Thursday, September 6, 2012

Welcome Back!

Today marks the start of another exciting year in the Ville!  I visited each school to wish our students, staff, parents and guardians a successful year.  Students arrived with great anticipation carrying immaculate backpacks and new supplies.  Our staff greeted the children with smiles as they exited the buses and lined up for morning routines.  As administrators, we hope to capture this enthusiasm all year round.

I have provided you with a copy of my summer letter to the staff below.  We have some exciting projects lined up for the new school year! 

Dear Colleagues: 

It is my pleasure to welcome you back to the Somerville Public Schools for the 2012-2013 school year.  I trust that you are enjoying your last few days of summer vacation and that you had time to read something for pleasure instead of evaluation.  Whether you traveled or stayed home, may you return to your role in the district with renewed energy, enthusiasm and optimism.  My hope is that you were reminded this summer of the importance of your work and how critical your individual contribution is to our collective success.

As you may have noticed in the media, public schools remain in the forefront of concern and ridicule.  Recently, a growing number of scandals have revealed districts engaging in unethical practices related to the number of erasure marks on standardized tests.  Furthermore, public schools continue to receive criticism of underachievement.  In Somerville, however, we have enjoyed another fruitful year of success.  The recognition of your collaborative efforts is symbolized by the recent Somerville High School ranking of #76 in the state (one ranking higher than the 2010 report) by New Jersey Monthly.  Another report, issued in May from Newsweek, ranked the high school #50 in the state and #637 in the country.  These reports reflect a cumulative assessment of a district that is staffed with exceptional teachers and administrators, reflects community values, and serves our students well.  But these statistics and student performance on a standardized test are not what makes an excellent school district!  Somerville is an outstanding school district because our students do well in life.   

I am proud of the Ville community and am grateful for the value that it places on public education, diversity and collaboration.  I am proud of our educators and administrators because they take pride in what they do and strive to do it better.  I am proud of this district because we hold high expectations of our students and because we have a desire to see our students succeed and become responsible citizens.  Most of all, I am proud of our students.  They offer hope and a chance to make this world a better place.

While I do not believe that standardized tests should be a comparative tool for schools or districts, I do believe in using the tests to compass our discussions and guide our action plans for improvement.  Are we holistically using data to drive instruction?  To address that need, the Board of Education has created the new position of Academic Achievement Officer.  We are fortunate to welcome Mr. Timothy Teehan to serve in this capacity.  Mr. Teehan will be charged with the responsibilities of overseeing the development of specific plans to meet identified school and subgroup performance targets, assisting in the determination of services to meet the needs of underperforming students, supporting and monitoring the delivery of instructional programs, evaluating programs, and providing an analysis of assessment data.  There is always room for improvement; we just need to have the data to show us where we need to improve.  Mr. Teehan will spend his first year working with the Van Derveer staff and then phase into each of the buildings over the two subsequent years.  

I recognize that many of our staff members spent the summer months working, revising curriculum, interviewing candidates, presenting workshops, taking courses and furthering their professional development.  However, I would like to particularly commend Ms. Atkins, Mrs. Neary, Ms. D’Angelo and Ms. Raymondi for assisting me in the curriculum department this summer.  They provided a tremendous support to me as I was fulfilling the role of the Director.  At this time, I am pleased to announce that the Board appointed Mrs. Melissa McCooley to the position of Director of Curriculum and Instruction.  Mrs. McCooley served as a consultant to the district last year and is eager to begin her professional career in the Ville and continue the outstanding tradition of success that Dr. Carolyn Rosenberg provided during her tenure in the district.  I would also like to commend our custodial, maintenance and support staff for the countless hours of preparation and hard work this summer to get our buildings ready for opening day. 

A familiar face to the high school, Christopher Mulligan has joined the Somerville High School administrative team in the capacity of Interim Supervisor of Student Activities and Testing.  Mr. Mulligan has spent the last eight years as a mathematics teacher and coach.  I am excited to have Mr. Mulligan as a member of our administrative team and am confident that he will provide consistency in discipline and support for our high school educators and students.

As you may have read in the newspaper, Governor Christie has signed into law the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act.  The Act does not eliminate or significantly change the underlying concept of tenure.  However, the Act significantly alters the manner in which staff members are evaluated and achieve/maintain tenure status.  In accordance with the Act, each of our building principals will be forming “school improvement panels” to oversee the mentoring of teachers and the identification of professional development offerings for instructional staff in their respective buildings.  Teaching staff members who are starting tenure-tracked positions for the 2012-2013 school year will be required to complete four consecutive calendar years plus employment at the beginning of the succeeding year to attain tenure.   

The District Evaluation Advisory Committee (DEAC) recommended the Stronge Teacher Evaluation system on May 15, 2012.  While full implementation is not required until the 2013-2014 school year, this year will provide us time to work with and get to know the system.  I am confident and excited about the committee’s recommendation and look forward to its implementation this year.  To further this initiative, your first in-service day will be spent with a trainer in the Stronge model at your respective building. 

The Board of Education met to discuss the results and data from the first year of the strategic goal implementation.  A disaggregation of student participation (Goal #1) has prompted the Board to launch a community mentoring program for “at risk” students.  More information regarding this program and nominating students will be forthcoming.  Also, this year will serve as a planning year for a proposed Liberal Arts Academy (Goal #2) in cooperation with Raritan Valley Community College.  Interested eighth grade students can apply in the spring of 2013.  Students who enter the program will be afforded the opportunity to receive an Associate’s Degree upon their completion of high school.  The district will continue to grow in the area of technology integration (Goal #3).  However, these offerings will remain as electives and discretionary, rather than as requirements.  

The Department of Technology and 21st Century Education has been extremely busy this summer.  Ninety laptops have been deployed district wide as part of the Somerville Mobile Device Initiative.  Sixteen new SMART Boards have been installed in Van Derveer School, with the goal of one in every classroom by the end of this school year.  The department has a new home on the second floor of the Administrative Headquarters which includes a conference center for 21st century education.  The conference center will be a space where teachers can come and use new technology gadgets, attend seminars or drop in and chat about best practices.  Be sure to stop in the new conference center this September.   

The district continues to execute its capital improvement plan aimed at providing adequate space for safe, presentable, and efficient facilities equipped to deliver 21st century learning.  Capital projects completed over the summer at Somerville High School include the renovation of boys’ and girls’ locker rooms and two hallway bathrooms adjacent to the gymnasium.  During the 2012-2013 school year, construction will begin on a five-classroom addition at Van Derveer School designed to decrease class sizes and to accommodate the sustained increase in enrollment the district is experiencing at the lower grade levels.

This year, Somerville Public Schools will undergo the NJDOE Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) monitoring process.  A QSAC steering committee will formulate a self-assessment of the District Performance Reviews.  The monitoring team will conduct an official monitoring of the district sometime during the 2012-2013 school year.

I would like to especially welcome our new staff members.  This year, thirty-four new staff members will be joining the district.  The new staff seminars resulted in a full house.  Retired Somerville Middle School teacher, Richard Repole, gave our new staff members a tour of the town in one of our large yellow school buses.  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 would like to also congratulate the following staff members who recently received or will receive tenure this September: Deborah Cortigiani, Antonette D’Angelo, Michael Dlugosz, Wendy Hunt, Suzanne Monahan, Kelly Mulligan and Maria O’Shea.

In a few short days, you will gather at your respective buildings to embark on a new school year.  This year, our two professional development days will be building based.  Coffee and refreshments will be available on September 4th for your Stronge training.  I thank you for your continued dedication and service to our entire school community.

My best for the coming year,

Timothy J. Purnell, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
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