making the grade
WHAT’S THE BEST CONFIGURATION FOR SCHOOLS?
North Jersey residents are very proud of their local schools. Many left the city – kicking and screaming, but still they left – for the educational opportunities available here for their children. While the reputations of the schools can be comparable across the region, the actual setup of the districts can vary widely.
The question some parents may have about the schools is what grade configuration is best. There isn’t really a definite answer. Studies have been done on this topic, but these have been largely inconclusive, based in part on the fact that there are so many other variables to consider such as school size and socioeconomic factors.
We spoke to administrators from three districts with different structures to get their take.
Frank Mazzini is the principal of two schools in Demarest – County Road School, which houses pre-K to 1st grade, and Luther Lee Emerson School, which houses 2nd to 4th grades. Students go on to a 5-8 school and then a regional high school.
“We are able to focus on the needs of a smaller age range in each school, including academic, behavioral and social needs,” Mazzini says about his setup.
Facilities and resources can be adapted to a more specific age range. “County Road recently had a new playground installed – it was built just for that age level,” he says. “Moreover, we work closely with the Parent Teacher Organization to make sure school assemblies are catered specifically to the grades in each school.”
Mazzini notes that the teachers work collaboratively to ensure a smooth transition for the students, and the district just added an integrated preschool, with the idea of creating a continuum of education.
Ramsey has two schools that are pre-K to 3rd grade – the Mary A. Hubbard School and the Wesley D. Tisdale School. Then students go to a school for 4th and 5th grade, another one for 6th to 8th and then high school. Superintendent Dr. Matthew Murphy says this allows the district to concentrate financial resources, staff and professional materials where it needs them. It also impacts classroom setup.
“Learning spaces matter. This has a direct impact on student outcomes,” he says. “For example, for a K-3 school, we can design an art room or a media center differently than we do for the older students. A fifth grader is vastly different than a first grader.”
Dr. Murphy notes that the schools have been set up this way for a very long time, “and they are very successful.”
Dr. Michael DeToro is the principal of the Joyce Kilmer School in Mahwah, which houses 4th and 5th graders who come together from three K-3rd grade schools. He views Mahwah’s setup as a wonderful opportunity for all of the kids to transition together.
“There is a lot of newness, which usually happens in middle school. At that age, the kids feel self-conscious. It is simpler to transition kids in 4th grade than in 6th – there are different
32 JANUARY 2017 (201) FAMILY 201magazine.com