Superintendent Talks Goals, Tenure and Student Success
Second of a three-part series with Dr. LeRoy Seitz on back-to-school 2012
The 2012-13 school year begins next Thursday, and controversial Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz said he is focused on getting things off to a positive start. In what is becoming a yearly tradition, Patch sat down with the superintendent Aug. 22 at the Board of Education building for a wide-ranging discussion on matters educational.
In part one of our three-part chat with Seitz, we addressed the continuing athletic field brouhaha, school maintenance, property taxes and the challenges—and consequences—that come from setting priorities. In part two, which follows, we focus on district initiatives, the teacher tenure law and improving student performance. Part 3 will appear Monday.
Patch: At the end of the last school year, you put forth a list of district goals for 2012-13. That list included expanding student remediation and implementing a revised remedial program in math and study skills, exploring ways to keep class sizes low, reinstating the science supervisor position, launching the Genesis Web parents' portal, moving forward with iPads and such and defining elementary and middle school initiatives. As we head into the new year, what do you have in mind to put the district on the path of achieving those goals?
Dr. LeRoy Seitz: Well, we are well on the way to achieving them. The remedial programs have been expanded at all levels. We're bringing in math [software] programs Catch-Up Math and Go Math and Study Island for language arts for kindergarten through 8th grade. Study Island gives parents access from home so they can work with their kids in the evenings, weekends and over the summer. Plus, we have remedial classes for every grade. In the remedial area, I think we've done well.
At the first [Board of Education] meeting [on Sept. 13] I will be discussing class sizes. I haven't told the full board yet, so I don't want to get into that now.
The iPad initiative at the high school level is going very well. At the end of June the teachers received their iPads and they're learning how to use them, so they'll be part of the program this school year, and come 2013-14, we anticipate at the very least every ninth grader getting an iPad. We're also anticipating the release of the iPad Mini, which should meet our needs and we believe it will cut the cost by half. We're looking at two, possibly three, grade levels all at once, since all the teachers are being trained. So this goal is well on the way toward being achieved.
Will the students be able to take the iPads home?
Seitz: It's theirs to use until they graduate. [Insurance will cover the cost of lost and damaged devices.] This is fundamental. In this day and age, you can't expect a child not to use a smartphone, an iPad-like device and a computer. It's essential. It's the way the world is. We're training this year; in '13-'14 that'll kick in.
The parent portal... We're well on the way. We expect that to go live with that in November. The portal will allow parents to access attendance, teachers' grade book [entries] for their child, progress reports and report cards.
In real time?
Seitz: Yes. At some point, perhaps not in November, there will be homework assignments and research activities posted as well. Internally, the teachers are going from a paper lesson plan book to an electronic one. Instructionally, it allows us to monitor the program, allows teachers to collaborate and allows us to continue moving to meet the mandate of EE4NJ (Excellent Educators for New Jersey), the evaluation observation system that recently was signed into law. That's coming together nicely, so that's in place. What did I miss?
The science coordinating supervisor?
Seitz: That's for '13-'14. Science is critical. We need someone with a science background to coordinate science instruction. We have one for language arts; we have one for math and one for social studies. Because of the cutbacks three years ago, we combined physical education and science. We did that because there's a seniority order. We let the science person go, and the next person in line was the P.E. person. She took over science and did a fantastic job, but she retired. Going forward in '13-'14, we want someone who specializes in science. Just as in math, that's usually a challenging area at the elementary level, and we certainly want to build the rigor of our science and math areas in the middle and high schools. So, that's something we will be talking about for the '13-'14 budget.
That relates to the EE4NJ law, the increase in [teacher] observations and the time that it takes to do those. As [citizen-activist] Roy Messmer will report out, we are really understaffed. We just need more people to get the job done. [The tenure law] is one of the biggest initiatives that we have to deal with. It's mandated, but not funded, but we will have to do it. And I think it really will make a difference. For our district, I think it will demonstrate in a more quantifiable manner that our teachers are doing a good job.
Patch: It appears the kids on the whole are doing a good job too. Student performance is on the rise, especially at Par Hills, as shown in the latest Schools Report Card, the performance of last year's PHHS Academic Decathletesand the Hills' 23rd place ranking among New Jersey high schools? What are the steps being taken to keep things moving in the right direction for the new year, and for giving a boost to the High?
Seitz: One thing will be having Dr. Nancy Gigante as director of curriculum and instruction. I think she is going to be dynamite in that position. Thinking about the rankings in NJ Monthly, something like that doesn't happen by accident. It takes multiple years for those results to develop. [Former PHHS Principal] Dr. Gigante and her staff at the Hills have done a remarkable job. And a number of things have come together to push them to this new level.
It's a very impressive ranking, 23rd in the state. The High is still around #86, still in the top 100, but we'd like to see it higher. But I think with Dr. Gigante moving to a director's position, she will now have more influence over the two high schools, the two middle schools and the elementary schools to move us forward and to give a boost to the students who are at risk. That's a good thing. It's another indication that we're doing well.
Patch: I know that when some people look at the Schools Report Cards, they focus on how many kids are ranked as "partially proficient." But the report also shows that the Parsippany district is really good—even better than the state and county averages—at moving kids from "proficient" to "advanced proficient." What's your secret?
Seitz: I don't think it's a secret. (He laughs.) It's very simply that we expect every child to be successful, and when we say all children, we mean all children. As much energy as we put into the students who are at risk, the "partially proficient," we put into the kids in the middle, the "proficient" category, to move them to the next level. It's all about continuous improvement. Our staff keeps adjusting to new core content standards and new instructional methods, especially the use of projectors and technology to continually improve. That's what we do. We're never satisfied.
If you told me our two high schools were number one in NJ Monthly Magazine, the next question would be, "Where do we rank nationally?" And it wouldn't be number one, so we'd move to, "Where are we?" and "How do we get there?" It's continuous improvement. It's no secret: It's a question of alignment of all the resources—the teachers, the programs, the parents and the students—and recongizing that you've always got to do better. The staff has embraced that. And the parents, they are very supportive.
I've been doing this for a long time, and this is one exceptional educational community.