Sparta educators anxious to finally hit the books

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:52

    SPARTA n After enduring unsuccessful attempts to find solutions to the overcrowded classrooms and growing student population this past summer, Sparta educators are now sharpening their pencils in anticipation of the start of the new school year next week. The district will welcome 25 new teachers, one principal and four vice principals; two at the middle school and one each at the high school and Alpine School. "We're going to see a renewed enthusiasm and excitement," said Thomas Morton, schools superintendent. "New people bring new ideas." Morton said the new teachers would fill existing positions left vacated due to annual attrition including retirements. James Bevere, who spent the past six years facilitating an alternative educational program at Triton Senior High School, in Runnemede, looks forward to getting involved in the community as vice principal at Sparta High School. "I'll be a familiar face around," said Bevere, a longtime Nutley resident. "Discipline is part of the job, but discipline isn't a major factor at Sparta. My major role will be as a personnel manager to students, teachers and staff." Morton said the district will continue its pursuit to build a new high school, but now must redistribute its energies on the township's students. "Our job will be to focus our attention on what we're here to do n educate students," said Morton. "We're in the process of thoroughly reviewing and analyzing everything we do and how we score on tests. We will share all this information with the public so that the children can get the best education available to them." Morton said he is excited about the district's newest addition, Michele Lind, who will serve as principal at the Helen Morgan Elementary School. "I didn't have the opportunity to be hands-on," said Lind, the former curriculum director for the Vernon Township School District. "I wanted to be in the building to implement the initiatives that we developed for our children. Being a principal is a way for me to do that." Lind, who specializes in reading, said she is looking forward to working with Kathleen Monks, who joined the local board of education in December as assistant superintendent for curriculum. "I don't want to come in and make changes without knowing the history, but because my background is in curriculum, I want to give the children the most that we can offer," said Lind, who was already busy meeting with parents in just her third day on the job. "I want to sift through the various components to make sure we're all on the same page." Monks has said that test scores for Sparta students in grades K-12 are not up to par with those of schools in "I" districts throughout New Jersey. This year, Monks said Sparta is implementing the Scott Foresman math series in the elementary schools. She expects the program for grades K-5 to bring consistency to the curriculum "within a grade" and among the grades. Sparta is classified as an "I" among the District Factor Groups, with "A" being the lowest identification and "J" the highest. The groups compare the performance of students on statewide assessments across demographically similar school districts. The groupings represent an approximate measure of a community's relative socioeconomic status. The "A-J" classification system provides a tool for examining student achievement and comparing similarly situated school districts in other analyses, the state Department of Education said. Other "I" schools within the county include Byram and Green townships. When Monks arrived in Sparta, she found math test scores to be lower than expected for an "I" district. Further disturbing was that only 33 percent of Sparta students complete an introductory algebra class before entering high school. She hopes to see that figure double. Morton said the district is also introducing an honors course in world history at the high school level and a new program that will improve the research skills of middle school students through the use of technology, the library, books, and computers.