Superintendent announces new goals to address district issues and changes

At the September 27 Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Cochrane shared some of his objectives for the school year: the expansion of space at certain schools and facilities, workshops on cultural empathy, and a change in service-learning programs. Cochrane attempted to connect these goals to recent changes and ideas in the district, such as the larger enrollment of students, growing diversity, and the need for more innovative courses at Princeton Public Schools.

These goals relate to different components of the PPS strategic plan for 2015–2020, an agenda trying to enforce the core overarching values of the district: innovation, care, and partnership.

Cochrane wants to create a referendum proposal addressing expansion in the district, as a result of the increasing number of enrolled students throughout the public schools.

Cochrane strives to gather information on certain aspects of the proposal by conducting research through various studies. “The superintendent will oversee the facilitation of 1) a capacity study, 2) a demographic study, 3) a needs analysis, 4) an architectural analysis, and 5) a cost estimate,” the agenda stated.

According to Cochrane, the district needs to look at PPS as a whole, but specifically sees a need for expansion at PHS, as space is becoming limited and restrictions are starting to be imposed on classroom sizes.

The administration currently plans on working with architects specialized in designing schools and facilities to determine how to implement expansion and keep the cost affordable for the district and Princeton community.

The district is also attempting to broaden the mindsets of teachers at PPS through exposure to the different styles of learning for each student. Cochrane plans on using a new method of teaching through the discussion of a book entitled Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe.

“We recognize that students are coming to us with different interests and readiness levels for new information. We recognize that students come with different learning preferences. The idea is to engage in responsive teaching,” Cochrane said. “It’s recognizing the important concepts students need to know and focusing on teaching those [concepts] in ways that engage students and allows students to express their individual ways of understanding.”

Through this information, the administration envisions connecting what the teachers have learned to practical uses in the classroom such as redesigning assessments for students, the curricula, and grading.

Cochrane’s final objective is to reform evaluation methods for current administrators. This new change will be applied through new rubrics, templates, and protocols.

Through this transition, Cochrane hopes the new methods of assessment will provide proper guidance to certain areas relating to the duties of an administrator. Some of these duties include systems leadership, relationship with staff and students, and community engagement.

This goal is critical to professional achievement, as it will nurture professional growth for PPS administrators and show them areas for improvement. This would lead to the growth of administrators which would allow them to be better and more impactful leaders.

Cochrane also has qualitative goals set in place for this year, particularly to foster cultural responsiveness and empathy. With the culture responsiveness goal, Cochrane is trying to make PPS staff aware of the diversity of students throughout the district and use this mentality to initiate beneficial change when teaching.

“We are a school of rich diversity. Our students represent many nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, and religions. By cultural responsiveness, I think of our school reflecting that rich diversity, from leadership positions to teaching positions to class projects and curriculum,” wrote Dr. Andrea Dinan, a member of the Shrinking the Achievement Gap committee, in an email.

In order to achieve this goal, Cochrane has decided upon having cultural responsive workshops that at least 80 percent of PPS staff will attend.

At these workshops, the district hopes to emphasize the importance of teachers being empathetic to students of different backgrounds and building relationships with students.

“I think [the cultural responsive workshops] will help. There has to be someway to account that not every child is falling under the cracks. I don’t know how we come up with a set checklist for every student at PPS but I think it’s important to make sure,” said Joyce Turner, a language learning disabilities teacher, and member of the Every Child Known committee. “It’s important that the quiet student sitting in the back of the room is connected to people.”

Furthermore, Cochrane plans on creating a council of diversity and outreach for the PPS district that will look at the needs of students in the district, collaborate to take action in resolving problems facing certain students and families, and to analyze the effects of the council’s efforts.

“We have individuals within the school system and community that work with families from different cultural and economic backgrounds. The idea was, [to] bring all these people together and identify how can we help. How can we work together to support families as best we can?” Cochrane said.

Despite support from PHS staff, some students have mixed feelings towards Cochrane’s cultural empathy plan.

“I honestly don’t think [the superintendent’s plan] is possible. The teachers grew up with a specific mindset and grew up in a specific way with certain stereotypes. I don’t think with a bunch of training they can just ignore or forget about [these stereotypes],” said Ruhika Chatterjee ’19.  

“[The superintendent’s plan] would probably make the learning more open and easier to facilitate just because people will be more tolerant towards each other and have a better environment,” said Angel Musyimi ’19.

The last goal Cochrane has planned is to expand the service learning programs at PPS and enhance the service learning experience for all PPS students at different levels.

Cochrane finds that the expansion of the service learning program will be meaningful to students, as it will promote a genuine desire for PPS students to help others in their community.

“We want community service not to be a task that you complete, but an authentic value that students develop in themselves early on and continue to hold as a value once they graduate. The hope is to talk about how [teachers] can build the value of service to others as they move through the grades and make it meaningful and authentic in their own lives,” Cochrane said.    

Service-learning fosters real-world connections between the classroom and the community while exposing students to concepts of social justice, compassion and multicultural understanding. PPS would benefit from an infusion of service-learning programs and the goals and objectives of service-learning as a pedagogy to match our own district goals,” Dinan said.

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