A few short days before Christmas, the school already received a present: recognition from the state Department of Education: It had become one of the choice schools, along with 21 others throughout the state, to be awarded a 2005-2006 New Jersey Governor's School of Excellence Award after improving significantly from years past.
Students and teachers each wore a forest green t-shirt bearing the official slogan of the school: Experience the culture, embrace the diversity, and experience the challenges.
Although perhaps one of the biggest events in the school's long history, the auditorium was sparsely decorated with a few clusters of balloons and a handful of bows.
The atmosphere of excitement decorated the room better, creating a swirl of anticipation to which each additional public official's arrival only added.
Governor's School of Excellence
Each year, the Governor's School of Excellence Awards program recognizes up to 25 schools throughout the state that have demonstrated significant improvement over the past two academic years.
"These schools have shown they can give their children the best opportunities to succeed because of their marked improvement," said Acting Gov. Codey in a release connected with this year's winners. "They wanted to get better, and it's no doubt their students benefited as a result."
The school receives $25,000 for educational purposes.
In order for a school to qualify for the Governor's School of Excellence program, the school must demonstrate significant improvement in academic achievement as measured by state test scores in language arts and mathematics. In addition, the school must show outstanding growth in literacy, improved parental involvement, student attendance, graduation rates, retention rates, or a reduction of violence and vandalism. The school must also show that it has forged creative partnerships with the community, increased the use of technology in the classroom and curriculum, improved professional development for teachers, and improved learning for special needs, as well as other significant improvements.
Not just an accomplishment for the school, but for Bayonne
Principal Maryann Connelly said this was a celebration not just for Vroom, but for all of Bayonne, and an achievement that was the result of a team effort including staff, teachers, students and parents.
She said when she, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia McGeehan, and Board President William Lawson, made the trip to Trenton on Nov. 22 to pick up the award, something was missing - all those who helped make it possible. "But I accepted it proudly with you in mind," she told the assembly, calling it a team effort. "A few summers ago, we began this. The mission was simple, but it was a monumental task."
While others such as Dr. McGeehan called Connelly the leader who made this happen, Connelly said as educational leader, she was like a coach who was only as effective as the team who actually accomplished the mission. She also said she had received much support and guidance from the school district, the superintendent and the mayor and council.
"They had belief in us," she said.
Yet she said the school would not rest, because work still needs to be done and new goals accomplished.
A wonderful accomplishment
Dr. McGeehan commented on the air of excitement that the school seemed to exude.
"It is a wonderful accomplishment," she said, driving home how significant such a feat was in saying Vroom was among 21 schools to be honored this year.
"This was the result of a team effort," she said.
She said this was a significant achievement, considering that in 2001 Vroom was designated as a school "in need of improvement" by the state. The school had not met the upgraded academic standards set by the state.
"It is difficult to say by this school was once considered a failure," she said. "Yet in two years, this school closed the academic gap for the economically disadvantaged students and was removed from the list."
McGeehan said the students, patents, teachers and principal recognized that the "stakes were high" and "rose to the occasion."
"A leader is someone who makes something happen that might not have happened, Maryann Connelly is just such a leader," Dr. McGeehan said. "She knew the stakes high and what had to be done. She rose to the occasion. When other people saw negatives, she saw potential."
In response to this designation, Principal Maryann Connelly said the school developed an aggressive team approach to deal with deficiencies in language arts and math programs resulting in the state removing the school from the In Need of Improvement list.
"Now Philip G. Vroom takes its place as among the best in the state," McGeehan said. "This is due to the tireless effort of the whole school, a team effort."
Plan of improvement
The school implemented a number of programs designed to help students achieve and to meet the state standards. This included before- and after-school tutoring programs, as well as more involvement with the community. During that time, the school engaged in a program funded through 21st Century Learning Grant, a partnership with the Concerned Citizens of Bayonne; held Housing and Urban Development workshops, reading programs through St. Peter's College, and programs through the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. The school also ran parent workshops.
Freeholder Barry Dugan said this was a great honor.
"Each and every one of you accomplished something here," he said. "Of all the schools in the 567 communities throughout the state, you're one of the top 21."
In speaking to the students, Mayor Joseph Doria said Bayonne was very fortunate to have the students that accomplished this. While the teachers and staff helped, this was something the students did and without their effort, this would not have happened.
"Without you doing your job and working so hard, listening to your teachers and parents, this would not have happened," he said.
Contact Al Sullivan at email@example.com