Sparta School Superintendent Shares Findings and Plans

Dr Michael Rossi presented his entry plan at the August board of education meeting. Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Dr. Rossi and Mayor Gil Gibbs at Rossi's first meeting Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Dr Rossi and his family at his first meeting in Sparta Credits: Jennifer Dericks

SPARTA, NJ - Sparta schools’ Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi presented the results of his entrance plan.  The 20-minute presentation given by Rossi explained in detail the plan he said covered eight months of work.

The plan centered around a process to get to “know where we should be heading,” Rossi said.  He did this by “getting to know the historic and current learning community.” He listed the members of the learning community including “the central office staff to know the daily operations and interactions with other entities on a daily basis.”  He said he met with the principals, supervisors and board members, “individually and in groups.” 

Rossi also attended faculty meetings and PTO meetings at every school along with “some boosters in relation to the ad hoc committee.”

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He held a retreat on a Saturday with board members and a three-day retreat over the summer with the district administrative team. 

“Everything we do should be geared towards student achievement,” Rossi said as he outlined his “eight impacts to education, not in any order of importance.”  The “eight spokes” include Curricular and Extra Curricular programs, Professional Development, Assessment and Evaluation, Technology and Digital Applications, Personnel-Hiring and Retention, Community Engagement and Communications, Facilities and Safety, Finance and Operations.

Curricular and Extracurricular

Beginning with curricular and extracurricular programing Rossi said, “Sparta has a very, very rich tradition of offering our students a variety of programs.  We want to make sure they are developmentally accurate and materially current and relevant.”

He went on to talk about curriculum.  “Consistency is huge. Instruction should be delivered consistently” across grade level, from classroom to classroom. Rossi said the district was adopting Schoolwide literacy program kindergarten through eighth grade.  “The challenge is providing support for all levels of learning,” Rossi said.  “We need to address the needs of all special learners in addition to providing for gifted and talented and all learners.”   He said they were “trying to cast our net as far and as wide as we can.”

Professional Development

Moving to the topic of professional development Rossi said they are “committed to teachers training teachers. Dr. Johnson is committed to providing leadership.”  Rossi talked again about having consistency through the whole district using Google Apps for Education [now called G Suites] paired with the 1:1 initiative that puts Chromebooks in the hands of every student and teacher grades six through 12.

Rossi touched on flipped professional development using video-taped training sessions, encouraging graduate level work for staff, providing mandated and regulated training and having Sparta employees as presenters in other venues.

Assessment and Evaluation

“Sparta has plenty of ways to test our students,” Rossi said moving to assessment and evaluation.  “We need to help our instructional staff on the importance and use of the assessment.”

“Assessment driven instruction,” is always something to strive for.  “Instruction should be based on standards and benchmarks using exemplars to show mastery of a concept as a model for grading.” 

“You need to know the level of all of the students, then deliver instruction recognizing we have a classroom of unequals,” Rossi said.  “It is not fair to treat them all equally.”

Technology and Digital Application

“The reality is we need to connect with students at their level and interest,” Rossi said as he introduced technology and digital applications.  As previously discussed, G Suite and 1:1 will be front and center in the district in the upcoming year.  “Teaching digital citizenship,” is important, Rossi said.  “We need to get them to understand anything that goes out on the web is there forever.”

Rossi explained the 1:1 plan and that “assistive technology is where technology got a foothold in education,” assuring those applications will continue as well.  “The magic is in the teaching, not in the Chromebook,” Rossi said.

Personnel, Hiring and Retention

Moving to the personnel spoke on the wheel, Rossi said, “Programs don’t succeed, people succeed.”

A key goal is to “attract, support and train the right people,” he said sharing the details of the job fair held in May at the high school.  That event attracted 400 people, providing a pool of talent from which to draw in the future.

Community Engagement and Communications

“We have a lot of programs and methods to communicate,” Rossi said.  “Nearly everybody has a cell phone allowing for real time communication.”

The district has “brought in Blackboard to manage district information, there is a new website and an app coming soon,” Rossi said. He said he is having ongoing dialogue with township officials, at PTO meetings and back to school nights all aimed at getting information to and from the educational community.  He also wants “to heighten relationships with alumni.”

Facilities and Safety

Regarding facilities and safety, “We always need to keep our students and staff safe,” Rossi said.  “Buildings need to present a quality 21 century learning community.”

He outlined the improvements being made over the summer including facelifts to the media centers at the Helen Morgan School and high school, a new softball field “connected to the goal of a new turf field” a fence around the perimeter of Alpine school, an enlarged robotics room at the high school as well as horns and strobes to augment the alarm system.

Rossi revisited the security audit done in the district in the spring.  Following the recommendations of the audit, three vestibules will be added to the front of Helen Morgan, Mohawk Avenue and Alpine schools, similar to the man traps at the high school and middle school.  They will also have a kiosk to print a badge from the raptor system, before entering the building.

Finance and Operations

Finally, the financial and operations piece was discussed.  Rossi touched on the various sources of revenue for the district.  The primary source being the tax levy followed by state aid, IDEA and ESEA grants as well as grants from the Sparta Education Foundation, PTOs and booster clubs.

Following his presentation board president Kelly McEvoy said, “Thank you and your staff.”  This was echoed by board member Mike McGovern, “I agree, thank you.” 

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