By Jeff Wolfe
The beginning of each school year is a time of transition for everyone.
The students return to class, and hopefully for themselves and their teachers, return to the routine of studying as well as possibly participating in extra-curricular activities.
But while many students are becoming accustomed to new teachers, new buildings for some, and new classmates for those just beginning middle school and high school, it’s also a time of change for administrators as well.
It’s part of the ever changing landscape that comes with being a leader in education. The Kingsway district is one of those places that have seen plenty of changes over the last few years. They have partly been of the physical nature, with a new middle school, and more additions to the high school and middle school this past year due to the expanding student population, which will be more than 2,500 combined at the middle school and high school for the 2014-15 school year.
But just because there is a greater quantity of students, Kingsway Regional School District Superintendent Dr. James Lavender doesn’t want that to be an excuse for a lesser quality of education.
“This year we open our doors with a new motto — Committed to Excellence,” Lavender said in a letter to high school parents late last month. “We are committed to being the best in everything we do. We are dedicated to serving our students.
“We are passionate about the reasons we became educators, and we are supportive of everyone’s efforts. There will continue to be obstacles, but through a joint commitment to excellence, we can overcome these obstacles together.”
Part of the plan to overcome those obstacles, like a large student population in the high school, is to use what Lavender is calling the S.M.A.R.T. program. The acronym stands for Students Maximizing Achievement, Resources, Relationships and Time.
“Through the new S.M.A.R.T. schedule, more students will have the opportunity to engage in academic enrichment activities; participate in co-curricular programs; and, faculty will gain opportunities to meet and discuss pedagogy and best practice in an effort to improve student performance,” Lavender said.
When it comes to the performance of middle school students, Kingsway will be using the Renaissance Program in order to give credit to students for individual achievement.
“Through partnering with local businesses, parents, and the community at-large, the program will recognize our students for individual growth and achievement, school accountability, community involvement, school spirit and, service to others,” Lavender said.
Lavender also feels it’s important to provide a better communication service to parents and students, which means there will be a new newsletter that will begin later in September, called Inside Kingsway.
“We anticipate the first edition to be published in September,” Lavender said, “and are confident that you will find the information useful, relevant, and in an enjoyable format.”
One issue that is always relevant to educators is student attendance. Lavender admits that has been an issue at the high school and middle school in recent years and announced there will be a new attendance policy for this school year.
“This past year we’ve taken the time to investigate student attendance patterns and have
learned that too many of our students are chronically absent from school,” Lavender said. “Therefore, in an effort to improve student attendance we will be taking a tough stance against student absenteeism by holding students accountable when they accumulate eight or more unexcused absences. Consequences may include a loss in academic credits or school privileges could be revoked. More information will be provided at our back to school nights.”
The back to school nights will be Sept. 11 for the middle school and Sept. 18 for the high school.
Another change at Kingsway is in the school calendar. Unlike in past years, there will be larger blocks of time off. That will include having off the entire week of Nov. 3-9, Christmas Eve through Jan. 4, Feb. 13-16, March 28-April 6, May 22-25 with the last day of school scheduled for Friday, June 19. The calendar also eliminates all half days for the school year.
The fall recess, Nov. 3-9, is one significant change in the schedule. Students had traditionally went to school the first three days of that week, then had the final two days off as the New Jersey Education Association convention is in Atlantic City then.
“The first week of November is dedicated to the NJEA Convention and many of our teachers take advantage of this professional development opportunity,” Lavender said. “However, this week has prompted a number of family vacations and student absenteeism is twice our annual average.
Additionally, November school days have always been inconsistent and the start and stop calendar is believed to be disadvantageous to the learning process. It is our hope that families see this week as an opportunity to schedule vacations during longer breaks in the schedule as opposed to extending weekends which result in students missing school.”
Lavender also said that if makeup days are needed due to bad weather in the winter, they will be made up during the longer-than traditional spring break. If more than five makeup days are needed, they will be made up at end of the school year.
Lavender also said that the district is scheduled to launch a new curriculum and instruction webpage at the start of the 2014-15 school year to give parents and students more resources.
“This site will provide our school community with helpful information about Kingsway’s academic curriculum and programs as well as a variety of resources that will assist parents in supporting their child’s academic progress beyond the classroom,” Lavender said.
Lavender also realizes the success of the school district will depend on everyone being involved with the students.
“The successes we have achieved in the past and those we will achieve in the future are directly attributed to the work being done by each of our talented and dedicated faculty and staff members as well as through the ongoing support and cooperation of our families,” he said. “Because of our collective efforts, Kingsway continues to be an extraordinary place made up of exceptional people, and it continues to be a privilege to serve you as superintendent.”
An elementary school district within the Kingsway District is East Greenwich that has undergone changes similar to Kingsway with construction projects on each the Jeffrey Clark School, which houses the preschool through second grades, and the Samuel Mickle School, which houses the third through sixth grades. The school population boom has mirrored the township’s population increase, which has seen an increase from about 5,000 people in 2000 to more than 10,000 in 2013.
The Clark and Mickle schools have continued to expand to accommodate the growth of the district as well. They each have added more classrooms and other spaces as well, including a new gym at the Jeffrey Clark School.
Along with physical changes to the school system, the district has undergone a complete change in on-site leadership in the last two years. Superintendent Dr. James Lynch is beginning his second year as the leader in the district. Principal Jessica Mahoney is starting her second year at the Jeffrey Clark School. And then, with Andrea Evans being hired as the principal at Samuel Mickle, it will be the fourth principal in five years at the school.
Mahoney took over for Joshua Meyer, retired near the end of the 2012-2013 school year. Evans is taking over for Jim Marchesani, whose contract was not renewed this past spring after two years at Samuel Mickle. He had succeeded Albert Wagner, who was principal for one year. Wagner had taken over for long-time principal Loretta Savidge.
So, for a district that has had to adjust to regular changes in the shapes and sizes of its buildings and grounds, it also now has had to adjust to the leadership changes. The district was also hit with several teacher retirements this year. Evans is a graduate of Rowan University and holds a New Jersey certification as a Principal, Supervisor, Reading Specialist and Elementary Teacher. She began her career as a teacher in grades 1, 2 and 3 in the Camden City Schools and continued as a teacher in Vineland in grades 3 and 4. In both districts she was named Teacher of the Year.
For the last six years, Evans has served as the District Supervisor of Language Arts grades K-12th for the Vineland Public Schools. During her tenure she facilitated instructional improvement strategies, supervised teachers and instructional coaches, developed processes to use data for the improvement of teaching and learning, and collaborated with a variety of stakeholders for many purposes. She also has experience and proficiency in NJ Smart, SuccessMaker, Achieve 3000, Read 180, and Accelerated Reader.