By Ron Leir
As she starts her first full year as acting head of the Kearny public school system in the new Board of Education administrative office center on Midland Ave., Superintendent Patricia Blood is optimistic that students and staff will fare well.
That’s not to say that the district won’t be facing any challenges, she said, noting that since June 30, enrollment has climbed from a bit over 5,800 to the current level of about 6,000 and could go higher – which is what a demographer retained by the district predicted would happen over the next few years.
“We’re reading growth across the district,” Blood said, “and we’ve tried to anticipate that with our new middle school planning and re-drawing school boundary lines to create better-balanced class size in every school building.
“This was feasible because we worked as a team – administrators, teachers, custodial personnel and staff – to get it done.”
It was also accomplished, Blood said, despite having lost 28 teachers from last school year through retirements. At this point, she said, “we have 11 fewer teachers district-wide,” but the system absorbed the loss and still managed to even out class size by reconfiguring the number of class sections and redistributing assignment of teachers.
And Blood said she’ll continue to tweak the system as needed to maintain that continuity. For example, she said, “we may hire a new science teacher for the middle school to reduce class size in that subject.”
As part of the new middle school program for grades 7 and 8 at Lincoln School, Blood said all students will be getting computer classes plus 15 days of swim instruction, parceled out in 64-minute sessions per day.
“We’re also introducing intramural programs in volleyball, indoor soccer and basketball,” she said. “And for our 400 seventh-graders, 60 have signed up for instrumental music as an elective, 75 will be taking vocal instruction and the rest will be in art.”
As a district-wide safety measure, Blood said, “We’ve been putting in key swipes at all elementary school facilities for staff access under a state contract. We want to make sure every door is secured and locked. At the high school, we have security guards who control access.”
On the academic front, Blood said students at various grade levels are being exposed to new approaches to language arts (reading and writing) and math mastery skills.
Currently, for example, 60 teachers of kindergarten, first and second grades and special education aligned with those levels are undergoing 30 hours of training in the Orton & Gillingham reading program which, Blood said, “we felt was best suited to our needs to create a good reading foundation for our students.”
And this month, teachers in grades 6, 7 and 8 will begin training in Larson’s Big Ideas Math program, supplementing the Go Math instructional program in elementary school grades and Algebra in middle school grades.
Students in grades 6 through 8 are being exposed to the Harcourt Collections Anthology in a new language arts program while kids in kindergarten through grade 5 will be honing their language arts skills through the Being A Writer methodology.
“We’ll be piloting a new social studies series involving three different instructional companies for grades 6 through 8,” Blood said. “We’ll be continuing to use the Achieve 3000 computer-based interdisciplinary reading comprehension program for grades 2 through 8 and for high school special education students,” she said. “I’m seeing significant gains in reading performance in the last two years using this program.”
Blood said she’ll be seeking Board of Education approval to secure the use of Interactive Achievement, a system that collects and analyzes student performance data, to provide middle school teachers with another resource to better assess students’ strengths and weaknesses, as measured by the state-mandated Common Core standards.