SPARTA, NJ – What a difference a day makes.  The Long Range Strategic Planning meeting on Tuesday evening provided stark contrast to the in-fighting between board members and sniping from a couple members of the public at the board of education meeting on Monday night.

Approximately 70 community members, 40 district staff members, some of whom are also parents and residents, all five building principals and the three central office administrators filled the Media Center of the Sparta High School.  There was also one Sparta High School Student, Steven Viola. 

Of the evening Superintendent Dennis Tobin said, “Our first district Long Range Strategic Planning meeting was a huge success.  It was an evening where over 100 stakeholders from the Sparta schools came together in one place to celebrate and recognize our successes, and in a constructive and positive manner brainstorm as to how we can improve for the future.  Having been the Superintendent and  an educator in the Sparta school district for 27 years, this evening was one of the more rewarding and enjoyable events.  A credit once again to our supportive school community!”

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The meeting was moderated by three New Jersey School Board’s Association Field Service Representatives.  Known as the Field Service Reps North, Al Annunnziata, Charlene Peterson and Robynn Meehan have brought this process to other districts “too many times to count.” 

Tobin began the meeting with his State of the Schools address.  In this statement Tobin explained some of the demographic of the school system; the student enrollment of 3309, certificated staff of 346 with ten Doctorate, 248 Masters’ and 88 Bachelors’ degrees.  He reiterated a breakdown of the $67 million budget:

  • 75.7% to Salaries and Benefits,
  • 6.3% Transportation (including non-public schools),
  • 5.7% Maintenance, Custodian, Security,
  • 5.5% Special Education & Tuition,
  • 1.9% Regular Education,
  • 1.7% Administration and Technology,
  • 1.6% Equipment and Capital,
  • .6% Charter Schools,
  • .4% Athletics and Co-Curricular,
  • .3% Nurse, Guidance, Child Study Team, Media and
  • .2% Curriculum and Instruction.

He discussed the district’s technology.  There are currently 4000 internet connected devices both Apple and Windows based.  All buildings have WiFi.  The High School has 3D printing and the Middle School is soon to get it.  There are 53 servers, 38 of which are virtual.

Tobin reviewed the security measures that are throughout the district.  He highlighted the district representation at township events and organizations and the reciprocal of having numerous district forums and organizations that support the schools.

Each school was highlighted along with special education, athletics, music, visual arts and the achievements of the most recent graduates.  He reviewed the recent accolades the district has received from various publications. 

The presentation concluded with a review of the goals from the 2013-2014 school years as had been presented the prior evening at the board meeting.  There was a review of the new goals.

The participants were broken up into seven color-coded groups and asked to develop lists of ten strengths and ten challenge in the Sparta school district.  The NJSBA representatives spent time with each group to facilitate and monitor their discussions but this portion of the evening was primarily run by the attendees. 

Annunziata then had each group present their lists to the whole room.  Each of the seven groups listed dedicated staff, strong technology and overall good students as strengths.  They neary all included lack of a full-day kindergarten program, transportation and outdoor athletic facilities as challenges.

In his closing remarks Tobin said, “In speaking with members of the board of education about possibly needing to move to a bigger room, they said it was only the first night and usually attendance drops off.  I hope we can prove them wrong.  I encourage you to come back next month.”  

High school student Steven Viola said, “I’m going to try to get more students here.  It’s their school and they know more about it than the parents.”

One participant said, “After hearing about the circus at the board of education meeting on Monday night I came here thinking ‘why am I doing this?’  But I am happy I did.  I am energized and positive.”

Cautiously a district official said, “There was more positive than negative, that’s for sure.”

Annunziata summed it up saying, “There was a good positive spirit in the room.”

Mike Brawer, spokesperson for the black-dot group said, “I am impressed with how many people came out.  It is great to be a part of something like this and I look forward to the next meeting.”

The minutes of this meeting will be posted on the district web site for all to review.  Residents are encouraged to attend the next two meetings even if they were unable to attend the first.  The next meeting is scheduled for October 22 at 7 p.m in the media center of the Sparta High School.