LITTLE FALLS, NJ - The Little Falls School District received a shot in the arm when it came to professional development for its teaching staff recently. Dr. Tracey Severns, renowned educator, stopped by to enlighten and help teachers improve the way they conduct the learning environment in their classrooms.

Severns gave an all day presentation and workshop on Sept. 6 inside School No 3. She gave educators an innovative way to think by looking at data in the classroom as an informative way to help with their instruction. She emphasized that data should not be limited to being derived only from a standardized test score, like PARCC.

Since 1992, Severns has dedicated her career to the service of students, teachers and administrators in New Jersey. She has served as a special education teacher, vice principal, principal, superintendent, adjunct professor, and chief academic officer for the New Jersey Department of Education. Currently, she is the director of student performance in the Mount Olive Township School District. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology, a masters degree in teaching, and a doctorate in educational administration and supervision. Severns is certified in elementary education, special education and K-12 administration.

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"'One of the things we want to do is help people understand the power and potential of using data to make more possible for more of our kids," Severns said. "This is for everyone inside a school - from the principal, nurse, teacher, paraprofessional, or even students themselves. It's about how to answer the question - how am I doing, how do I know - because it's the data that best answers that question."

One of big goals, she added, is to help people broaden their perspective towards the data. That it's not just received from only test scores.  

"So data is a light that shines the way to help teachers know which students are with them and ready for more of a challenge and which students need more help," she explained. "As a parent, I would want the teacher to know where my child is, in order to support them the way they need to be supported. So at every level, the information that is elicited from teacher to the student should prompt the teacher to ask, 'What do I need to do differently?' When you teach children, they use their own data to adjust their learning path, which is really what it's about. I believe data is our greatest leverage point to improve school, leadership instructional practice, and student learning." 

She added that one of her goals is to open hearts and minds to the possibility that educators can do things better or differently to ensure that they reach and teach every single child. 

"We simply cannot do that without information, which is data," she said. "It helps teachers become the best they can be."

Severns also added that another goal is to inform and inspire, and  bring out the best in teachers because they work with children's futures.

Lindsay Lafferman, fourth grade teacher from School No. 3, said the presentation was very informative. She added that the presentation focused on looking at the purpose of data and how it can assist teachers throughout the school year with instruction.

"(Dr. Severns) opened a lot of eyes on on the ways we can improve instruction and performance," said Lafferman. "The goal is to have teachers become the best they can be for their students."

Lafferman also said that assessments, such as PARCC, can be a tool to be viewed not just as a standardized test, but with day-to-day school work.

"This is something that a teacher can use towards lesson plans and instruction helping us do what we do even better," she added.

E.J. Cronin, seventh grade social studies, also found the presentation engaging. 

"The presentation helps a teacher think about their approach with their daily lesson plans through the assessment," he explained. 

Graphs were handed out during the presentation and teachers were put into small groups, which conducted several activities.

"It was a really eye opening experience," Cronin added. "It was set up like a workshop. She went back on points to answer questions and give appropriate answers. She showed teachers how to look at things differently and how all kinds of data, not just assessments, can help students improve. She also showed how to get students in categorized groups make improvements, such as those students on the lower end to get on track with students in the higher level groups."

Tracey Marinelli, superintendent for the Little Falls School District, said that staff members were completely engaged during the presentation.

"Dr. Severns gave her presentation from  8:30 a.m.until 3 p.m. and the entire staff was there," said Marinelli. "I couldn't be more excited for the kick-off to the 2017-2018 school year."

Marinelli added that the administrative team has already begun compiling data from the workshop and to work with Dr. Severns throughout the year.

"The teachers will use strategies learned and data that they will compile to provide optimum student success," she noted. "We'll look to continue the relationship and continue professional development all year long."  

Afterwards, Severns reflected on her visit to the district.

"I love learning and teaching, and what I found at this workshop was a group of passionate, committed educators," she noted. "The energy these receptive participants had was indicative that they share the feeling that it really is all about kids. They really want to make a difference in learning in the lives of kids."