"We are proud to recognize West New York's Benchmark Schools for their outstanding performance on the state assessments," said Dana Egreczky, president of the BCEE. "This honor truly reflects a strong commitment to excellence in education."
"Just for the Kids - New Jersey Benchmark Schools" recognizes public schools for high student achievement on the state's annual standardized tests, including the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK), Grade Eight Proficiency Assessment (GEPA), and High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA).
A total of 77 public schools were honored this year across the state by the BCEE for student performance on the state assessment tests. In a dinner ceremony held on April 20 at the Hilton Hotel in Woodbridge, all the schools received a banner to hang in their schools to honor their achievements.
"There was a conference we held on student achievement, where we did announce all the winners and gave all the schools banners," said George Koodray, vice president of communications for the BCEE.
Both West New York public schools No. 3 and 4 received 2004 Benchmark status for their students' performance on the NJASK and GEPA. The two schools had received 2003 Benchmark status in the same two assessment tests. West New York School No. 5 received their honors this year for high performance on the NJASK. Last year they were honored last year for GEPA.
"This is a [rotating] review and they have maintained their role on the list," said Koodray. "Seventeen schools [who were 2003 Benchmark awardees] fell this year."
Formula for success
West New York schools have continued to excel in their academic performance with similar programming that is in place throughout the district.
"We have a district wide program more or less, and it works for West New York," said Clara Brito Herrera, principal of No. 5 School.
One of their biggest successes has been through their extended day programs, which are administered in the morning before classes and after school, and offer additional help in the primary areas of mathematics and language arts through more hands-on projects and problem solving.
"We have the extended day programs both in the morning and afternoon, particularly for grades three and four," said John Fauta, principal of No. 3 School. "Two to three times a week, they get additional help in the testing areas from September until the day they are tested, which is a big help."
Students participating in the program are generally those who require additional instruction on top of the regular day's curriculum, and usually geared to the third and fourth graders. Teachers, who feel further instruction would benefit certain students, make these recommendations to the parents and enroll them in the extended day programs.
In addition to the extended day program, West New York School No. 4, who has also been no stranger to consistent academic achievement, emphasizes an additional instructional program they have followed for the last five years.
"We have the extended day programs at 7:30 a.m. or 2:40 p.m.," said Bernard Abbadessa, principal of No. 4. "That extra hour in the morning or in the afternoon makes all the difference, and we have what is called a winter session."
Originally set up for the spring break, this year students came to school during the winter break from 9 a.m. to noon, and received further instruction in the primary testing areas.
"Timing is very important, and I don't think the youngsters should peak too early," said Abbadessa. "We try to time it just right, and this year we had it during winter break which gave us two weeks before the test."
The kids were provided with breakfast and lunch, while working on assignments geared to the type format found on the tests which encompass multiword problems and concepts.
"We had almost 100 percent attendance with our fourth graders, and they focus on preparation for the test 15 hours a week," said Abbadessa.
Thus far, the program has been a success both with students and parents, who like the fact their children are doing something constructive during their time off.
For the last three years their students have continually performed high on the state assessment tests, and in March of 2003, No. 4 School was visited by then-Gov. Jim McGreevey to celebrate their scores of 2002.
Prepping for the exams begin from the time the students start the new school year. Teachers and administrators focus on the students' progression, and make their recommendations accordingly.
"The whole credit goes to the teachers," said Fauta, who became principal of No. 3 this school year. "They are the ones day to day in the trenches, and they work very hard with these children. It makes me very proud to inherit a school like this."
Much of the credit has been awarded to the teaching staff of these schools who work day in and day out with these students.
"Our faculty is excellent to begin with, and we provide them with plenty of professional development," said Clara Brito Herrera, principal of No. 5 School. "We also have plenty of resources such as supervisors who evaluate the curriculum that is in place."
At No. 5 School they also makes use out of their curriculum committee, which is available in every school, that determines in what areas the students need to be better served in through studies of previous state test scores. As in the other schools, No. 5 offers extend day programs and targets those students who are at risk, but also offer programs for all students and parents from bilingual and special needs to the gifted and talented.
"We have several programs explaining the expectations and programs offered at the school and emphasizing the commitment of being there for the students," said Herrera. "We need to have parental support."
Luckily, in addition to the dedicated staff and resource programs available for the students to succeed, West New York does receive enormous support from very active parents who get involved and even participate in the schools' Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO).
"Parents are very much involved, and teachers always contact parents for any problems," said Fauta. Another important factor in the schools' success has been their positive attendance records, which is thanks to the working relationship between the parents and the schools, and further enhances student instruction.
"Communication is very important and done at the administrative level," said Herrera. "I personally reach out to the parents and explain the importance of their child being present."
The week of exams, which are usually conducted some time in April, administrators and teachers give their students much needed support. At Public School No. 3, Fauto and his team try to alleviate some of the pressure by creating a relaxing atmosphere for the students. They arrange for fun activities for the kids such as assemblies and pizza parties.
"We try to create a comfortable situation for them," said Fauta.
In good company
West New York had three of about five schools who received benchmark status in two categories, which included schools from Newark and Princeton.
"It's a multitude of different factors that attribute to the success of the schools, including the commitment of our staff, the resources, the parents, and the support from all areas of the administration, especially from the Board of Education," said Herrera. "We are one big community in every school building in West New York."
Now in West New York, all the elementary public schools have been scaled to pre-k/kindergarten to sixth grade with the opening of the new middle school, which accommodates all the seventh to eighth graders in the district. Results for their first year in state testing will be seen sometime later this year.