The first day for students in Weehawken is Wednesday, Sept. 4. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of week one, they will have half days, with dismissal at 12:30. Monday, Sept. 9, marks the beginning of full days for the new school year.
The town has a population of 1,200 students.
Superintendent of Schools Kevin McLellan said that three of his priorities this year will be finishing the work on a customized local area textbook, the introduction of an electronic “grade book” for parents, and the switchover to a new state-mandated teacher evaluation system.
“We started at the end of the last school year our new kindergarten to sixth grade science book,” McLellan said. “It’s a unique effort, customized for the five districts in our county, and aligned with the new state common core standards.”
The superintendent said administration, students, and teachers are all excited about the textbook, because it contains all the information the students are required to know locally, but also because of a more fun reason.
“It has a tech component that allows students to see experiments virtually. They can call them up at home,” McLellan said. “Each student will receive a password, and then they can do these experiments at home. It’s the next level of textbook technology.”
The school system began implementing this new medium of teaching in the spring, and expects its use will be fully operational later this month.
“Teachers are working with it first, because they have to get used to it and feel comfortable with it, as it fully develops,” the superintendent said.
So far, it has only gotten raves.
“The teachers love it,” he said. “Because it does things virtually, there’s less time to have to prepare, and therefore there’s more instructional time. It’s a great tool for the classroom teacher.”
Electronic grade books
The second initiative will involve technology as well.
“We’re introducing our implementation of a grade book,” McLellan said.
Basically, the school is taking its electronic messaging with parents from the past and moving it one giant step further.
“We had communications with parents on a homework basis,” the superintendent said. “But now they can look at quizzes and tests that their child receives almost on a daily basis.”
If all goes well, this new capability will be expanded by the district this new school year.
A related project in the works is creating progress reports based on the grade the child receives and emailing it to parents. Software would generate a message to the parent automatically if the grade is unsatisfactory, according to McLellan. This way any downturn in the student’s learning could be caught earlier rather than later.
“We’re trying to increase communications with the parent through technology,” he said. “Our in-house tech coordinator will be giving teachers instruction on this grade book process, which is not that involved.”
New teacher evaluations
The third major focal point of the new school year will involve Weehawken teachers, rather than the students.
“This year we – along with districts all over the state – will be implementing the new teacher evaluation system,” the superintendent said. “Every district in the state will be required to do this.”
He noted, “Teachers will receive training, as have administrators. We worked on this last year. Implementation will be this year.”
School isn’t just about academics. Both McLellan and Board of Education President Richard Barsa agree that well-rounded students wind up becoming well-rounded graduates.
“Last year we did fantastic. We were in the state playoffs in baseball, football and basketball,” Barsa said. “We had a number of students getting college scholarships for all three sports. We had one baseball player get drafted by the Texas Rangers.”
Barsa credited athletic director Zach Naszimento with building and maintaining a strong sports program.
“Our jewel is our band.” – Richard Barsa
The Weehawken High School Band was ranked number one in the state for a band its size, and Barsa believes it can hold on to that prominence.
“Our jewel is our band,” he said. “The more you see them, the more you want to watch them. They’re fantastic.”
Weehawken, a town of 13,000 people, has three public schools. Pre-kindergarteners through 2nd graders go to the Daniel Webster School, third graders through sixth graders to Theodore Roosevelt School, and seventh through 12th graders attend Weehawken High School.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.