“Providing students with these tools, added Gregory, will enable them to move on to college with a ‘comprehensive experience of how the world has been represented in what they read and are able to express themselves in writing.’

In meeting this goal, Gregory has been looking at ways in which she can incorporate modern literature into the classroom and working with teachers to see that the works that suit a class one year may be different the following year.

While The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill A Mockingbird are important classics, Gregory feels they may not necessarily be relatable to students today when taught in isolation.  Under her leadership, she hopes North Plainfield High School and Middle School’s English department will turn to recent books such as Between the World and Me, Brown Girl Dreaming, The Color of Water and I am Malala, to name a few, to teach and expand upon critical topics and issues.

“We constantly have to rethink the books we select in the department to make sure students see themselves in those books. Curriculum should be a live, ever-changing document” said Gregory. “We can still have classics but there should be variety so that teachers can choose what works best. The same topic may be taught a totally different way from one year to the next.”

Additionally, Gregory is also working to incorporate different educational tools into the curriculum and feels the vast amount of information available online means educators must find different ways to deliver a curriculum that is appropriate as well as interesting.

“I think we, as educators, initially underestimated the impact of the Information Age on education; we heard so much how it was going to change the way we go about curriculum but now, more than ever, we now have this challenge of engaging students in ways that they can’t do themselves through a search engine or an app,” Gregory said.

“We have to make instruction so relevant and authentic enough for it to be viewed differently…The things that were relevant in a curriculum not too long ago are less relevant because now all students need to do is ‘Google’ and get an answer in seconds,” she continued. “We aren’t teaching to the book anymore; we are teaching the topic and complimenting the book with articles, TED talks, and podcasts. The goal is to bring in multiple modalities to show students literature as life rather than just a book that starts and ends with a cover.’

Gregory said she has been fortunate that members of the North Plainfield English department have been ‘so open when it comes to rethinking tradition.’ “We are starting to be open and rethink how we do things and the way we teach. It is a great position to be in and so exciting,” she said, adding that a great deal of credit goes to the teachers.  

“It could be so easy for a teacher to have a set plan or lesson and repeat it every year, but to have a department that has been willing to rethink a practice that, for some have been in place for a decade, is the key to progress,” Gregory said. “They are willing, open-minded, extremely talented and not afraid to accept a challenge.”

The overall goal, said Gregory, is to have North Plainfield High School students think about their English experience for the past several years and realize its impact on them. 

“And that’s a challenge because such work is never done,” Gregory said.

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