Last week, North Bergen High School Principal Paschal "Pat" Tennaro received word that the high school was selected by a state cable news station as the top benchmark high school in the state.
Vice-Principal George Solter went to a luncheon last week in Edison to accept the award, the Golden Bell, on the school's behalf.
"We were shocked," Tennaro said. "No one knew that this was happening. We knew that we had a very good year and we worked very hard to reach the benchmark status. We were able to outdistance the other schools with our test (HESPA) scores. There was a pretty wide distance between us and the closest school. Not only does the state Chamber of Commerce and Business Coalition recognize us, but now, News 12 New Jersey is as well. It's a great honor."
Solter said that there was no set criteria for receiving the award from News 12 New Jersey, once the benchmark status has been achieved.
"They look toward academic excellence and I think that we had more than a 20-point spread on our closest school spoke highly in their eyes," Solter said. "I think we got singled out because of our spread. When you think about it, it's such a reward for all the students who worked hard, for the teachers who teach. If you don't buy into the entire system, it's not going to work. It's a tremendous honor."
Since two North Bergen schools were considered benchmarks - Horace Mann earning the distinction for a third straight year - they were both included among the 86 schools under consideration by News 12 New Jersey as the top high school, middle and elementary school in the state.
Benchmark status Over at Horace Mann, Principal Jorge Prado was pleased that his school reached the benchmark status for the third straight year.
"It was especially gratifying that so many people thought highly of our school," Prado said.
The program bases the classification on data that is comprised over a three-year period. Not only does it utilize test scores, such as the Grade Eight Proficiency Administration (GEPA) tests in the case of Horace Mann School, but it also takes the school's demographics into consideration.
"We have a wide base of ethnic backgrounds," Prado said. "The Just4Kids program looks at the demographics, the enrollment, the mobility rate as well as the test scores over the last three years. It appears that we were just able to outperform other schools."
The Chamber of Commerce gets all of its information from the state Department of Education and then makes a list of the 20 best grade-schools in the state.
"The Chamber of Commerce is very supportive of education," Prado said. "I think the Chamber of Commerce wants to single out the grade schools, to start having an impact with an earlier level. The grade school students of today represent the work force of the future. I encourage this program, because there should be more like it."
Because of the benchmark designation, both North Bergen High and Horace Mann School will be used as schools to admire, for others to emulate. With the designation, Prado said the school receives receive requests for advice from other schools.
"We have had people come and visit us from all over, getting to share ideas on how to work with the many different challenges we have to endure," Prado said. "We've been glad to be of assistance to the other schools that have sought advice and help. It's been very rewarding and we look forward to continue that association for another year. We're very proud of our students and staff and it's a great honor to be recognized for a third straight year."
"It shows the hard work that is taking place in our schools," said North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who also serves as the assistant superintendent of schools in the district. "This is one of the highest honors that a school can receive. For two of our schools to be recognized shows that our students and staff are truly excelling."
"I'm very proud that our schools are being recognized for what they do," North Bergen Superintendent of Schools Peter Fischbach said. "We have schools that others should look up to. We do whatever we can to challenge our students. To be considered as the best high school in the state in any category is a great honor."
Anyone wishing to see the results and the test scores of the benchmark schools can log on to www.njjust4kids.com.