Push to Improve Brick's High Schools Underway
Superintendent, principals spearheading effort
Brick Township's two high schools have the potential to be great, and school officials say a new plan which will use data-driven assessments and a team outlook on teaching and learning will help it reach that potential.
"We want to make sure that all our students are learning at the highest possible level," said Dr. Richard Caldes, principal of Brick Memorial High School.
He and Brick Township High School Principal Dennis Filippone announced an ambitious plan at Thursday night's Brick Board of Education meeting which they say will improve test scores, get the two high schools in sync in terms of curriculum and create a professional learning community.
"We want teachers to build shared knowledge and be collegial about testing and pacing," said Filippone.
The two administrators said Superintendent Dr. Walter Uszenski quickly requested a plan be put in place to improve the high schools once he arrived in the district this summer.
"Our high schools are our flagships, so to speak, and we need to make them their best," Uszenski said at the meeting Thursday.
The planning stages of the effort will begin this year, as administrators hope to create a "data culture" where committees of teachers and supervisors will be able to pour over data and determine how students are learning, which are in need of improvement and which would benefit from advanced classes. Teachers will also meet in "content area groups" where they will analyze data and determine which curriculum is most effective.
Filippone said the high schools will also begin giving assessment exams to students every four weeks instead of waiting until final exams given twice a year.
"We will look at student progress, teacher progress," he said. "We'll be able to document the effectiveness of our strategy and our schedule."
The curriculum and strategies of the two high schools will also be identical, as will the assessments.
Caldes said administrators would also begin a review of the high schools' block scheduling and consider adjustments. The adjustments will include augmented schedules to allow students to take more honors and advanced placement courses, he said.
"We're looking to add more courses to enhance our offerings, and to do that, we need to look at and modify our current block of courses," said Caldes.
Additionally, teachers will be able to access curriculum mapping and lesson plans online, and track progress.
"Our curriculum, by the time we're done doing this, will be up to par with anybody else in our state," said Caldes.
The data will begin to be collected this year, the principals said, and the committees of teachers and administrators will form as the year goes on, with some aspects of the overall plan potentially being implemented by the end of the school year.
"They have been giving 110 percent into the initiatives," Uszenski said of district teachers. "They know they are going to make our curriculum a lot more rigorous, but they also know it's going to put us into the 21st century."
"I'm excited about the direction we're going in," said board member Len Cuppari, praising the plan. "I applaud Dr. Uszenski and our administration. It will give us information we can react to. I'm enthusiastic."
The district's two high schools recently ranked relatively low in the Sept. 2012 issue of New Jersey Monthly magazine, where the state's public high schools were ranked according to a formula employed by the publication.
Out of 328 high schools statewide, Brick Township High School ranked 261 and Brick Memorial High School ranked 269.
Uszenski, a township resident, said the perception of the township's high schools would improve under the plan.
"The culture of the district is going to change, where we have a common language through the district, pre-K through grade 12," he said. "We are going to turn around the perception about Brick."