PHOTO: RBR Superintendent Dr. Jim Stefankiewicz addresses his fellow educational leaders in the first workshop for the newly formed Central Jersey Consortium for Excellence and Equity, which he helped establish in conjunction with Monmouth University and the University of Pennsylvania. The goal of the organization is for Central Jersey school districts to share best practices to minimize the achievement gaps among their diverse student populations.
Little Silver, NJ - For the past decade, Red Bank Regional (RBR) has made great strives in improving its student performance. A smaller learning community model was introduced building on its success of separate subject academies where students explore career options in a school within a school setting. A summer freshman transition program was established to better prepare students for their first year of high school. Ninth graders then enter a nurturing Freshman Academy where teachers collaborate to follow their students’ progress. Special tutoring programs were established along with the critically acclaimed A.V.I.D. program to help young people realize their potential by teaching study skills, building self-esteem and preparing them to take the most rigorous programs the high school offers. Through these efforts, more students than ever were enrolled in a myriad of Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate courses. The results have been impressive. RBR has consistently gained recognition as one of the best high schools in New Jersey by NJ Monthly and one of the best in the nation according to Newsweek. While over 90% of RBR students graduate and attend college, the performance gap among some groups still persists.
RBR’s superintendent, Dr. Jim Stefankiewicz, continued to investigate ways to narrow the achievement gap. He discovered a successful enterprise established in the suburbs of Philadelphia in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania’s education graduate program. The Delaware Valley Minority Student Achievement Consortium (DVMSAC) is a partnership of 29 suburban schools whose superintendents, principals and board members share strategies and offer frameworks of programs that work to minimize the gaps defined by race, class, and gender.
RBR high school students recently attended a leadership workshop at the University of Pennsylvania sponsored by the Delaware Valley Minority Student Achievement Consortium created to help minimize the achievement gap between minority student groups in suburban school districts. An affiliate organization was recently created in Central Jersey by RBR, The University of Pennsylvania and Monmouth University which sponsors periodic workshops toward the same goal. A student leadership workshop is scheduled at Monmouth University on June 5, 2013.
DVMSAC director Dr. Robert L. Jarvis of the Penn Center for Educational Leadership commented on that undertaking, “While you might think this work is traditionally focused in the urban centers, the suburban districts have experienced shifting demographics and struggle with an achievement gap. What resulted was a great synergy of bringing leaders together on a district and community level to solve this problem.”
In order to address performance gap issues, RBR worked in conjunction with Monmouth University and the DVMSAC to establish the Central New Jersey Consortium for Excellence and Equity (CJCEE) with Dr. Jarvis serving as the new entity’s director. The CJCEE was designed to include the counties of Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex and Essex counties. Thus far, it has registered 14 school districts including: Asbury Park School District, Bloomfield School District, Eatontown Public Schools, Hazlet Township Public Schools, Holmdel Township Public Schools, Jackson School District, Keansburg School District, Keyport School District, Long Branch Public Schools, Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, Middletown Township Public Schools, Red Bank Charter School, Red Bank Regional High School, and Union Beach School District.
The Consortium meets periodically at Monmouth University where Lynn Romeo, the Dean of Monmouth University’s School of Education, coordinates the program. Dr. Jarvis conducted the first workshop in November of 2012, which the consortium members welcomed with great enthusiasm.
Hazlet’s Superintendent Dr. Bernard F. Bragen Jr. commented, “When I heard about this consortium, I was the first to join. We experience achievement gaps with our English Language Learner (ELL) and economically disadvantaged groups. NCLB did help some, but we are not where we want to be. Everyone is dealing with this locally and I believe we can derive a great benefit from working with our colleagues.”
Similar to the Hazlet school district, Eatontown Superintendent Scott T. McCue attended to learn what his fellow districts are currently doing to meet the challenges of growing diversity and academic performance. He stated, “There are different ways that different subgroups can be successful. It is important to learn what best practices are out there and the particular experience that other districts have had in implementing them.”
Dr. Jarvis emphasized that an obstacle to minimizing the gap is educational equity which has not traditionally been imbedded in school district policy. This augurs for the importance of participation in the consortium by board of education members.
One pertinent policy that Board’s of Education can address is “tracking” which Dr. Jarvis called, “the culprit to educational equality.” He described the experiences of one school district in Long Island that achieved great success in reducing the gap particularly for its special education students.
However, he cautioned that even this school district wages a constant battle to maintain these successful policies as parents complain year after year, “that such courses are just too difficult for their children.” The Rockville School District now has only two tracks which all students can follow, the New York State Regents track and the International Baccalaureate program, both rigorous. The long-time leader of that school district, Superintendent Dr. Bill Johnson, will be presenting a workshop in February.
Leadership is also key to minimizing the achievement gap. This is true from the top –the Superintendent-- and with the student body. In separate endeavors, RBR and Red Bank Charter School students participated in leadership programs at the University of Pennsylvania conducted by the Penn Consortium. The last CJCEE workshop of the year will also be devoted to minority student leaders.
This is particularly important in addressing achievement discrepancies as sometimes a major impediment toward minority success is the student’s own expectations.
Long Branch’s Superintendent Mike Salvatore touched that nerve during the first workshop when he stated, “You will hear some kids say, ‘I don’t belong in this AP class.’ It is also about addressing the culture.”
Subsequent to the initial program, the CJCEE presented several workshops on cultural issues and expectations. Upcoming workshops include:
•“Enhancing A College-Going School Culture That Supports High Expectations and Achievement for All Students;” Thursday, February 7, 2013; 8:30 am to 3 pm. presented by RBR’s Principal and ELL director Risa Clay and the RBR A.V.I.D. Site Team.
•“Effectively Addressing the Challenges of Leading an Equity-Focused School District;” Monday, February 11, 12 to 3 pm, presented by Dr. Bill Johnson, Superintendent of Rockville Centre School District, NY.
•“Diverse Learner Instructional Practices Workshop,” Monday, February 25, 8:30 am to 3 pm, presented by Delia Garrity, National Educational Consultant, Author and Former Assistant Superintendent Rockville Centre School District, NY
•“Superintendents’ Annual Planning Meeting;” Monday, April 15, 12 to 3 pm.
•“High School Student Leadership Forum;” Wednesday, June 5, 9 am to 1 pm, facilitated by Dr. Tina R. Paone, Department Chair of Educational Leadership, School Counseling & Special Education, Monmouth University.
In emphasizing the value of the new consortium, RBR’s Superintendent Dr. Stefankiewicz told his fellow educators, “We would not be here if there wasn’t something that prevents our students from being the best they can be. This is something we work on everyday. We try hard to minimize the gaps. We have gotten better over the years, but we still work on it. It is not enough to say that we are opening avenues to all. The best way to solve a problem is to work on it together.”