In November and early December, five action committees met to discuss specific goals and the concrete actions necessary to achieve them. The committees were developed by the PPS district to fulfill its five-year strategic plan, which serves to target specific opportunities for improvement within the district through various initiatives. Action committees will meet again in January 2016 and in the spring before a final presentation of plans to the Board of Education and administration that is currently targeted for late spring of 2016.
The majority of action team members were part of the Steering Committee, a group composed of 57 students, teachers, parents, administrators, and community members who met May 28 and 29 of this year. Using results from a community-wide survey conducted earlier in May, which reported multiple challenges and opportunities such as recent demographic changes and the expansion of technology, they grouped the various needs of the district.
Ultimately, the committee composed a set of concepts to guide the district into the future. They identified five central issues: promoting wellness and balance, nurturing of individual talent and ability, eliminating the opportunity gap, encouraging innovation, and strengthening connectedness and communication, which became the basis for each action team.
In October, the five action teams were created, each comprised of two or three chairs and a group of around 20 members from all parts of the school district who were assigned to the action teams on a volunteer basis by Superintendent Steven Cochrane. Each team was tasked with creating a design to fulfill its assigned goal, but they used their first meeting to create a foundation for discussion and bring forth ways to address their overarching goals.
The Wellness and Balance Committee first met November 20. Its goals included relieving student stress and redefining success. “We’re supposed to be thinking about [the] big picture of where we can go, so certainly something like a later start to the school day is something I wouldn’t be surprised if we recommended,” said David Rosenfeld, PHS psychologist and co-chair of the committee. “We’re looking at specific areas such as scheduling, nutrition, teaching stress management skills.”
The first meeting acted as a place for brainstorming the possible solutions. “While we were in the meeting, a [point] that we brought up [was] reducing testing and homework,” said team member Avery Peterson ’17. “[We also discussed] adding an extra class [instead of] gym period to teach study tips … [tips to avoid] procrastination [and] … time management.”
The Every Child Known Committee met on November 24, primarily to get to know each other and explore different information regarding its goals. “Mr. Cochrane was very forthcoming in saying, ‘Don’t let anything be in your way … don’t let building size … get in your way, don’t let money get in your way, dream big,’” said Joyce Turner, PHS Language Learning Disabilities specialist and member of the committee.
Turner worked on the Springboard program for tutoring and other after-school academic help for twenty years. “Once students know that they can trust you, then you can really help them to learn … I feel that it’s vital … for all kids to learn … to know that there are adults in this business who really care about them,” Turner said.
The committee will likely pursue actions that emphasize mentoring and building relationships with students. “I don’t think it can be forced on anybody,” Turner said. “I don’t think we can say to staff, ‘You must get to know students because if they don’t know that in their hearts, then their hearts aren’t going to be in it.’”
The Achievement Gap Committee first met November 30, and was commissioned to address the issue of differences in educational opportunities between students that arise for a multitude of reasons. “It’s a many-layered issue when you speak about achievement gap or opportunity gap; we’re not simply looking through the lens of race … there’s also … gender identification,
different socio-economic status, national origins, differences in cultures,” said Jacques Bazile, Achievement Gap Committee Co-Chair and JW science teacher. “The goal [at the last meeting] was to set the tone for the conversation so that the twenty plus
members of the committee who are coming with their passions and their views of what this is can reach a certain accommodation to open up their thoughts.”
Bazile is optimistic that the ideas and plan will be well-received by the district, even though grappling the topic won’t be simple. “The achievement gap is such a sensitive topic, because under that somewhat benign title there are a lot of deep-seated currents of perception, bias, ignorance so I hope that the committee will tackle all of those issues, in tackling those issues obviously there will be disagreements,” he said.
The Innovation Committee, co-chaired by Supervisor of Social Studies & Global Education Timothy Charleston and JW ESL teacher Daniel Scibienski, has met once this year. “What we planned to do first was to [define] innovation. There are so many
different definitions … it’s really good to come up with a common understanding of what innovation is. We just wanted to get ideas. It was … a big brainstorming session that generated a lot of ideas,” said Charleston.
In the process of defining innovation, the eighteen-member committee agreed on a few common themes. “A lot of it was creating opportunities for students to innovate, rather than teachers innovating and then putting them into classrooms,” said Jacqueline Katz, PHS science teacher and Innovation Committee member. “The goal was to set up programs similar to like the Research course … where students can find problems in a given area and then kind of act on those problems, try to define and develop solutions to those problems,” Katz said.
The committee is still in its planning stages, but is looking to integrate forward looking innovation into the school district. “A really interesting thing is that Princeton Public Schools has so much rich tradition and yet we’re so innovative in so many other ways … we’re at a crossroads here between tradition and innovation,” Charleston said.
Jared Warren, PHS assistant principal and Communication, Care, and Connectedness Committee Co-Chair, chose the team because of its impact on the community. “It was my number one choice because I’m big on being proactive and communication, developing rapport with community members and trying to do things together,” he said. “As a district, [we should see] what we
can come up with to try and make this more transparent and more feasible for success,” he said.
During the first meeting, the three parts of the goal were considered separately. “With communication, we looked into a lot of electronic and online communication, talking about different sorts of email, websites, trying to streamline and make everything uniform. For connectedness, we talked about … person-to-person connections, and connections between different groups students, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff … different ideas for how to bridge gaps,” said Malachi Wood, PHS French teacher and Communication Committee member. “And for care, to reach everybody and have a place where people want to be.”
Going forward into the meeting on January 13, Warren sees the opportunity to progress from discussion to concrete action. “I think nothing is written in stone … We’ll start to identify more areas that are actually [going to] be practical and put into place for the district,” he said.
A website, www.ppsvision.org, has been created to document the components of the strategic plan, and will soon contain the progress from the first action team meetings, including their key discussion points.