For kids, summer officially ends the moment the first school bell rings in September. This year that bell tolls in North Bergen on Thursday, Sept. 4, welcoming about 8,000 students into the system.
High school freshmen will get a preview on Tuesday when they show up for a brief orientation session. “Because the high school is just enormous compared to where they were,” explained Superintendent of Schools Dr. George Solter, “the freshmen will show up in the afternoon and run through their schedule so they get accustomed to the building. They run through maybe a 10-minute class where the teachers introduce themselves. So that on their first full day they’re not lost.”
Then on Thursday, the doors open for real and classes begin in the township’s seven schools.
This year about 34 new faces join the roster of 900 or so teachers serving North Bergen. Most are replacements for teachers who retired or left, although the district did add some language teachers, both in English and Spanish. “And we added a couple of child study team members,” said Solter. “That’s for students with a learning disability. They evaluate and create individualized education plans for the students.”
Reading is fundamental
One of the biggest new initiatives in place this year is an enhanced reading program. “We really invested a lot of money in that,” said Solter. “We purchased bookrooms for every school. What we’ll do is we’ll give the kids an assessment in the beginning of the year, to determine reading levels. The books are all leveled to the students’ different abilities.”
Within each grade, students will be individually assessed for their reading level. “We may determine you’re a G reader,” Solter explained. “Now the teacher, when they develop the reading program, they get that student G books. The person right next to them may be an M reader, so they get M books.”
Students will periodically be given a book above their level to stretch their ability. “Midyear we’ll recheck the reading level,” Solter continued. “Theoretically their level should increase over time. They’ll continue with that for the rest of the year. Then at the end of the year they take a summative reading level test. This way we have a beginning baseline, a middle intermediate progress check, and at the end we see how we did for the year.”
“Everything works off reading, no matter what you do. You have to be able to comprehend what you’re reading.” –Dr. George Solter.
“Everything works off reading, no matter what you do,” he added. “You have to be able to comprehend what you’re reading.”
Technology and testing enhancements
“The other big thing we’re doing is purchasing much more technology,” said Solter.
With that in mind, the district purchased about 1,800 Chromebook computers. The computers will be available on carts that can be wheeled into classrooms as needed. The schools are also upgrading the tech infrastructure and expanding their bandwidth.
“The big push now is 21st century learning skills,” said Solter. “We’re really looking to make sure that kids are ready with that.”
That means, in part, changing testing modes from multiple choice and true/false to more open-ended questions.
“You want to engage them in high order thinking skills,” Solter said. “Not just drills and recall, not just regurgitate something the teacher told them, but know why it’s going on, why is this happening. Where can I find something? How can I be creative and formulate a written response?
Summer ends for teachers two days earlier than students. Teachers will be reporting to the schools beginning on Tuesday, Sept. 2 to begin preparations for the school year.
After a morning orientation session in the auditorium, teachers will adjourn to their different schools to receive their class rosters and meet with their principals to go over state mandated policies regarding harassment, intimidation, bullying, and more.
On Wednesday, the day before class officially starts, teachers will engage in a day of professional development. “It’s a way of all getting everyone recharged and refreshed so they can understand what new developments have happened,” said Solter.
Because New Jersey is mandating new online testing regulations as part of Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), teachers need to be kept up to date on current developments. Teacher evaluations also continue to change as part of the state’s AchieveNJ program.
Ready for class
So what do students need to know before coming to school on Thursday?
“They have to understand that we’re going to be asking them to be thinking at a higher level,” said Solter. “It’s not going to be the same old multiple choice tests all the time. It’s going to be understanding, comprehending, and giving a coherent response.”
And how can parents help?
“Keep asking questions. Keep asking why. If a child makes a statement, ‘Why did you make that statement?’ Help them understand why things are the way they are.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.