Superintendent’s Message - Reflecting on the 2013-14 School Year
The 2013-2014 school year was filled, once again, with reasons to celebrate our students, staff, and schools. A highlight of the year was the recognition of the Alternative High School as a 2014 National School of Character.Â I’m proud that Cherry Hill continues to be a state and national leader in character education - the Alternative High School is now the fifth Cherry Hill school to earn that recognition.
Each of those schools took a different path to becoming a National School of Character, but they all had the same objective. Similarly, as I reflect on the 2013-2014 school year, it occurs to me that the path our district is taking to achieve our goals is changing somewhat. Our focus remains the same, but the road we’re traveling to get there is a little different.
Consider the approach we are taking to improve our facilities. Last summer, the Board of Education’s Strategic Planning Committee was considering a bond referendum to fund building projects. Over the summer of 2013, the Schools Development Authority (SDA) announced the availability of grant funding to support eligible capital projects. Our business office jumped at the opportunity and very quickly completed and submitted grant applications for 42 projects; 41 SDA grants were approved representing 54 projects.
We’ve sought out other funding sources as well, and the combination of those funds, SDA grants, and funds from our budget is enabling us to complete $19 million in capital projects over the next three years. For more information about our Facilities Improvement Projects - past, present, and future - please check out the video on this page.
Our new teacher evaluation system is another example of doing business differently. Of course, teacher evaluation is not a new concept - we have always evaluated our teachers. But Cherry Hill teachers and administrators invested a lot of time this past year learning and understanding a new evaluation system. As with anything new, this process has required that everyone work through a degree of uncertainty. With the support of the districtwide teacher evaluation committee and the building-level committees, our teachers and principals have successfully navigated the first year of implementation. Their feedback regarding the system’s pros and cons is invaluable as we tweak the system based on what we’ve learned.
We field tested the PARCC assessment at six schools - Stockton Elementary School; Beck, Carusi, and Rosa Middle Schools; and East and West High Schools. The field testing process was another huge commitment of time and effort by the technology team and curriculum office, and by the principals, teachers, and students in the affected schools. But, again, we’re stronger for the experience and better positioned for administering the assessments in the 2014-2015 school year.
We launched our District App, which parents and staff have found to be extremely useful as a “one-stop shop” for district information. Kudos again to our technology team for their efforts - they are always looking for ways to move us forward and enhance communications across the district.
Driven by the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and how that legislation could impact our budget in the near future, our Human Resources team explored options for outsourcing long-term and daily substitutes. They discovered that the district could save about $400,000 by contracting with Source4Teachers for the provision of substitute teaching services for the 2014-15 school year. As we continue to grapple with budget challenges and a 2% levy cap, this work is a great example of doing business differently to protect the programs and staff we all value.
The HR Department also took the lead in redesigning our interview process with an eye toward gaining insight into the cultural proficiency of candidates.
At our request, a Special Education Program review was initiated during the 2013-14 school year. In an effort to review our programs, look for areas of growth, and continue to learn about the potential for improvement, we brought in Dr. Michele Kamens, Professor and Director of Special Education Programs at Rider University.
Our district completed a three-year sustainability plan, which was presented to the Board of Education in May. (You can view the presentation of the sustainability plan from the May 27 meeting via the Ustream video at the following link: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/48101011.) The plan establishes a framework upon which targeted actions can occur to promote responsible ecological citizenship and sustainable practices for restoring and maintaining the health of our planet. The creation of the plan was a collaborative effort involving students, teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and representatives of the Mayor’s office.
Speaking of successful collaborations, we’ve enjoyed getting to know Cherry Hill’s new Chief of Police William Monaghan. He’s been a great partner in helping us to monitor and improve security throughout the district - an effort that began with last year’s security assessments. My thanks also go to our parents for adjusting so readily to enhanced security measures. We know that some of these practices were inconvenient at first, but we are united in our desire to protect the safety and security of our students and staff.
So, while the path we are traveling to achieve our goals looks a bit different these days, our focus hasn’t wavered. We are all working together to prepare our students to be knowledgeable, responsible, caring, and confident citizens in an ever-changing world.
Thank you for your efforts and support.
Maureen Reusche, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools