The List: ‘Lighthouse’ School Districts Lauded for Big Improvements

Carly Sitrin | August 2, 2019 | The List
Credited for having made significant academic progress and for helping diverse sets of learners, the newly designated ‘lighthouse’ districts are expected to be beacons of best practices

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Eleven school districts across the state that have demonstrated “significant academic improvement” and “measurable progress across diverse groups of learners” are being given special recognition by the state Department of Education. The DOE announced the 11 as so-called lighthouse districts this week, just the second year such districts have been named.

The “lighthouse” initiative started in 2017 under then Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. At the time, the program drew some criticism for including only relatively small school districts which did not have a high percentages of high-needs students, including English language learners. The latest list of “lighthouse” school districts is larger and more economically diverse than the 2017 selection.

Central to the program is the idea that “lighthouse” school districts will share their strategies and successes with other districts looking to improve, will receive diversity and inclusion-training opportunities, and be asked to share their insights with the DOE in policy discussions. The DOE has not released the criteria used for choosing these districts but a spokesperson for the department said they “evaluated four years of district and school-level data to identify districts with the greatest academic improvement.”

Here are the latest Lighthouse districts. Note that under state law, charter schools and charter networks are considered school districts.

Little Falls Township School District

The district was recognized for its commitment to use student-level data to inform instruction techniques and for having students routinely set goals for themselves and track their personal growth.

It has students in pre-K to grade 8 across three schools with a total enrollment of 887. Twenty-one percent of students are economically disadvantaged, 21.9 percent of students have disabilities, and 1 percent are English learners.

Long Branch Public Schools

Long Branch was chosen for its project-based learning initiatives and commitment to social-emotional learning. It’s launching an initiative aimed at identifying and addressing every student’s insecurities and vulnerabilities.

The district serves students in pre-K to grade 12 across eight schools with a total enrollment of 5,735. Eighty-three percent of students are economically disadvantaged, 13.5 percent have disabilities. 23.5 percent are English learners.

Ocean City School District

Ocean City was singled out for its “Raider Ready” program, which gives new students and their families opportunities to become acclimated with teachers before they are even enrolled in the district.

It serves students pre-K to grade 12 across three schools with a total enrollment of 2,124. Twenty-two percent are economically disadvantaged, 11.3 have disabilities, and 0.9 percent are English learners.

Paul Robeson Charter School for the Humanities, Mercer County

In 2016, the school went through the state charter school renewal process and has since upgraded its overall mission, vision and academic program. It was chosen for its individualized approach to learning and teacher-created exit tests.

it has students in grades four through eight with a total enrollment of 376. Ninety-five percent of them are economically disadvantaged, 10 percent have disabilities, and 15.7 percent are English learners.

Perth Amboy City School District

Perth Amboy was praised for its strong dual-language program and Perth Amboy High School was named a 2019 national School of Character. By September each student in the high school will have a district-owned Chromebook computer to use in school and at home. It was also highlighted for its high school academy model that it says offers hands-on experiences, rigorous coursework and ample opportunities for apprenticeships and internships.

The district serves students pre-K to grade 12 across 12 schools; total enrollment is 12,076. Most students — 85.6 percent — are economically disadvantaged, 9.6 percent have disabilities, 27.6 percent are English learners.

Somerville Borough School District

Somerville was chosen for its new district-wide strategic plan, Vision 2020, which focuses on building cultural competence, or understanding; preparing students for college and career options; and growing their professional development opportunities.

It has students pre-K to grade 12, across three schools with a total enrollment of 2,357. Just over 30 percent are economically disadvantaged, 16.5 percent are students with disabilities, and 4.5 percent are English learners.

TEAM Academy Charter School, Essex County

It was chosen because of the emphasis placed on students’ wellbeing. Social-worker and psychologist support is provided in small groups and in one-on-one counseling for students.

Part of the KIPP New Jersey network of charter schools, the district serves students in kindergarten through grade 12 across eight schools totaling 4,015 students. More than 90 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, 12.9 percent have disabilities, and 1 percent are English learners.

Red Bank Borough School District

Red Bank has been recognized for its bilingual/ESL/content supports for English learners, special education co-teaching and Response to Intervention (RtI) services to work alongside all learners to help them improve.

It serves students in pre-K to grade eight across two schools with 1,439 students enrolled. Close to 87 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, 16.2 percent have disabilities, and 32.9 percent are English learners.

Washington Borough School District

Washington Borough has been recognized for encouraging a “risk-free environment for teachers and students to experiment and reframe instructional strategies toward improved outcomes.” Teachers and staff are encouraged to submit proposals for innovative programs.

It has students in pre-K to grade six across two schools with 476 students enrolled, of whom 35.7 percent are economically disadvantaged, 22.7 percent are students with disabilities and 1.5 percent are English learners.

Waterford Township School District

Waterford School District is on the list because of its partnership with Lesley University to work on instructional practices. The district was also awarded Preschool Education Expansion Aid (PEEA) to expand engagement with families of preschool students.

It serves students in pre-K to grade six across three schools totaling 810 students, 27.4 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, 15.9 percent have disabilities, and 0.1 percent are English learners.

West Deptford School District

West Deptford is on the list because it created data teams to analyze and make informed decisions regarding assessment results and curriculum items. It has also formed partnerships with universities for teacher instruction training and professional development and created a range of mentoring programs.

The district serves students in pre-K to grade 12 across five schools with 2,877 students enrolled. Just over a quarter of them (25.5 percent) are economically disadvantaged, 23.3 percent have disabilities and 0.4 percent are English learners.