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Moms Talk: What's Your Priorities For Our Schools?

Bernards Township Schools considering hiring a facilitator to pull together a strategic plan for the school district's future.

This question really is for any parent — or student, or even older residents — who consider the school system of primary importance for their families, and the community at large.

Many of us moved to Bernards Township largely because we wanted our children to be able to take advantage of the

Of course we all had other reasons. But even some of those attractions (in our case, we wanted a natural and relatively pesticide-free environment for an allergic kid) were in some cases tied to school facilities or programs.

And last year, the school board heard the community say loud and clear when parents and others quickly raised money to keep the program rather than accept a cut to a part-day program to save money. The — as well as the nine-period day at and the team system at the middle school, all priorities of parents.

On Monday night, the board heard a presentation by a representative from the New Jersey School Boards Association, Gwen Thornton, who offered a proposal for conducting a strategic plan that would outline the goals of the school district for the next three to five years. The proposal also would follow up to see how those goals are being met.

Part of that strategic planning — which is still under consideration — would be to pull together parents, school officials, residents throughout the community, including senior citizens, and even students, to ask for their input, Thornton said.

But we're asking early — what do you consider most important in your local school system? What are your priorities for the next few years?

If you had to choose, would you prefer that some programs (such as the elementary Spanish or enrichment program) be sacrificed to keep class sizes lower? 

And do you wish the public had more input into the decision to starting next fall?

And do you think it was a good idea to — and only put the school budget up for a public vote if the annual increase exceeds two percent?

And, would you like to see a to a future school calendar?

But let's take an even broader view. Do you think the staff is being adequately supported and trained? Would you rather see money spent on fixing up aging schools? Are you satisfied with programs for special needs students?

What new programs would you like to see? Where might our school system be falling short — or doing well?

And also we invite parents from the Somerset Hills regional school district to let us know what they might like to keep — or change — in their local schools.

Please let us know what you think in the comments section below.

maria claps May 17, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Call me old fashioned, but I am a big believer in the basics--math, reading and writing. Especially writing, particularly for college prep. I am also a fan on learning a second language, as I think it just increases your world view and expands one as a person. But I dont know it that is for everyone. I would rather have a student be solid in math reading and writing, then struggle through a foreign language. I think some basic skills, like balancing a checkbook, or managing online accounts, interview skills,calling a store and being able to communicate with the sales person is important as well.
Stacey Irvine May 17, 2012 at 04:02 PM
I think we need to give our teachers more training and support. We keep increasing stress for our teachers, increasing class sizes and adding more ways to evaluate them. I don't want my child to have a stressed-out teacher. I'd rather have a teacher who feels supported and prepared. I also know that the number of students who are classified for special education is continuing to increase. We need more special ed teachers and perhaps even more importantly, we need more general ed teachers who have special ed training and are comfortable with students of all abilities, learning styles and needs.
BR Mom May 17, 2012 at 04:38 PM
I think the number one priority at the high school should be improving the atmosphere between the teachers/administration and the students. Right now, there is a tension in the school that should be addressed. Teachers think that parents are ridiculous. Kids think teachers are ridiculous. Administration thinks parents are ridiculous. The truth is that we are all on the same team. My son is thrilled to be going to college and have Ridge be behind him. My daughter feels the same way. It's not the education that's the problem, it's the environment. Coaches included. My kids are well-prepared for college but they have not loved Ridge. I wish I could change that.
Rick Morley May 17, 2012 at 04:50 PM
There are some aspects of our school system that I think parents and community members should have a say in. What holidays do we take off? How can we improve morale? How much money for "x" program is enough, and how much is too much? But, other things like class periods, homework, mid-terms and finals, languages, the arts, etc.—I want to hear from some experts. I want some data, some trends, and some figures of results. Not that I want to cede all decision making to others, but if I'm going to be asked to help make decisions, I want to make informed decisions. AND, if others are making decisions, I want them informed too. For instance, there is a tenuous relationship between lots of homework and academic performance. The research bears that out. But, still we send kinds home with hours and hours of homework, thinking of "of course, more is better." What's best for our kids and schools isn't all a matter of taste and opinion. What are the best practices "out there," and which of them would be a good fit for us? I don't know, but I'd like to.
Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) May 17, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Thanks for all insights! And to go back to an earlier column, do you think there is a way to address (at least I found) the big jump from 5th grade to middle school? (especially for those of us with kids who were unable to attend Camp Jumpstart?)
Colleen Epple Pine May 17, 2012 at 06:37 PM
It would be ideal to see a middle school orientation as part of the National Honor Society offerings of service to the community. Our high school students, along with some middle-schoolers, could select a given Saturday or two and dedicate the day to school tours, open discussions, introduction to classes by title and maybe even a scavenger hunt in teams that allows the 5th graders to learn about their new school in a fun and relaxing environment. This can be accomplished in one or two days and with volunteers. Perhaps we would need a school representative present, but certainly parents and teens would host this event without payment. I can't imagine why this option is not already in place (or perhaps it is and I've not been made aware). We have several school Councils, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and Peer Leader groups that should take the lead here. This would be a great alternate to Camp Jumpstart.
SZ May 18, 2012 at 12:39 AM
I agree with all the comments posted. Having a strategic plan is key along with a commitment to the goals. In addition, I would like to see the following: 1) focus on student success, development of the whole child and college/life readiness. 2)positive leadership focus (lead by example, integrity, open minded, commitment to excellence) 3) awareness and education for all (staff, parents, administrators, students) related to learning differences/styles, child development/neurobehavorial disorders, teen anxiety/depression, self esteem, etc 4) smaller class sizes and support for teachers and finally 5) focus on the basics -writing skills, organizational/study skills, test taking strategies, reading, critical thinking skills, math, science, etc. I would also rather have good solid basic skill development rather than all the electives, I think that covers it. Thanks for the article Linda.
Alicia R. Camlibel, Ph.D., LPC May 18, 2012 at 09:16 AM
As a parent of young children, I couldn't be happier with the school system. The teachers/faculty/staff/principal/vice principal, etc. are very active and involved with the children, any concerns or questions I have are always answered and addressed, and from my perspective it appears their number one concern is helping the young children in the school feel good and succeed, not only academically. I couldn't be happier with the grammar school! As a local psychotherapist, I see a lot of children and teens with learning issues, academic underachievement, anxiety, depression which is not only impacting their school success but other areas of their lives as well. Parents need to be open and receptive to the idea that a therapist can help the child and family but also help coordinate testing and accomodations by the school system. I have seen parents who do not trust the school system, when in fact a good working relationship and communication can help the child tremendously.
SZ May 18, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Alicia - trust needs to be earned. Parents are the only ones that truly have the best interests of their child in mind. Parent are right to be cautious in trusting anyone, especially when it comes to addressing some of the issues you mentioned. The experiences and issues can be different across the schools and when the child moves from the elementary school to MS and to the HS. As a parent, I would only recommend private testing from a trusted qualified professional so that you can be assured it is independent and thorough.
Alicia R. Camlibel, Ph.D., LPC May 18, 2012 at 11:51 PM
SZ- I understand your position and it makes me sad that when it comes to the best interest of the child there is mistrust. We are fortunate to live in an area where there are so many professionals who can help the children/teen. I have also been fortunate in that when I work with our school system the child study teams/pt/ot/st have been nothing but open and receptive to dialogue among all involved on the child's behalf and that the children got the help/support they needed.
Lori May 22, 2012 at 12:38 AM
I could not agree more with SZ. Smart, involved and informed parents do not blindly trust the school or administration as a whole. Why should they? We as paying customers and consumers of products need to ask how and why of our doctors, teachers, babysitters, builders etc. Unfortunately, just by virtue of living in a nice area, does not make us immune to alcohol, drugs, medical malpractice or poor administrative decisions.
Clare Johnson June 07, 2012 at 02:04 PM
I would encourage you to go see, "Race to Nowhere" and then think about what is happening with our kids. You can find show times on line and the tickets are inexpensive. At least watch the trailer on the www.
BR Mom June 07, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Clare -- I have seen "Race to Nowhere". It conveys an invaluable message that is mostly geared towards parents who believe that attaining an Ivy league education is the only acceptable level of success for their children. Parents then are inclined to push these ideals to their children who are stressed to the point depicted in the movie. What the movie fails to go into any depth about but is mentioned on the last two slides presented in the film, are the responsibilities of the school. The competitive nature of the kids and parents at Ridge create a hostile environment for the teachers and administrators; pushy parents and kids are constantly harrassing teachers for more points and improved grades. It is a defensive position that they are in. I believe VERY strongly that a better message for Ridge to be focusing on is that "We are all on the same team!" Parents, teachers, students and administrators should share the same desires for our kids and should dialog about the wellness of our children's education first-and-foremost. Understanding how successful students can be at colleges of various levels of prestige is critical at an early point in the high school process. Setting appropriate expectations and working to meet these expectations on an individual basis is of utmost importance.

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