MY TURN By Michael R. Schiavoni

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:48

    Reviving Sparta academic performance I am offering specific recommendations to help the BOE develop a strategy to reverse the serious District-wide academic underachievement and marked decline in performance as measured by NJ standard test scores and other quantitative measures. 1. Set a multi-year District objective for academic performance which adheres to the SMART goals. The previous multi year objective was: Achieve top half NJ I District academic performance by Sparta students as measured by NJ State exams by 2009-2010 school year. Sparta 2010-2011 academic performance was bottom 30 percent of I Districts and declined compared to the last 3 years. 2. Rehire at least one Curriculum Director. To be credible re academic improvement the BOE needs to ensure the District resources are aligned to the key curriculum priorities. Academic performance needs to become #1 priority for funding positions and to support classroom teachers. Eliminating both Curriculum Director positions in the 2009-2010 budget was a serious mistake. 3. Begin with the elementary schools and commit to addressing the literacy and math deficiencies. Making progress at the elementary school level will enable Sparta to sustain the academic improvements in the upper grades. 4. Actively research and visit top academic NJ Districts. Some of the top Districts are below average in per student spending. Learn how these Districts have been able to put a higher percentage of dollars to supporting classroom teachers. This spring I visited Livingston High School ranked # 22 in the 2010 NJ Monthly report. It was inspiring to see the Livingston BOE and administrators’ strong support for academic excellence. 5. Make academic performance updates a priority topic at BOE meetings. Each BOE meeting needs to have at least one presentation on academics initiatives to support improving student performance. Dr. Monks needs to be invited to attend all BOE meetings. The top Curriculum expert is a very important BOE meeting resource. 6. Strengthen teacher development and provide more teacher and classroom support. The most important District resources are those directing supporting student learning. U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan recently told U.S. Governors he would prefer to put his own school age children in a classroom with 28 students led by a “fantastic teacher” than one with 23 and a “mediocre” teacher. 7. Stop making excuses for the failing academic performance. Residents are tired of the never ending excuses for the gross under achievement of Sparta students. The tired refrains of lack of money, blaming the old BOE, TWP Council and Governor Christie are unacceptable. Residents want the CSA and BOE to accept full accountability for major academic improvement. The academic record over the last three years gets failing marks for under achievement and academic performance decline. 8. Regularly update the District web-site with academic performance data that is easy to read and allows residents to compare Sparta to other I Districts. At the March 2011 BOE meeting I requested the most recent NJ test score data be posted to compare Sparta to other I Districts in SAT and NJ standard tests. There was agreement to post the academic performance data. The promised academic data has not been posted. 9. Ensure all BOE members and administrators academic statements are accurate and based on quantitative test score results. For administrators to claim Sparta students are performing above average with no supporting data is disingenuous. The Sparta Independent 6/9/11 interview with Mr. Tobin SHS Principal quoted him, “I am extremely proud of the accomplishments and contributions of our staff and students this year in both the classroom and outside the classroom. The academic successes in the classroom speak highly of our teachers and students.” What academic successes was Principal Tobin referring to? SHS academic performance during 2010-2011 was bottom tier. Even Newton a CD School District achieved a higher combined SAT score than Sparta. Sparta was 46 of 48 on SAT compared to other I Districts. Sparta on the HSPA compared to other I Districts High Schools in Language Arts was 41 of 48 or 17 percent from the bottom and Math 45 of 48 or 8 percent - almost the bottom. 10. Improvement starts with the CSA and BOE developing a “Can Do” mindset & Doing More with Less. Many other NJ schools, universities and businesses are facing similar budget issues, yet they are creatively finding new ways to do more with less. Focus all District energy and resources on making academic improvements happen not rationalizing Sparta’s academic shortfalls. The BOE challenge is to require Dr. Morton this summer to research, design and develop a strategic plan to achieve academic excellence. The BOE’s next challenge is to support the plan by allocating all the necessary resources to support the key academic initiatives. The Sparta 2011-2012 School budget was the only I District budget voted down by the residents. This was a crystal clear message — residents are very dissatisfied with the BOE and senior administrators’ failure to improve the substandard academic performance along with other key District shortfalls. Residents are expecting the CSA and BOE to make academic excellence the top priority by their words and actions. Only a bold strategic academic plan and with SMART implementation metrics can reverse the near bottom performance of Sparta schools. The future of Sparta’s children depends on the BOE, CSA and other key administrators stepping up to this multi-year academic imperative.