Tuesday, May 31, 2016

LaRue PR Academy

I am pleased to announce the launch of a Public Relations Academy for the 2016-2017 school year.  This Academy represents a district initiative to establish local partnerships to enhance the educational opportunities for students.  The goal of the program will be to provide real-world application skills while stimulating interest in public relations.

Academy students will learn first hand about public relations and have the opportunity to complete exclusive internship hours at LaRue PR.   Students will be exposed to brand development and marketing, multi-faceted publicity campaigns, media outreach, social media marketing, and celebrity product placement.  This tremendous opportunity will allow students to gain valuable knowledge, skills, and experiences in the public relations field that cannot be duplicated in a traditional classroom.

Jessy Fofana, Founder/CEO of LaRue PR, is a leader in the industry and a Somerville parent.  Jessy has developed an innovative company that helps clients reach their full potential and achieve success.  Her firm is involved with the Manhattan Vintage Show and represents an impressive list of well-known fashion and lifestyle retailers.

Interested students may complete an online application that includes a video submission.  Consideration will be given to students who can demonstrate creativity and innovation in the video.  There are no GPA requirements for this Academy.  There are a limited number of openings for the program and therefore applicants will be screened through a selection process.  A complete list of the courses for the program can be seen in the link below.  Interested students can apply to be part of the program by clicking here.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Super's Bowl Community Event

The fifth annual Super’s Bowl will be hosted at Brooks Field at the Gus Vanderbeek Athletic Complex on Friday, June 3, 2016 at 6 pm (no rain date).  The Super’s Bowl is a flag football competition between the three district schools played by employees.  As in previous years, the event is free to the community.

Be a part of the school district’s history and sign a puzzle piece to be #allin4theVille!  Upon arrival, attendees can sign a puzzle piece that will ultimately be displayed in the Board of Education conference room.  The puzzle will represent the #allin4theVille partnerships that make the Ville a great place to learn and work!

Albert Einstein once said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  In the Ville, we believe in a collaborative approach to learning and engagement that includes students, district employees, parents, community members, and community partnerships.  This year's Super’s Bowl theme is partnerships.  We want to use this opportunity to celebrate ALL of the community providers, organizations, and companies that assist in the learning process of our children.  Without your efforts and contributions, our impact would be marginalized.  We are #allin4theVille!

The Super’s Bowl event is a friendraiser community event.  This year, contributions will be donated to the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital.  The Hospital has served and will continue to serve as a wonderful resource to our children and school community.  Please join us in supporting the Hospital.

The festivities begin at 5:30 pm with the opening of our Snack Shack.  Proceeds from the Snack Shack will benefit the Somerville High School Music Booster Association.  Our teachers and administrators will take the field to warm-up for the games, with Pep Band performing at 6 pm.  Students, parents and community members are encouraged to attend and demonstrate their school spirit and cheer on their staff and schools.

If you cannot join in person, be sure to follow along with the Twitter hashtag #supersbowl.  The Pioneer Studios will be filming the event this year.  Highlights will be posted on my YouTube channel.  

Tentative Schedule for the June 3, 2016 Super’s Bowl event:
5:30 pm.  Free Admission (Snack Shack will be open) and School Teams Warm Up
6:00 pm.  SHS Pep Band Performance
6:05 pm.  National Anthem sung by the Shirley Tempos (SHS Students)
6:10 pm.  5th Annual Super's Bowl (VDV versus SMS)
6:50 pm.  YMCA Performs a Gymnastics Half-Time Show
7:00 pm.  Halftime Fun for Student Attendees
7:15 pm.  Super's Bowl Championship Game (SHS versus the winning team)

Community Stakeholder Partnerships:
Somerville Education Foundation
Branchburg Education Foundation
Somerville Parent Teacher Organizations
Branchburg Parent Teacher Organization
Raritan Valley Community College
Robert Wood Johnson Hospital Somerset
Somerville Hall of Fame/Team Green
Somerville High School Booster Associations
Somerville Middle School Booster Associations
Somerville Borough Council and Mayor
Somerville Police Department
Somerville Fire Department
Somerville Emergency Medical Services
Somerville Public Library
Somerville YMCA
Somerville Recreation
Branchburg Recreation
Downtown Somerville Alliance
AT&T (Young Science Achievers Program)
United Way
Middle Earth
Municipal Alliance
Somerset County Educational Services Commission
Boy Scouts of America
Girl Scouts of America
Somerset County Youth Services Commission
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)
Tri County Care Management Organization
Somerset County Food Bank
Somerset Patriots
Somerset Civic League
Somerset County Business Partnership
Somerville/Bridgewater Rotary Club
Branchburg Rotary Club
Somerville Elks Lodge
American Legion
Zufall Health Center
Resource Center of Somerset
Safe Communities Coalition
LaRue PR
Fairleigh Dickinson University
Bridgewater Sports Arena
Branchburg Sports Complex
Joetta Clark-Diggs
New York Jets

Air Liquide
American Reading Company
Apex Learning
Central Pizza
Chipolte Grill
Discovery Education
Dunkin Donuts
Quick Check
Reading Cinema
Signarama North Plainfield
UK Elite
...and the multiple contributors for awards and scholarships

Previous Super’s Bowl Award Recipients 
Super’s Bowl I (2012) – VDV, MVP – Brennen Thompson
Super’s Bowl II (2013) – VDV, MVP – Nicholas Diaz
Super’s Bowl III (2014) – SMS, MVP – Freddie Shaker 
Super’s Bowl IV (2015) – SHS, MVP – John Hoehn

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

3DPD: A Best Practice Repository

Last year, the district launched 3DPD* (Three Dimensional Professional Development) which allows educators to differentiate their own professional development through an online "best practice" repository.  Teachers record instructional segments or full lessons using a Swivl camera in their classroom.  These recorded clips are uploaded into a private YouTube channel where colleagues can access the content 24/7 and collaborate about the viewed practices.  Although teachers have the latitude to observe colleagues in action, the online repository reduces the need for teachers to have substitutes cover classes for peer observations and enables them to spend more time in the classroom with their students.

Under the direction of the Director of 21st Century Education, the channel allows teachers to tag lessons by pedagogical topics.  This enables the viewer to search the database for interested areas in a relatively quick manner.  The Director approves, manages the channel, and ensures that footage is tagged and uploaded properly.  

This is yet another way that we celebrate and highlight excellent classroom pedagogy in the Ville!  We are fortunate to have so many "best practice" models in the Ville exemplified by our outstanding educators.  3DPD is another piece of evidence that our educators are #allin4theVille and dedicated to perfecting their craft.

*Special thanks to Melissa McCooley for coining the phrase "3DPD."

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Welcome Back Staff Letter 2015

Dear Colleagues:

It is my pleasure to welcome you back to the Somerville Public Schools for the 2015-2016 school year.  I hope you enjoyed your additional week of summer, a gift from the calendar committee.  The committee is composed of various Ville employee stakeholders and meets annually to create a tentative draft for Board of Education approval.  You certainly deserve the break with all of the dedication, diligence, and hard work that you provide during the school year.  Teaching children is the most important profession and the sacrifices that you make in the Ville are very much appreciated.

Many of our staff members were busy this summer teaching our enrichment and at-risk programs, attending professional development offerings and presenting at our annual Collaborative Professional Development Academy.  I would like to thank them for providing for our students, continuing to improve their pedagogy, and sharing their talents.

I have been quite amazed at how the profession of education has been denigrated over the past five years.  Public education in the state of New Jersey has been the subject of great contention.  While the Governor is touting his “stand up” to the teachers’ union for his presidential campaign, we are seeing the effects of negativity on the profession.  I met with the New Jersey Senate President to discuss ways to combat the negativity throughout the state and he is receptive to recognition-laden incentives to promote the great things that teachers are doing in their classrooms statewide. 

The Federal push for standardized testing and teacher evaluation requirements, has not helped diminish the negative atmosphere.  I was always under the impression that we need to differentiate for children.  Why should all of the students be held to the same requirements with an expectation that every child only takes four years to graduate high school?  With such an emphasis on high graduation rates, are we doing a disservice to the children who may need another year?  

We are proud of our accomplishments in the Ville.  We have added 34 new courses in the past five years.  We have created a new Life Skills class, a Multiple Disabled class, a preschool ABA class, and an LLD class.  We have formed three programs for at-risk children: the Workforce Skills and Employability Program, Young Science Achievers Program, and a new alternative high school for students who do not fit the mold of the “traditional” high school.  We have formed partnerships for three high school academies.  And we are NOT done!  We BELIEVE that kids learn in different ways and at different times!  We differentiated our learning programs!  We are teaching the necessary skills for our children to succeed after high school: empathy, creativity/innovation, and interpersonal skills!  The classroom has changed quite a bit since I was in public school, and I think we have made tremendous progress in the Ville.

Your administrators will continue to make every attempt to shield you from the viral negativity that has been surrounding education so that you can do what you do best in the classroom!  Joseph Scherer, executive director of the Superintendents' National Dialogue, says that the "public doesn't miss educators from the discussions about education."  Let’s unite our voices and build a strong refrain of the great things that we are doing in the Ville!  Share your experiences on Twitter with the hashtag #allin4theVille. Let’s continue to put the positivity about the Ville on the map to combat the negative nuances of local, state, and federal politics so they cannot penetrate our passion and promise for tomorrow’s generation!  Our students deserve it from us!

At the annual Board of Education retreat, held on August 29th, the Board established strategic themes that will guide #VILLE2020.  As a reminder, the district completed a district needs assessment during the 2014-2015 school year.  As a part of this assessment, stakeholders completed an online needs assessment survey.  The survey was also available in the school main offices (in both Spanish and English).  I also collected information through my Context Map sessions with all employees and interested parents/guardians.  Input was also encouraged through the #VILLE2020. 

The themes for the new strategic plan are Building Cultural Competence, Preparing for College and Career, and Growing Professional Development Opportunities.  Each year, the district will have an annual goal associated with the aforementioned strategic themes.  The themes will guide the district into the year 2020 and directly support the district’s Core Values and revised Mission Statement (introduced by President Olson at last year’s opening in-service day). 

This year, we are launching a robust technology-enhanced 3DPD (Three Dimensional Professional Development), a 24/7 learning experience.  3DPD will offer an online, private, YouTube channel where staff can upload snippets from classroom activities/lessons.  We have incredibly talented and gifted master educators in the Ville and the hope is that we design a “best practice” repository where you can learn from each other!   More information on how to record through the Swivl and upload videos will be coming from your building principal.

As my blog references, Albert Einstein states that “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  We have applied this partnership mentality to the Ville.  This year we launch two new SHS partnerships; Robert Wood Johnson’s Somerville Medical Sciences Academy and RVCC’s Performing Arts and Dance Academy. We are entering the third year of RVCC’s Academy of Liberal Arts (high achieving students earn their Associates Degree from Raritan Valley Community College along with their High School Diploma), the second year of RVCC’s Workforce Skills and Employability Program (non-college bound students exposed to retail, hospitality, public service, and childcare), and the second year of AT&T’s Young Science Achievers Program (opportunity for at-risk students to partner with scientists).

Under Susan Haynes’s direction, we are looking to expand the Mosaic Mentoring program:  the program pairs at-risk students with local mentors in the community.  I urge you to contact Susan if you are interested in serving as an official mentor to an at-risk child in our school community.   Mentors are assigned to children based on a student-interest survey.  Mentors are not direct instructors of the at-risk child.

We are very excited to announce that the Motivation for Academic and Personal Success (M.A.P.S.) program, our in-district alternative high school program, will launch on September 8, 2015.  Under the direction of Scott Hade, the M.A.P.S. program will provide an educational environment that promotes the academic, social, and emotional growth and development of students whose needs are not otherwise met through participation in the traditional educational setting.  The new program will be housed at the former pre-school and will serve 21 students.  

In an effort to continue to support all learners, Branching Minds, an innovative software program, will be introduced to help I&RS teams better meet the needs of struggling students.  Using a customized, student-centered approach, Branching Minds will offer teachers a plethora of classroom based strategies that can be used to support school success based on an individual student needs profile.  We are excited to use this new tool to better equip teachers and school personnel in thinking “outside the box” when developing intervention plans.  

We continue to drive 21st Century change in the Ville with several new technology initiatives for the 2015-2016 school year.  Several of our SHS students helped the Office of 21st Century Education this summer in preparation for your arrival.  The team prepared Chromebooks for the Middle School’s 1:1 Chromebook Program as well as the launch of this year's exciting 1:1 Chromebook implementation at SHS.  We are happy to announce that SMS’s STEM/Coding program will now see roots begin to grow with our Kindergarten through Grade 5 students in VDV!   

I encourage you to download the district app for more up to date information on our school happenings.  We are hoping that students in our second year Mobile App Development course at SHS can help enhance our district app features to better serve the school community.  Infinite opportunities will be afforded to all high school students and high performing middle school students through plenty of online offerings without any limit to the number of credits per child.  

To support these important and exciting programs, we also updated our Firewall, content filter, and VoIP phone system, and increased our Bandwidth.  In addition, we hired an additional Support Specialist who will help support the Chrome Zone at SHS this fall, refined our inventory system and integrated District technology assets with our Web Help Desk system.  We also partnered with Family ID, a web-based document application, to post school forms requiring parent/guardian signatures online.  This gives families the ability to digitally complete and sign important school documents including registration and field trip forms while giving the District the opportunity to provide an efficient, cost effective, and eco-friendly solution to generating, collecting, and reporting important student data.  

All three schools saw capital improvement work this summer as the district’s commitment to providing adequate space for district programs remains strong.  Three additional general purpose classrooms will be available at Somerville Middle School in the space previously occupied by the old boys’ locker room and which most recently served as storage space.  The additional space will accommodate higher grade level enrollments moving up from the elementary grades.  The open annex stairwell facing Cliff Street has been converted to a storage area to replace the storage space lost to the classrooms.  Temporary modifications have been made to two large kindergarten classrooms at Van Derveer School to house four preschool classrooms.  The district plans to rebid the construction work necessary to permanently convert the space for our preschoolers.  In addition, the horseshoe portion of the driveway at Van Derveer School has been repaved.  Somerville High School now has a third synthetic turf field thanks to the generous donation from the Somerville High School Athletic Hall of Fame!  This additional field will provide much needed practice space for our student athletes.  A ceremonial ribbon cutting will be held on September 11th at 4:30 pm to celebrate what is scheduled to be the first available day for field use.  You are all invited to attend and hopefully you can return for our first home football game.  Go Ville!

Sweeping changes have beset the curriculum office.  Joanne Sung has been appointed as the new Director of Curriculum and Instruction and assembled her team over the summer: Vincent Palladino (PreK-6 Supervisor), Jennifer DePace (7-12 Curriculum Supervisor), and Antonette D’Angelo (Secretary).  We are excited about the new curriculum team.  At our October In-Service, you will be afforded the opportunity to meet with your department colleagues district-wide.  Mrs. Sung will release this new in-service day format via email in the upcoming days. 

On September 8th, you will have an opportunity to meet with your principal to discuss school happenings, initiatives, and building Wildly Important Goals (WIGs).  As in previous years, progress towards WIGs will be measured using the Dashboard community stakeholder “scorecard.”  The Dashboard, posted on the district homepage, also contains links to each WIG rubric of assessment.  Supervisors will continue to track the progress towards WIGs through Purpose-Driven Walkthroughs™.  As a reminder, Purpose Driven Walkthroughs™ are walkthroughs with a focus on achieving what is critical to building leaders.  Staff members provided input into their building WIGs through last year’s “whirlwind” exercises.

The district received a National District of Distinctions award for our Assess, Analyze, and Achieve program.  The program is designed to compile student performance data so that it is readily accessible as a tool to identify student needs and provide a direction for individualized instruction differentiated to meet identified student needs.  The shared electronic student data collections continue to evolve based on teacher and principal feedback.  Thanks to the Assess Analyze Achieve program and the efforts of Tim Teehan, Academic Achievement Officer, you begin the school year with performance data for all of the students in your class and grade level.  The data serves as a means to conduct comparisons and to identify instructional gaps within the classroom and grade level.  All of this data provides teachers with valuable information that can be used to improve student performance outcomes, which will produce well-prepared Somerville students who are ready for college and careers.  

The 2015-2016 school year will mark the fifth year of the district’s Kindergarten Summit, which received a “best practice” award and an A+ Ideas, Programs and Practices NJSBA recognition.  The Kindergarten Summit affords local area providers with an opportunity to join our Preschool and Kindergarten teachers on a day of articulating, highlighting best practices, and sharing Kindergarten expectations.  

We will continue to ensure that students have a voice in district decisions. Students have an opportunity to meet with me monthly to discuss district initiatives and happenings through my newly instituted Executive Student Council.  The Council is comprised of students from each school building.  In addition, the Board will continue to seat two high school student representatives (one from Branchburg and one from Somerville) on the Board of Education.

Our personnel committee is composed of master educators, nominated by building principals.  These teachers complete the first and second round of all fulltime teacher candidates.  At the conclusion of last year, we enlisted the interest of additional members.  These new committee members will be trained in October and will carry the torch of having staff involved in the process of decision-making.  A few members of the previous committee will assist our new members with the transition.

I would like to congratulate the following staff members who recently received or will receive tenure this September: Susanne Alessio, Sarah “Sally” Booth, Jannette Coco, Marie Cohen, Michele Cross, Matthew DeBlock, Michael Dougherty, Sharon Gornick, Michele LoCascio, Danielle Mancuso, Jessica Pritchard, Jennifer Setzer, Timothy Teehan, Salvina Tripoli, Stacey Tumminello, and Stacy Williams.  I would also like to especially welcome our 35 new staff members.  New staff: you have made a wise decision in selecting a school community that values education and diversity.  Be an advocate for your students and create classrooms where it is safe to fail as well as succeed.  I wish you tremendous success in the Ville!  

I had the fortunate opportunity of meeting President Obama in November and had the occasion to speak with Arne Duncan’s staff about the great things that are taking place in the Ville.  We will continue to celebrate these great things and all of your efforts with our students, through Board of Education meeting recognition, quarterly newsletters, and Twitter.  This year, we are launching a new monthly employee recognition program geared towards three areas: curriculum/instruction, technology integration, and assisting at-risk youth.  Finally, do not forget about the quarterly #allin4theVille Stakeholder Awards.  I encourage you to recommend a colleague or fellow employee for the award and to share the incredible work that you are doing with our community by tweeting with the hashtag #allin4theVille.  

Will you be #allin4theVille this year?  Three years ago, Gian Paul Gonzalez challenged us to be ALL IN by having us sign our initials on a poker chip.  I have kept my chip in my office to remind myself to be all in, every day.  Every year since his presentation, I have challenged our new staff to be ALL IN by signing their own chip.   What will this year look like for you?  I encourage you to take risks for your students!  We will provide the safety net for you to take them.

In closing, I will continue to maintain an open door policy.  Stakeholders, can access me through Twitter, email, my “Talk with Tim” initiative and monthly brown bag lunch sessions.  I look forward to a successful school year!  I will be sure to stop in during the opening faculty meetings.

My best for the coming year,

Timothy Purnell, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Acceptance Speech (#getoffyourisland)

It is a tremendous honor to serve as the New Jersey State Superintendent of the Year for 2015.  Below is a copy of my acceptance speech, delivered at the May 14, 2015 NJASA Spring Conference.  Special thanks to @jhnmarcellus for the Twitter hashtag reference.

I am fortunate to have colleagues that are extremely supportive.  At my roundtable, we have vulnerable conversations and share experiences that reveal potential solutions to problems we are facing..  That was not always the case for me though. When I first became superintendent at the age of 32, I was surrounded by AWESOMENESS.  I became wired to hide my insecurities.  I believed that you don't want others to see your weaknesses. 

That thinking could not be less constructive. When I became a member and eventually the president of the Somerset County Roundtable, I opened up to my colleagues.  I realized that people aren't drawn to AWESOMENESS.  They are interested in genuine conversations. They are engaged by people who show vulnerability and that's what makes my county such a close group of superintendents.

David Brooks, NY Times, speaks of the difference between resume and eulogy virtues.  He says that “no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own.  Individual will, reason, and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride, and self-deception.  We all need redemptive assistance from outside.”  We NEED each other!

I'm looking around the room here today and I see a lot of superintendents with less experience than me.  I urge you to ask your colleagues questions.  We have a lot of talented superintendents in this state that can offer you outstanding advice if you just ask.  Don't make the same mistake that I made.  Cal Ripken advises us "to expose your weaknesses and ask questions." For me, it has paid dividends. Being a superintendent doesn't have to be “working on an island” or in isolation.  It may be lonely in your office, but a colleague is a phone call away.

I also fell prey to the notion that the more you say, the more you open yourself up to public scrutiny. Heck, it is easier to keep a low profile by not saying anything.  But is it the right thing to do?  Have we become marred by public judgment?  Being a young superintendent, it’s easy to fall into that mentality.

Joseph Scherer, executive director of the superintendents' national dialogue, says that the greatest deficit in education is not finances, but rather LEADERSHIP.  Everywhere we go, people seem to know more about education than us, the educators.  It's gotten to the point, Scherer says, that the "public doesn't miss educators from the discussions about education."

Be a strong leader!  Weather the storm!  Hope that people will recognize the benefits of courageous decisions that outweigh the special interest outcries!  We need to amplify our voice.  Meet with your legislators and invite them to do a coin flip at a football game (as Dr. Bozza suggests).  Make suggestions to the DOE when they issue a call for comments.  Speak out against the wrongs and for the rights. I have read some incredible ideas, thoughts, and opinions on Twitter.  We need to unite these voices and build a strong refrain.  We need more conversations!  Look around the room.  Imagine the radical change we can foster in the state of New Jersey, just with the people in this room!

Thank you again for this privilege to represent our state.  And for our new superintendents, ask for help and don't be afraid to be vocal about what you believe in!  Your district hired you to have a voice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Somerville Medical Sciences Academy

I am pleased to announce the Somerville Medical Sciences Academy (SMSA), an exciting joint venture between Somerville Public Schools and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset (RWJ).  RWJ's recent acquisition of Somerset Medical Center afforded this unique opportunity for our high school students.

Students enrolled in the SMSA will learn first hand about the many health care careers available and gain valuable knowledge, skills, and experiences in a hospital setting that cannot be duplicated in a traditional high school classroom.  SMSA students will receive an exclusive opportunity to shadow hospital professionals during the first portion of their day in a "field experience" at RWJ.   For the remainder of their day, SMSA students will attend traditional classes, eat lunch, and participate in extracurricular activities on the Somerville High School campus.  The goal of the program will be to challenge students academically while stimulating interest in health related professions and to motivate students with an aptitude for math and science to pursue post-secondary education.

There are a limited number of openings for the program and therefore applicants will be screened through a selection process.  The SMSA has a limit of 15 students per cohort, per year.  A complete list of the courses for the program can be seen in the link below.  Interested 8th grade students from Somerville and Branchburg can apply to be a part of the SMSA through the district homepage or by clicking here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

#FutureReady in the Ville

On November 19, 2014, I had the honor of joining President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for the signing of the #FutureReady pledge, along with 100 other superintendents from across the nation.  Hopefully you were able to follow my tweets @SchoolSup.  While honored to attend, my selection was in much part due to the efforts of the Ville staff, Board of Education, and students.

After several levels of security clearance, the superintendents were ushered into an auditorium and briefed on the day's events.  The highlight of the morning was indeed the actual signing of the #FutureReady pledge (seen in the video link below).  You can also view the President's entire speech by clicking here.


After the #FutureReady signing, I had the opportunity to boast about the great things that are taking place in the Ville.  Each of the attendees had the opportunity to share and network over lunch breakout sessions.  I found the exchange of information in the sessions to be extremely valuable.  After lunch, we went back to the auditorium for panel discussions and various presentations from Department officials.  The day ended with a Question and Answer session and photo with Secretary Duncan.

In his speech, the President referenced the digital divide.  While we have made tremendous progress in the Ville (SmartBoards district-wide, iPad and laptop carts, 1:1 SMS Chromebook initiative, SHS mobile app development course, middle school "scratch" club, "best practice" lesson repository, and additional devices for VDV and SHS), we still have students going home without device and no Internet.

To address this divide, I am forming a special task force to explore avenues to better prepare our students to be #FutureReady.  I welcome stakeholder involvement.  Should you have an interest in being involved in the task force or would like to provide input, please send me an email at superintendent@somervilleschools.org, tweet me @SchoolSup, comment on this blog, or fill out a Talk with Tim with your information and/or comments.

We have a plethora of local organizations that have a vested interest in education.  With partnerships and grants, I am confident that we can bridge the digital divide in the Ville!  Coincidentally, the FCC recently proposed increasing the E-Rate program cap to $3.9 billion.  As stated in the article, "the proposed plan will go to vote from the entire commission on Dec. 11."  This pending program cap adjustment sends a message of sustainability in eRate funding.

I am charged and eager to be #FutureReady in the Ville.  Let's continue the conversation and I welcome your input and involvement as we attempt to bridge this gap and make equal access for all children a #reality!

Friday, October 31, 2014

#allin4theVille Awards

Is there a staff member that you would like to recognize? Someone that went the extra distance for you or your child?  

Nominate her/him for an #allin4theVille award!

The district recognizes staff members (bus drivers, custodians, security/attendance officers, secretaries, aides, teachers, counselors, CST, support staff, and administrators) for their outstanding efforts.  
Several staff members will be recognized periodically throughout the school year! Click here to nominate a staff member.

2014-2015 #allin4theVille Award Recipients
Van Derveer Elementary PreK-2
Eileen Barist
Lindsay Frevert
Johann Derflinger

Van Derveer Elementary 3-5
Charlene Tackvic
Michael Guilarte
Meghan Royack

Somerville Middle School
Stephen Loreti
Rodney Weems
Matthew DeBlock

Somerville High School
Laura Manziano
Angela Goff
Aida Wahba
Vern Underwood
Danielle Zurawiecki

Marietta Gamba
Joan Thorne

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

VISION 2020 & Communicating Progress

In July 2014, the Somerville Board of Education revised the district Mission Statement and formulated the inaugural Core Values/Belief Statements listed below with stakeholder input through a community survey.  These Core Values/Belief Statements will serve as the framework for the development of the new district Strategic Plan 2015-20 Vision 2020.

Revised Mission Statement
Somerville Schools provide the highest quality education through an environment that promotes individual excellence.

Core Values/Beliefs
1.    We believe that children learn best in a challenging, motivating, safe, secure, nurturing, encouraging, and respectful environment that fosters a love of lifelong learning.
2.    We believe in providing learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs of each individual child.
3.    We believe that the mosaic of every child includes the fine arts, STEAM, and extracurricular activities.
4.    We believe that professional development is essential to the fabric of the teaching profession allowing teachers to build on current practices and
constantly improve instruction.
5.    We believe in a collaborative approach to learning and engagement that
includes students, district employees, parents, community members, and community partnerships.
Needs Assessment Goals for the Strategic Plan 2015-20:  Vision 2020
The needs assessment goals are to collect and analyze data in an effort to create a strategy to bridge the gap between the district’s current conditions and desired conditions.  Additional desired outcomes of the process include increasing organizational trust through stakeholder engagement, celebrating successes, and identifying new initiatives for consideration.   

Charting Course for Vision 2020
This year, as superintendent, I am meeting with stakeholders in both Somerville and Branchburg to collect information for the development of our new Vision 2020 Strategic Plan.  Please feel free to provide me with input through my “Talk with Tim” initiative by clicking on the logo below.  You can also tweet me @SchoolSup with the hashtag #Ville2020.  If you would rather meet in person, kindly contact my assistant, Joni Thorne, at (908)218-4100 to set up a convenient time to meet.

Communicating Progress
Last year, we launched the newly developed District Dashboard to keep the community apprised of progress towards the district strategic plan.  This year we are using the District Dashboard to chart progress towards each school’s WIG (Wildly Important Goal).  Annual WIGs are developed at our summer administrative workshop and provide focus areas for each building.  We were introduced to this concept through an administrative book study entitled Four Disciplines of Execution (written by McChesney, Covey, and Huling).  School WIG progress is assessed through a rubric (provided via a hyperlink from the District Dashboard).  I also conduct monthly purpose-driven walkthroughs alongside of the principal of each building.  These walkthroughs concentrate on monitoring progress towards building WIG achievement and improving classroom instruction.

We will update the District Dashboard four times throughout the course of the school year based on interim assessments (November, February, and May) and a summative evaluation (June).  You can view the District Dashboard and progress by clicking here.

As a reminder, I encourage stakeholders to logon to my YouTube channel to view various aspects of our educational programs, follow me on Twitter @SchoolSup, logon to and comment on my blog at www.drpurnell.blogspot.com, and/or download the district app Somerville PS.  I am here to serve the communities of Somerville and Branchburg, and look forward to your input into Vision 2020!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Welcome Back Staff Letter

Dear Colleagues:

It is my pleasure to welcome you back to the Somerville Public Schools for the 2014-15 school year.  It is my hope that you were able to find time to rest and relax this summer.  You certainly deserve the break with all of the dedication, diligence, and hard work that you provide during the school year.  Teaching children is the most important profession and the sacrifices that you make in the Ville are very much appreciated.

Last year we experienced quite a bit of turbulent waters due to the plethora of initiatives from the Department of Education.  In my opinion, these initiatives have catapulted change to an extent that we have not experienced in education since the aftermath of Sputnik.  I strongly believe that we should not float through these rough waters of change.  Radical change, without local district buy-in, will result in catastrophic failure.  Rather than wait for the Titanic to sink, I met with our local assembly representatives regarding delaying the changes.  To this end (and certainly not due to my sole efforts), our legislators have deferred the implementation effects of TEACHNJ and have modified the formula for measuring the effectiveness of educators.  This is a small victory, but still one that should be celebrated.

Unfortunately, these changes have resulted in the early retirement of outstanding veteran teachers statewide.  The Ville has not been an exception to this consequence.  My hope is that these sudden, drastic changes are an anomaly to the profession and that we will experience calmer waters in the years ahead (wishful thinking).  Regardless, we will continue to make every attempt to shield you from the viral negativity that has been surrounding these initiatives so that you can do what you do best in the classroom!

Simon Sinek believes that successful organizations “start with why” and “stay true” to their purpose or beliefs.  The Board of Education spent considerable time this summer devising “the why” through the formation of district core values/beliefs and revision of the district mission statement.  Data from the community survey (over 450 respondents) provided the Board with insight into the most important values possessed by the various stakeholders in our community.  Board President, Linda Olson, will share these recently adopted core values/beliefs and our recently revised mission statement at our opening staff meeting on Tuesday, September 2nd.

With the core values/beliefs as a framework, I will be completing a needs assessment this year to use in the formation of a new strategic plan for the 2015-2016 school year.  As part of this needs assessment, I will be spending extensive time in each of our school buildings collecting data.  I plan to meet with every staff member and also solicit the input of students, parents, community members and organizations. 

Students will have an opportunity to meet with me monthly to discuss district initiatives and happenings through my newly instituted Executive Student Council.  The Council will be comprised of students from each school building.  In addition, the Board will continue to seat two high school student representatives (one from Branchburg and one from Somerville) on the Board of Education.

Do you have a desire to mentor an at-risk child this year?  We need your help!  Under the direction of Mrs. Susan Haynes, the district will launch a new mentoring program entitled the Mosaic Project.  Please contact Mrs. Haynes if you are interested in mentoring a child for the school year or would like additional information.

We are committed to the future of education with a continued commitment to our Leadership Institute and acceptance of student teachers.  Members of Cohort I of the Leadership Institute will begin their second year of classes and we are exploring the formation of a second cohort.  In addition to student teachers from Fairleigh Dickinson University, we will also honor the request of any former students that attended the Ville.

The Ville has experienced many administrative changes for the coming year.  We are launching our new administrative model at Van Derveer School with two principals: Mrs. Haynes will be the principal for preschool though grade 2 and Mr. Reavey will be the principal for grades 3 through 5.  Mrs. Perruso (Assistant Principal) and Ms. Atkins (Curriculum Supervisor) have joined the middle school staff.  Mr. Foley was officially appointed as Somerville High School Principal and has reorganized the high school administration with Mr. Hade as Assistant Principal, Mr. Mulligan as the Director of Guidance, and Ms. Ditre as the Supervisor of Student Affairs and Instruction.  We are still working out the details of the Athletic Director position and hope to have secured a candidate by this fall.

Dr. Tanya McDonald has been appointed to the position of Director of Special Services. Her expertise and child advocacy will be a tremendous asset to the department.  Dr. McDonald will discuss our new high school adaptive life skills course and newly implemented at-risk programs (Young Science Achievers Program and our Workforce Skill Development and Employability Program) with you on opening day.  The Young Science Achievers Program provides mentors from AT&T and exposes our at-risk students to STEM by working with real scientists from their community.  The Workforce Skill Development and Employability Program (partnership with RVCC) provides opportunities for non-college bound students to four career tracks including retail, hospitality, public service (law enforcement), and childcare.  The program provides for certification in CPR, ServeSafe Food Handlers, and ServeSafe Essentials.

I am pleased to announce the arrival of our new Director of 21st Century Education Melissa McEntee.  Ms. McEntee was hired as a result of a stakeholder committee of students, teachers, and administrators.  She will use the coming school year to assess our technology needs and provide a vision for technology integration.  She will speak about a new web-based help desk and a few other exciting initiatives at our opening day session.  Please be sure to download the new Somerville Public Schools app (if you have not already done so).  New features will include the ability to enter work requests and access the new online help desk.  We continue to receive visitation requests from other districts to observe our successful middle school Chromebook program.  This year we are adding Chromebooks at the high school.

We continue to use data to drive instructional decisions.  Mr. Timothy Teehan, Academic Achievement Officer, will continue to implement our Assess, Analyze, and Achieve program.  As part of this program, Mr. Teehan compiles student achievement data using a multitude of data sources for each individual child.  These interpretation sheets are shared with each of the students’ teachers.  This year we will host our 2nd annual Student Achievement and Data Summit; last year’s inaugural Summit had over 180 participants from 41 different districts throughout the state.

Van Derveer School has demonstrated tremendous growth on the school performance report and reading levels school wide.  In an effort to maintain this growth, the building will implement a RTI (Response To Intervention) block to assist in the differentiation of instruction for all students this year.  Qualifying at-risk students will have the opportunity to attend a before school Title I program through The American Reading Company and devices to utilize MyOn software.  MyOn assesses student interest and reading levels and provides students with a recommended reading list that matches their assessed criteria.  The program also has options for teacher controls, Spanish translation and highlights/reads text as needed.   In addition, the Board approved a before school gifted and talented program that will be implemented for the coming year. 

Somerville High School added a new College and Career Counselor (Mr. Jeremy Hudson) who will assist our 8th grade students in Somerville and Branchburg with the development of Individualized Student Learning Plans (ISLPs) through Naviance.  These ISLPs help in providing a smooth transition into high school.  Mr. Hudson will also work to establish stronger relationships with college admissions offices and local businesses assisting our non-college bound students with getting jobs after high school.

The second cohort of students will enter the Somerville High School Academy of Liberal Arts.  The program provides selected students with the opportunity of earning their Associates Degree from Raritan Valley Community College along with their High School Diploma.  Students are afforded the opportunity to enter Rutgers as a junior after completion of high school.  The program is offered at a reduced rate to provide families with this unique opportunity.  We have also added several new courses at the high school for the coming year.  Among the new offerings are Mobile App Development, Marine Biology, Exploring Spanish Culture through Communication, Human Conscience, and AP Physics 1 and 2.  Our Pioneer Studios will continue to expand with the addition of an assistant Pioneer Station advisor. 

This year the district will host our fourth annual Kindergarten Summit.  All surrounding preschool providers (including Somerville preschool educators) visit our district Kindergarten classrooms for a day of articulating, highlighting best practices, and sharing Kindergarten expectations.  The Kindergarten Summit was highlighted as a “Best Practice” at last year’s New Jersey School Boards Association Workshop.

The Somerville Board of Education is committed to providing safe and efficiently operating buildings and to that end was awarded over $1.17 million in state construction grants in 2013-2014 alone representing 45% funding of approved projects.  Over the summer, Somerville High School received upgrades to three sets of student toilet rooms and a main lobby security vestibule.  The vestibule will serve as a physical barrier that will channel visitors into the main office so their identity and purpose for entry can be verified.  Van Derveer School received a new staff parking lot that adds 50 much needed parking spaces for the school.  In addition, a replacement waterline was installed to replace the existing 40+ year old water service into the building.

Many of our staff members were busy this summer teaching our enrichment and at-risk programs, attending professional development offerings and presenting at our annual Collaborative Professional Development Academy.  I would like to thank them for providing for our students, sharing their talents and continuing to improve their pedagogy.

I would like to congratulate the following staff members that recently received or will receive tenure this September: Nicole Battaglia, Melissa Best, Patricia Clark, Eleni Iannella, Michael Skomba, Helena Sroczynski, Brennen Thompson, and Aida Janet Wahba.  I would also like to especially welcome our 38 new staff members.  Newly retired educator and coach, Joe Petrill, gave our new staff members a tour of the borough in a district school bus.  Last year I met with all first year teachers and student teachers to gain input on the quality of our training and transition into the Ville.  We tweaked our new staff orientation session offerings as a result of the feedback.

New staff, you have made a wise decision in selecting a school community that values education and diversity.  Be an advocate for your students and create classrooms where it is safe to fail as well as succeed.  I wish you tremendous success in the Ville!  I owe a debt of gratitude to our personnel committee for their countless hours of work selecting our new teachers.  The personnel committee is composed of teaching and support staff members.  They complete all first and second round interviews and recommend 4-8 candidates to our principals for demonstration lessons.  During the demonstration lesson phase, a member of the personnel committee remains on as a liaison to the process. 

Last year, Gian Paul Gonzalez encouraged you to be ALL IN for the Ville!  To continue this district theme, I will be unveiling a staff recognition initiative for the 2014-2015 school year.  We plan to recognize staff for being #allin4theVille.  Are you still ALL IN for our students?  I encourage you to tweet throughout the year with the hashtag #allin4theVille.

In closing, I am committed to being ALL IN for you, our students, and our community!  I look forward to seeing all of you on September 2nd and working alongside you this year. Coffee and refreshments will be available in the middle school cafeteria at 8:00 am and the In-Service Day Program will begin at 8:30 am.  This year’s opening session will be brief and will not include a keynote speaker.  I thank you for your continued dedication and service to our entire school community.

My best for the coming year,

Timothy Purnell, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools