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9-26-12 Libraries, Kindergarten Testing Pilot, Anti-Bullying effect - Ed Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - No More Pencils, No More Books: Are School Librarians Becoming Obsolete?...Media specialists argue that guidance and research skills are needed more than ever in the Internet age… “At Freehold Regional High School district, the number of media specialists went from seven three years ago -- one for each of its six high schools, plus a roaming one -- to three. Each librarian is shared between two high schools.“Once something is gone, they don’t often come back, and we are living with three,” said Charles Sampson, the Freehold superintendent. “It’s a decision of where you deploy your resources.”

By John Mooney, September 26, 2012 in Education|t

 

Once the staple of nearly every school, the school librarian and media specialist is feeling a bit underappreciated -- if not under siege -- these days.

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Over the past five years, the number of certified library/media specialists in New Jersey’s public schools has dropped by almost 15 percent, according to the statewide association, and its own membership has been cut almost in half.

There were 1,580 certified specialists statewide last year, down from 1,850 in 2007-2008, serving roughly 2,500 schools.

The biggest contributor to the drop was the state’s budget crisis two years ago. Library positions were some of the first to be cut by districts looking to trim staff, association officers and local officials said.

There has been little recovery since then; budgets have continued to be tight, and schools have been unwilling to hire those positions back as the debate rages over what the role of the school librarian should be.

Classroom Computers

Is it even necessary to have a specialist -- or a library itself -- to help students find resources when the information is often readily accessible through a computer in the classroom?

The librarians’ statewide association is trying to respond to that question with an emphatic “Yes,” launching a public awareness campaign explaining their members’ importance -- especially in these changing times.

It is a campaign being waged in other states as well. The New Jersey association is rallying around the Common Core Standards, the national effort to develop a unified curriculum and testing for every state.

With New Jersey on board for the effort, the association’s leaders say both students and teachers will need reliable resources more than ever.

They also maintain that specialists remain critical to schools, helping students navigate the Internet and other resources, much as they once did with books and periodicals.

“What we are teaching kids is how to deal with all of this information coming at them,” said Amy Rominiecki, president of the New jersey Association of School Librarians and a media specialist at Seneca High School in the Lenape Regional High School district.

Without them, added Pat Massey, librarian of South Brunswick High School, “the students are at a loss, the school community is at a loss.”

The association cited a 2011 study of New Jersey school libraries by the Rutgers Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries that found widespread benefits to a vibrant library program, helping build not just academic skills but also cooperation and community within a school.

“The school library is the learning center where people can go and work with a specialist and do things in a cross-content approach,” said Massey, the association’s former president.

Rominiecki said the cause is not lost. She said her own district still has two specialists in each high school, and other districts are moving to ensure similar staffing.

More Cuts Ahead

Still, the trend is downward, and there may be even new pressures to trim further. The Christie administration this month suggested loosening the requirement that all districts to have their own media specialists, as part of a sweeping report aimed at reducing school regulations.

State law now requires every school have a library/media program, and every district staff those programs. “But how that is all defined, that is the question,” said Massey.

The state previously required full-time positions for every school in the neediest districts, which came under the Abbott v. Burke school equity rulings, but that fell by the wayside with the state’s new funding formula. State monitoring still gives a district points for the strength of its library programs, but the administration’s recent proposal suggested the possibility of whole districts now sharing staffing.

A Balancing Act

It’s been tough for schools to balance their budgets for the past few years, especially after the widespread state aid cuts in 2010, and library programs have been among the first to suffer.

At Freehold Regional High School district, the number of media specialists went from seven three years ago -- one for each of its six high schools, plus a roaming one -- to three. Each librarian is shared between two high schools.

“Once something is gone, they don’t often come back, and we are living with three,” said Charles Sampson, the Freehold superintendent. “It’s a decision of where you deploy your resources.”

Sampson said he had the option of maybe adding at least some of them back this year, but faced a difficult choice in schools where teaching staff was also down in key academic areas.

“It came down to a classroom math teacher or a media specialist, and we decided not to fill the media position,” he said. “It’s not to say we won’t continue to revisit the situation each year.”

Still, he said that conditions have changed with technology providing students ready access to information anywhere. He agreed that adults are needed to guide and provide research, especially in the elementary grades, in which students are just starting to navigate the Internet.

But he added that this type of education can take place in he classroom as well. “It’s not so much about the walls any more,” he said.

 

NJ Spotlight - NJ To Pilot Early Testing for KindergartenPilot program will measure social, academic development in seven districts

By John Mooney, September 26, 2012 in Education|1 Comment

As part of the Christie administration’s latest push for early literacy, the state is launching a pilot program for testing children as they enter kindergarten.

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New Jersey has enlisted six school districts and a charter school to test out the new "kindergarten entry assessment” (KEA), which will measure children for basic academic and social development.

Nearly 50 teachers and administrators in the districts began training in August to learn to use a commercial assessment tool called Teaching Strategies GOLD.

New Jersey joins Delaware, Colorado and Washington in using the new assessment tool, the company announced this month. State officials said they chose the Maryland-based company's program because it is easy to use and aligns with the national Common Core State Standards.

The pilot program will be expanded next year and could eventually be phased in statewide, the company and officials said.

Early assessments have been gaining attention as preschool programs continue to take on a bigger role in states’ efforts to improve public schools.

Acting state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf last week mentioned the pilot to district superintendents, saying it would be part of a new push to make sure students can read on grade level by the end of third grade.

New Jersey missed out last year in a federal Race to the Top competition for funding earmarked for early childhood education, with such assessments required for winning states. One of the shortcomings cited in the state's application was a lack of specifics for its assessment plan.

This is a far cry from the familiar standardized testing for older students, based more on observation and performance to determine if children are coming into kindergarten ready for academic work.

“Where are the students at the various stages of kindergarten in terms of their readiness, their interaction with other children, their ability to follow instructions and stay on task?” asked Laura Morana, superintendent of Red Bank schools, one of the pilot districts.

The other participating districts are Bellmawr, Freehold, Kingwood, Clinton Township, and Garfield. The John P. Holland Charter School in Paterson is also participating. Nearly 800 students overall will take part.

Morana said her district has been assessing incoming kindergarteners for several years, but added that she was enthusiastic for the district to be part of the development of a statewide model.

“This is a hot topic on the national level, and we’re eager to be a part of it,” she said.

Press of Atlantic City - Anti-bullying law improves educational environment in Pleasantville

Sunday, September 23, 2012 By ANJALEE KHEMLANI Staff WriterpressofAtlanticCity.com

A combination of specialists and anonymous reporting methods has created an new atmosphere at schools following the implementation of an anti-bullying law, school officials say after one year after it went into effect.

"We can see a complete transformation of school cultures," said Pleasantville anti-bullying coordinator Mark Delcher.

With more awareness comes an apparent increase in reporting, said Ronald Stephens, director of the National School Safety Center.

Converting unreported and unacknowledged incidents into reported incidents helps empower the students, and lets them realize there is support, Stephens said.

The financial burden of the law has been an ongoing struggle for some school districts though.

While Pleasantville was awarded the highest amount, about $11,000, in state funding, other schools received amounts as low as several hundred.

The cost of implementing the new law in the Vineland district was unknown to interim Assistant Superintendent Keith Figgs, but he said because of the fiscal limit, the district has to keep its methods cost-effective.

Vineland uses a form to report incidents that gets sent up the ladder to the principal, Figgs said.

Of about 745 reported incidents in the Vineland district, about half were substantiated as bullying and 260 were from the middle school level, he said.

Even in the Pinelands Regional School District, the majority of reports are coming from the middle school levels, grades 7 through 9.

“We have an online discipline program through our Student Data Management System, OnCourse, which notifies vice principal and counselors immediately,” said coordinator Karen Kenny in an email. “It is difficult to manage investigations in the timeline when incidents occur via facebook, the weekend, bus stops and/or school.”

The Pleasantville School District also uses an online reporting system, but through a private company, and has noticed the majority of reports come from grades three through six. While an exact figure was not available, Delcher estimates it costs about $1,700 per building.

He said the cost is justified in the management and effect of the problems with students.

“We have seen a significant reduction in the types of behaviors that the anti-bullying statute was intended to stop,” Delcher said.

But there have also been beneficial and unintentional effects. Delcher said parents are especially using the online system to report incidents that are heard by the grapevine in neighborhoods or through friend circles, and students are able to report bullying experienced online or from students in neighboring schools.

It is a beneficial method because it allows those students who are observers to report incidents without being called a snitch, Delcher said.

“If you take the problem seriously, it cannot be a box in the library,” Delcher said.

In order to comply with the law and remain within budget, some schools have continued using the practice of anonymous tip boxes in areas like cafeterias and libraries. Regardless of the method, once reports are received, investigations are done and steps are taken to prevent the issue from escalating, school officials said.

“To honestly deal with it, you cannot treat the issue with a punitive hammer for the bully,” Delcher said.

“For years, the issue was treated as a disciplinary issue. Somebody violated a student code and is punished, and that’s it. Schools would wash their hands off the issue,” Delcher said.

New methods treat both sides equally as needing help by giving the support and understanding to the victim that they are not alone, while the bully is dealt with in a manner to find the root of the actions and attitude.

A survey was given to students in the school district at the beginning of the year, and then again at the end of the year. Delcher said the results showed students were much more sensitive to their own behaviors and understand the idea that there are no innocent bystanders in bullying situations.

“It is going to be interesting to see how they grow up,” Delcher said about students who are growing up with the effects of the new law.

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:

609-272-7247 akhemlani@pressofac.com

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828