UNION, NJ – Now at the helm of Union High School, Mark Hoyt has lots of ideas to help showcase the school’s strengths and focus on its students.
Hoyt is no stranger to the high school. Named Interim Principal in July, he first began his career at Union High School as a teacher of Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Forensic Science. After receiving his master’s degree in Educational Administration, he worked as a Vice Principal for the sophomore class. In 2007, Hoyt went on to serve as principal of Washington Elementary School for eight years and principal of Battle Hill Elementary School for four.
“I’ve always loved this high school,” said Hoyt. “When I left here all those years ago, it was kind of sad to leave, although I was excited about my promotion to Washington School.” Hoyt is back and anxious to get to work.
Hoyt said one of the biggest obstacles is that “people don’t know how great this school is. The teachers are second to none. The kids are fantastic. We need to do a better job of communicating so everybody knows how great we are.” Hoyt said one of his first goals is get the word out about the high school’s many strengths. “We do so many great things at this school, from the programs we offer students, the electives, the teaching staff. I want to make sure people know about that.”
Regarding the teaching staff, Hoyt said Union High School teachers understand the dynamic and needs of the student population. “When you work in an environment that’s incredibly diverse, a student body that’s diverse -- not just culturally and ethnically diverse -- but diverse in the needs of the students, as an educator, you have to be a little more responsive. The make-up of our student body is an asset.”
“We have the tools in place to be great,” said Hoyt.
Hoyt said another undertaking he intends to explore is how the high school packages courses to the students -- their course of study. Hoyt said his administration will be looking at how the school develops instructional programs, and potentially move toward a structure that as a freshman begins high school, he or she knows exactly what they’re doing for the next four years. Hoyt envisions creating specialized courses of study, where students can graduate prepared, potentially having certifications in various fields of study “to ensure students are gaining the skills and education they need, college-bound or not.”
“We have the resources in place to make this happen,” said Hoyt. “If a student said, ‘I want to study computer science, we have a computer science program and here’s what it looks like, here’s what to take for the next four years’. It’s good for students and good for the staff.”
Hoyt said he wants to explore implementing a team approach to student education. “We should be grouping teachers around kids, not kids around teachers,” he said. Hoyt added that a team approach could have common groups of 300 students with six or seven teachers who know each and every student, their strengths and needs. “It’s a student-centered approach, refocusing back on the student.”
“When we teach students, we want to give every student what they need to be successful,” added Hoyt. “However, when we schedule students, we fit all students, regardless of their ability level, their learning styles, their needs, into a traditional nine-period day.” He said that doesn’t work for all students. “It doesn’t push all students to their fullest potential or give them what they need to be successful.” Hoyt said beginning in October, the administration will explore multiple scheduling options to possibly move away from a traditional nine-period day and offer a schedule option that focuses on the needs of the student and the needs of their program.
“You may have some students at Union High School working on some version of block scheduling, you may have some working a traditional seven-, eight-, nine-period day. You may have some working on a rotating schedule, some on a delayed start,” added Hoyt. As an example, said Hoyt, an AP student may have 80 minutes in an AP biology class, which gives the student more opportunity to delve deeper into the subject matter, but other students may not need that 80-minute block. They may benefit more from a 40- or 50-minute block. Hoyt said he’d like to see this change implemented for the 2020-2021 school year. “It’s a huge change because there are a lot of moving parts to it, however, I do think it’s necessary.”
Hoyt said he’s very pleased with his administrative team and they are looking at current processes and what may need to change to work more efficiently and change the climate of the school. “If we can simplify a process and make it easier for teachers, parents and students, we’ll do it.”
For students, Hoyt said the emphasis is switching from consequences to expectations. “If you don’t meet the expectations, yes, there are consequences. But our focus becomes ‘here’s what we need you to do’. Not ‘here’s what going to happen if you break the rules’. We’re shifting the mindset and focusing on expectations.”
“I’ve got a list of about 9,000 things that I want to do. I’m accepting that I’ll get nine of them done," Hoyt joked. He said he wants the students to take ownership of their school, to be a part of making changes and making their high school what they want it to be. “Students need to buy in, too,” Hoyt said.
“Students will get out of school what they put into school,” said Hoyt. “Families will get out of school what they put into school.” He said he encourages parents to get involved. He welcomes parents to schedule time to speak with a school counselor, or a vice principal or himself. “If you don’t like something that’s going on, don't just post it on Facebook. Get involved and help us fix it.”
Quoting Henry Ford, Hoyt said, “’if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got’. Well, we need to start changing things now. We’re going to make changes where change is needed. Change for change sake is not good enough. We’ll make change that has a purpose and those that have a positive affect on students.”
“We’re always going to be striving to make Union High School better,” added Hoyt. “We’re never going to be perfect, but we already do so many great things.”