The first day of school for North Bergen students is Thursday, Sept. 5. No time will be wasted gearing back up, according to Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. George Solter.
Administrators will focus on new teacher evaluations, core curricula, and continuing the township’s differentiated instruction program.
New teacher evaluations
“The big thing we're doing is regarding the teachers,” he said. “For the first time, there’s a new evaluation system. Now, if teachers are rated ‘not effective’ or ‘partially effective,’ they’re in danger of their losing their tenure.”
“If you’re in those two ratings of the evaluation system two years in a row, then I have to remove them from tenure, and they’re in danger of losing their job," Solter said. “That’s the major change between last year and this year as far as teachers is concerned.”
The teachers can also be rated “effective” and “highly effective” under the state “Achieve NJ” evaluation system. “Teach NJ” is the companion new tenure law, Solter said, that the New Jersey Legislature passed and Gov. Chris Christie signed into law.
It is not just the teachers who will be rated differently now, according to the superintendent.
“I’m basically it; I’m the change at the administrative level.” – Dr. George Solter
Solter stressed that these changes are not confined to North Bergen, but are taking place across the state.
As part of this evaluation system, teachers had been undergoing training for the last year in the “whole new process,” he said.
Focus on core curricula
In terms of the students themselves, several initiatives will begin or progress.
The district will continue to implement common core curricula, a movement across the country.
“With common core math, we’re moving over to a new math system,” Solter said. “Math will be in focus; we’re moving into third year of that.”
The district is phasing in the program, with kindergarten to second grade the first year’s emphasis, grades three to five in the second year, and grades 6 through 12 this year.
“The main thing about the math series is that they’re doing fewer standards in a year. But they're learning it to mastery, instead of 90 things in one year,” Solter said. “Now they are learning between 18 and 24 standards in a year.
“They’re doing in detail; they’re researching,” he said. “They’re bringing in practical applications. They’re saying, ‘Where am I going to use this in real life?’ ”
In terms of the core curriculum of English, the district is in the third year of using a literacy consultant.
"Were really trying work on reading and writing with those students, K to12,” he said. "We’re trying to really work on what the common core speaks to: reading informational texts and writing with evidence. Reading a journal and writing a report. That’s a big thing we’re doing this year; the writing.”
This follows a two-year emphasis on reading skills, according to the superintendent.
The first three years of the program concentrated on implementation, he said. Years four and five will focus on making it comprehensive, making sure that it is being carried across the curricula, including disciplines like social studies and science.
“Like in lab reports; now it becomes commonplace everywhere,” Solter said. “So everyone becomes a reading teacher and everyone becomes a writing teacher.”
This is even true in a subject like physical education, where students may be asked to read a journal article or newspaper story on a topic like steroids or general health and then be asked to write a report on it.
Another major thrust of the new school year will be to make sure students of all abilities are achieving what they can, the “differentiated instruction” program that Solter’s predecessor, Robert Dandorph, began during his tenure.
“We’re going to try and make sure that everyone’s learning,” Solter said. “We‘re making sure that no matter what type of problem they have, we're going to make sure everyone has the opportunity to learn.”
As far as staffing changes, the superintendent said there is nothing major to report.
“There are no new staff members, no new principals, no new vice principals,” he said. “I’m basically it; I’m the change at the administrative level.”
As far as new educators, the district is adding many fewer teachers than normal.
“I was shocked; it was minimal,” Solter said. “We’re anywhere from 20 to 40 in any given year. This year it’s between 10 and 15.”
Principal and superintendent
“The high school is excited about opening,” said Principal Paschal “Pat” Tennaro. “We had a great school year (last year),” and he said the school is looking forward to another one.
Tennaro is also looking forward to working with the new superintendent. He knows him well: Solter was his eighth grade science student.
“I know George many, many years, and I’m excited about him providing leadership for the district," Tennaro said. “He’s a great person too.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.