A school district with no – absolutely no – student drop-outs.
Advanced Placement classes for the lowest-performing students in the Jersey City school district.
Closing the achievement gap from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and ensuring that every high school graduate is prepared for college and a meaningful career or vocation.
Superintendent of Schools Marcia Lyles, who has been on the job less than three months, has given her assessment of the Jersey City school district and presented an ambitious plan to improve academic achievement to parents and the Board of Education.
Her assessment – which was akin to a “state of the union” address – laid out what Lyles called a “mission and mandate” for the district and paid special attention to academic programs that are working but are limited in their success.
This assessment, which Lyles presented at a Board of Education meeting on Nov. 20, will be used by school trustees and the administration to develop specific academic benchmarks for the district in the coming years.
“This will really give us a blueprint that we can use to chart what is and is not working in the district and what we need to replicate better,” said Lyles.
Many great programs, but many inequities, too
Lyles, who was selected as the new superintendent of schools over the summer, started her new post just days before the start of the 2012-2013 school year. Since then, she has spent much of her time visiting schools and classrooms throughout the district and meeting with parents, teachers, and administrators to determine what programs in the school district do and do not work.
The information she has gathered in her first 60 days on the job informed much of what Lyles shared in her assessment.
Throughout her presentation, Lyles said the district already has a number of programs and resources that improve student achievement. But she pointed to several areas where these programs and resources were available only to limited numbers of students.
For example, she said that even though every school has money allocated for computers and technology, there were schools that had computers in every classroom, and other schools that had 20 computers for the entire school.
“It’s whole different way of thinking about this district.” – School Trustee Carol Lester
Some resources, Lyles said, are not dedicated where they are needed most.
“All of these inequities affect student outcomes, and impact who has access to what in the district and is successful, and who is not,” she said.
100 percent graduation rate
Lyles paid particular attention to high school graduation rates in the school district and graduation disparities among different high schools.
At McNair Academic High School, which ranks among the best public high schools in the state, the annual graduation rate is about 99.4 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, however, only about 49.6 percent of students graduate from Lincoln High School.
“There is a need to focus on increasing the graduation rates at Lincoln and [Henry] Snyder high schools, the two high schools with the lowest graduation rates, as well as Dickinson, which educates nearly 40 percent of the high school students in the district,” said Lyles.
The annual graduation rate at Snyder stands at about 51.2 percent. Dickinson’s graduation rate is about 69.2 percent, Lyles noted.
Of the students who graduate from one of the district’s seven high schools, the overwhelming majority are not ready for college, Lyles said.
Looking at several Scholastic Aptitude Test benchmarks, Lyles said, “Only 19 percent of Jersey City public school students graduate ready for college. The majority of those students are from McNair High School. If McNair is excluded, only 7.1 percent of…students would graduate ready for college.”
In recent years there has been a debate within the school district about whether college prep should be the focus of the district, or whether more of an emphasis should be placed on preparing students for vocational training after high school.
In a September interview with the Reporter, however, Lyles said it is her opinion that a high school diploma alone is no longer sufficient education for any student.
“A high school diploma isn’t going to be enough,” she said in September. “Pretty soon every student is going to need some kind of post-secondary education [either college or vocational training] in order to be prepared for the workforce.”
Different vision for district
Lyles and the school trustees will now establish goals that they believe will close some of the gaps and disparities that the superintendent identified in her assessment.
At the Nov. 20 school board meeting, Lyles outlined a few strategies she plans to implement to improve the district. Improving professional development for teachers and administrators, revising hiring standards for administrators, and revising the way in which teachers are evaluated are among the strategies Lyles identified.
She also said she plans to improve communication with parents – through regular meetings and better information on the district website – so more parents feel like they have a stake in the school system.
Parents and board members gave Lyles high marks for her presentation.
“Several of us met with Dr. Lyles back in September and one of the things we said was that groups of parents needed formal ways to meet with the superintendent on a regular basis,” said parent activist Akisia Grigsby. “I was really happy that that was one of the things she mentioned in her presentation. I was like, ‘Wow. She actually listened to us and actually heard what we were saying.’ ”
Ellen Simon, a member of Parents for Progress, another active parents group, agreed.
“I’ve been coming to these [school board] meetings for a long time,” said Simon. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone give a presentation of the status of the school district that was as comprehensive and complete as what Dr. Lyles presented us with tonight. And the vision was really refreshing. When have we heard someone talk about having AP courses for the lowest performing students?”
School Trustee Carol Lester said she was particularly energized by Lyles’ vision of a “district with a zero percent drop-out rate. It’s whole different way of thinking about this district.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.