Hilltop' welcomes new headmaster, green policy

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:10

SPARTA — As the newly promoted Head of School at Hilltop Country Day School in Sparta, Laura Mc Gee plans to lead the educational direction of grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade while improving technology resources and making it a more green environment. “Upgrade 2012 sort of kicked off my welcome as well as the farewell to former head of school Joe Stefani. Last year we used federal stimulus money to purchase five smart boards. And when we started using them in the classrooms, we realized we needed more computer upgrades,” said Mc Gee. Although the teachers had professional development and learned how to use the smart boards, there needed to be more compatibility and integration throughout the whole school’s network. Mc Gee took advantage of the momentum that was started. “The faculty loved taking the professional development workshops via the New Jersey Association of Independent schools. It was so exciting — I wanted to go with advancing and improving the technology for the sake of education and learning.” But the cost of a real overhaul was out of reach for the schools budget even with the tuition which ranges from $12,000 to $15,000 a student. “Our tuition doesn’t cover those expenses. Our typical class size is 10.” A fundraiser reception was held in June, and the money went into redoing the computer lab and purchase of new computers and software. Fortunately, McGee was able to get the donated expertise and time of two dedicated parents Tony Rizzo and David Turndorf. Rizzo, who has a first and eight grader at Hilltop, is a board member of the school and on the technology committee. As the director of information services for 15 years at a large advertising firm, Rizzo knows how technology changes drastically and recognized what needed to be replaced. “How could we upgrade everything without having to change it again in two years? That was our major question. So we put a plan into place that allows us to keep up every day with the newest operating system,” said Rizzo. Hilltop’s goal is consistency among the network while meeting teachers and students individual needs. “Whatever is done in the lab now can also be done in the classroom. We are hoping teachers will be energized and integrate material into the curriculum,” said Rizzo. “We are utilizing the newest Windows 7 while also revamping old computers and finding new homes for them. Teachers need the support to learn so we are not only giving them new stuff but ensuring that they are using the technology.” On a more organic note, McGee is also excited about the fourth grade’s flower garden that has indigenous New Jersey plants and was designed to attract monarch butterflies. This initiative was spearheaded by fourth grade teacher Janet Vigeland. “With the garden we want to help children connect to the bigger world with hands on and meaningful work. It is the fourth grader’s job, but everyone has exposure to it,” said Vigeland. And when a student excels in a green goal, a special visitor arrives at their classroom. “I have a green medal knight who goes around to different classes if the kids do something green like recycling.” McGee is proud to say they are very close to done with accomplishing their technical goals. “A parents expertise and teachers expertise comes together and that’s what drives the school to excellence,” she said. “This is a gem here. Everyday we are thinking of each child individually. I want us to be a resource for all for learning and education.” Hilltop Country Day School, 32 Lafayette Road, Sparta www.hilltopcds.org