While most area students are making the most of their final days of summer vacation, students at the Galloway Community Charter School are already back in class.
This is the second year the school opened in August to give teachers and students more time to prepare for state tests in the spring. The school year also ends earlier, this year on June 5.
“We don’t control when the state gives the tests,” school administrator and founder Deborah Nataloni said. “But we can give them more time to learn.”
New methods for teaching, testing and technology, affecting both students and teachers, will be common themes in schools throughout New Jersey this year. Even school lunch will be changing as new federal guidelines focus on fresh produce and controlled portion sizes.
Officials in many districts, including the Galloway charter, spent the summer aligning their curriculum to the national common core standards adopted by New Jersey on which state tests will be based.
All districts in the state must also begin planning for new state-mandated teacher evaluations, and many are already training teachers on how new evaluations will be conducted and what they will include.
“We are spending a lot of time training and preparing for the evaluations,” said Thomas Baruffi, superintendent in Linwood and Mainland Regional. “It’s a very time-consuming process.”
Ocean City was part of a state teacher-evaluation pilot project last year, and Stafford Township will be part of the principal-evaluation pilot project this year.
Smartphones and tablet computers will be front and center this year rather than hidden in backpacks or lockers as districts buy or allow students to bring in their own electronic devices and use them in the classroom.
Egg Harbor Township and Pinelands Regional high schools will implement “bring your own device” policies this year. Greater Egg Harbor Regional’s three high schools are also experimenting with allowing students to use their own electronic devices in class at the teachers’ discretion.
“We are saying do what you can to bring it in responsibly,” GEHR Superintendent Steven Ciccariello said. “It’s not going away, so we should embrace it rather than try to stop it.”
The district’s Cedar Creek High School will have its first graduating class, and the new high school has helped lower class sizes at Oakcrest and Absegami from 28 or 29 students to 24 or 25. The two older schools have new computer labs, and the district is working toward becoming paperless for parents and putting all information online.
“It’s both time-consuming and expensive to prepare and mail things for more than 3,700 students,” Ciccariello said.
Ocean City High School has new iPad and computer labs as well as new schedules at both the intermediate and high school. The high school has adopted a schedule similar to one used by Mainland Regional that allows for longer class periods and one common lunch period during which students can eat in areas outside the cafeteria, including in a newly renovated courtyard.
Smaller K-8 school districts are also expanding technology. West Cape May is adding five new electronic Smart Boards, Absecon now has district-wide wireless capability, Galloway Charter bought some iPads, and Brigantine added its second iPad mobile lab.
STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math — areas are also getting more attention. Oceanside Charter School in Atlantic City will expand its robotics program, and Northfield’s new K-8 computer program will emphasize STEM topics.
Summer months were also quite noisy in many schools as many construction projects were completed.
Atlantic City and Buena Regional will open new schools, though Buena’s Cleary School will retain some touches of the original school, including the large stone entry arch preserved from the 1928 building.
“That took some work, but it came together nicely,” Superintendent Walter Whitaker said of the project, which included demolishing the original school and gutting and restoring sections built in 1958, 1968 and 2001. The Donini school will close, and all students in grades four and five will attend Cleary.
All three Upper Township schools were spruced up with new painting and landscaping. The primary school HVAC system was upgraded, and the middle school got new windows and doors.
Pleasantville renovated the high school pool and replaced HVAC units at the Leeds Avenue School. Absecon expanded its school stage to meet the growing band, chorus and drama programs.
School food-service directors have been busy creating menus to meet new federal school-lunch guidelines that include more fresh fruits and vegetables and less protein and carbohydrates.
“This is the greatest fundamental change in food service in the last 30 years,” said Keith Nocco, Sodexo’s director of food service in the Vineland schools.
The Galloway Charter School will also increase physical education time from 150 to 200 minutes per week.
“Our theme for this year is Health and Wellness,” Nataloni said.
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