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Latest Efforts Begin to Revamp New Jersey’s ‘Priority Schools’

Schools with lowest achievement levels targeted for intervention.

A week after identifying the state’s lowest performing schools for stronger state interventions next year, the Christie administration will start laying out exactly what that intervention could look like, from redirecting staff to replacing principals.

The state Department of Education will hold its first webinar today with effected districts and schools and already has begun reviews of each of the 75 schools to determine next steps, officials said.

Much of those new Quality School Reviews (QSRs) will consist of reading old reviews completed by the state under previous reform efforts. Many of the schools have seen their share of state promises for help and intervention.

But administration officials insist this effort will be different, directed out of seven new Regional Achievement Centers (RACs) being created across the state. The state is now hiring the staff for the new centers, including their directors, officials said.

Schools will hold further meetings with department staff before the end of the school year, and principals of the effected schools will be required to attend special training sessions in August.

The targeted schools are called Priority Schools, those that have shown the lowest achievement levels over the past three years. Also getting some lesser state attention are 183 schools called Focus Schools with wide achievement gaps or more specific shortcomings. Their QSR’s will take place in the fall.

An outline of possible strategies for Priority Schools was provided to the schools last week, centered on what officials said were eight key “turnaround principles.” According to the department’s memo, the eight principles and their descriptions are as follows:

  • School Climate and Culture: Establishing school environments with a climate conducive to learning and a culture of high expectations.
  • School Leadership: Ensuring that the principal has the ability to lead the turnaround effort.
  • Standards Aligned Curriculum, Assessment and Intervention System: Ensuring teachers have the foundational documents and instructional materials needed to teach to the rigorous college and career ready standards that have been adopted.
  • Instruction: Ensuring teachers utilize research-based effective instruction to meet the needs of all students.
  • Use of Time: Redesigning time to better meet student needs and increase teacher collaboration focused on improving teaching and learning.
  • Use of Data: Ensuring school-wide use of data focused on improving teaching and learning, as well as climate and culture.
  • Staffing Practices: Developing the skills to better recruit, retain and develop effective teachers.
  • Family and Community Engagement: Increasing academically focused family and community engagement.

A central move will be around school leadership, officials said, with the guidelines saying principals in many of the lowest performing schools will likely be removed. “Generally, principals in place for three years or longer will need to be replaced,” read the guidelines.

But the department stressed that principals will have a chance to prove themselves as “turnaround principal candidates” and could remain in place if they show “high levels of competency” on specific criteria spelled out in the memo.

In addition, the Priority Schools will also be required to devote staff around some of those principles, including new instructional leaders and separate people focused on data analysis and school climate. The positions are:

  • Data Leader will work in collaboration with RAC staff to ensure school-wide use of data focused on improving teaching and learning, as well as climate and culture.
  • Climate and Culture Leader will work in collaboration with RAC staff and school leadership to establish a school environment with a climate conducive to learning and a culture of high expectations.
  • Literacy Leader will work in collaboration with RAC staff to improve literacy instruction.
  • Mathematics Leader will work in collaboration with RAC staff to improve mathematics instruction.
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