Sunday, January 15, 2017

Our Updated Curricula

Since March 2016, the teachers and administrators of the Weehawken Township School District have been revising and enhancing all of our standards-based PreK-12 curricula. Our teachers are mapping and modifying course units, analyzing assessment data, and reflecting on their practice by meeting regularly in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) with their grade level or like-subject colleagues. PLC-based curriculum mapping is a top goal of our three-year District Strategic Plan.

WTSD uses the Understanding by Design curriculum framework developed by Dr. Grant Wiggins and Dr. Jay McTighe. The UbD framework is based on the “backwards design” model, teacher reflection, essential questions, and transfer of skills to the real world.

Our teachers map their UbD curriculum units and plan their formative and summative assessments via the Rubicon Atlas platform. Atlas is simultaneously a medium for collaborative teacher-driven curriculum development and a mechanism for publicly showcasing our standards-based units. Atlas's features include easy linkability to teacher's lesson resources and activities that they develop with Google Drive. I am happy to announce that due to the dedication of our teacher PLCs and the leadership of our Director of Academic Affairs and Innovation, Ms. Francesca Amato, our UbD curriculum maps can now be viewed online: The unit calendars show course unit sequence and the individual unit maps show the scope of each course unit.

Curriculum mapping is not a one-time initiative. Our teachers will continuously meet in their PLCs to update their units to ensure that the written curriculum matches the taught curriculum. As the owners of the curriculum, our teachers have the autonomy to be innovative in their lesson design and adjust their units in real time to meet the needs of all students.


Bernhardt, V. L., & Bernhardt, V. L. (2013). Data analysis for continuous school improvement. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education.
Browne, E. G. (2009). Emerging Teacher Leadership: Collaboration, Commitment, and Curriculum Mapping (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Rowan University. New Jersey.
Burns, R. C. (2001). A leader's guide to curriculum mapping and alignment. Charleston, WV: AEL.
DuFour, R., & Fullan, M. (2013). Cultures built to last: Systemic PLCs at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
DuFour, R., & Marzano, R. J. (2011). Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
English, F. W. (1980). Curriculum mapping. Educational Leadership 37(7), 558–559.
Jacobs, H. H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World.
          Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Jacobs, H. H. (2003). Connecting Curriculum Mapping and Technology: Digital Forms Aid Data Analysis and Decision Making. Curriculum Technology Quarterly, 12(3).
Jacobs, H. H. (Ed.). (2004). Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Jacobs, H. H. (1997).  Mapping the big picture: Integrating curriculum and assessment K-12.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Kallick, B., & Colosimo, J. (2009). Using curriculum mapping and assessment data to improve learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Lyle, V. (2010). Teacher and Administrator Perceptions of Administrative Responsibilities for Implementing the Jacobs Model of Curriculum Mapping (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Walden University. Minnesota.
Marzano, R. J. (2003). What Works in Schools: Translating Research Into Action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Marzano, R. J., Frontier, T., & Livingston, D. (2011). Effective Supervision.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Mathiesen, J. A. (2008). Techer Perceptions Related to Technology Tools for Curriculum Allignment: A Survey of Teachers' Response to A Curriculum Mapping Tool (Doctoral dissertation).
McTighe, J., & Curtis, G. (2016). Leading modern learning: A blueprint for vision-driven    schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
New Jersey Student Learning Standardss. Retrieved January 14, 2017, from
Schmoker, M. (2011). Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student
 Learning.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Wiggins, G., & Jay, M. (2012a). From Common Core Standards to Curriculum: Five Big Ideas. Retrieved October 9, 2012, from
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2012b). The Understanding by Design Guide to Advanced Concepts in Creating and Reviewing Units. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Zywicki, R. R. (2013). Tackling the Common Core. Educational Viewpoints, 12-13.
Retrieved January 14, 2017, from

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Banner Year for the Weehawken High School Band

The Weehawken High School Marching Band, under the direction of Mrs. Natalie Kerr, had a tremendous season! The entire Weehawken School District community is extremely proud.  Here are the top 5 accomplishments of the WHS band this season:
  1. Atlantic Coast Champions: Performed and placed 1st out of 26 bands from 9 states of the Mid-Atlantic Tournament of Bands
  2. Regional Champs: 1st place 1a Class of the Tournament of Bands NY Metro/North Jersey Region
  3. Named to's List of Top 21 Marching Bands in New Jersey
  4. Hosted eighth annual Weehawken Invitational Festival of Bands
  5. Opened the High School Heisman Award Ceremony in NYC.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


WTSD students recently connected with OCEARCH shark trackers using blended learning tools as part of a new STEM curriculum.  OCEARCH is the world leader in tracking marine species such as great white and tiger sharks.  On November 17th TRS students met online with OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader Chris Fischer via Skype.  Fischer discussed OCEARCH’s Global Shark Tracker and taught students how to be stewards of the ocean. Fischer also discussed some of his 26 worldwide shark tracking expeditions.

5th and 6th grade teachers were trained on how to bring the OCEARCH Shark Tracker into their classrooms. Now that WTSD is 1:1 with Chromebooks, our students and teachers have the devices and freedom to access online tools like the Shark Tracker.  The OCEARCH STEM Curriculum is a fantastic example of how engaging and relevant blended learning can be for our students.

After the interactive online session with Fischer, our students continued to utilize the OCEARCH Shark Tracker on their Chromebooks during standards-based lessons in the fields of anatomy, statistics, cartography, and physics.


This week WTSD is participating in the Hour of Code to expose students to the basics of computer science. The Hour of Code is just one example of the many PK-12 computer science activities and offerings in WTSD.  This summer WTSD hosted for a professional development workshop for our teachers.  At TRS and WHS we now have Minecraft computer labs where students sharpen their mathematical reasoning and problem solving skills while playing Minecraft Education Edition.  As of this September, WHS offers AP Computer Science A, as well as, AP Principles of Computer Science. Coding is one of the key skills developed when students participate in robotics.  So this year we launched our Robotics elective course and WHS Robotics Team.  Our students are having tons of fun while honing #FutureReady skills.

Friday, September 30, 2016

New Instrumental Music Program Arrives at TRS

I am happy to announce that the newly expanded instrumental music and performing arts programs at Theodore Roosevelt School have officially launched.  These programs will be experienced by ALL students as regularly scheduled special classes.  Optional ensembles will also be available to students who choose to participate.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

WTSD's New Homework Policy

The validity of purposefully designed and thoughtfully assigned homework must be balanced against the pressure it can place on students and families.  Our focus in the Weehawken Township School District is improving student achievement, but it should not be obtained by undermining the health of our students and families.  To that end, I worked with the administrative team, teachers, parents, and the trustees of the Board of Education to develop our new homework policy.  Our policy was developed in consideration of the research on homework conducted by Cooper, Robinson & Patall (2006), Cooper (2007), Hattie (2009), Marzano & Pickering (2007), and Pressman et al. (2015).  Researchers found that the statistical effect size for homework increased as grade levels increased (Cooper, 2006; Hattie, 2009).  Researchers recommended that homework should be assigned with time limitations based upon grade level (Cooper, 2007; Marzano and Pickering, 2007).  These recommendations on limiting homework based on grade level were endorsed by the National PTA and National Education Association.  Researchers also found that excessive homework over the aforementioned time recommendations resulted in stress that had a negative impact on students and their families (Pressman et al., 2015).  

I am happy to report that Policy and Regulation 2330 were unanimously approved at our September Board of Education meeting.  WTSD Policy 2330 now states: “The Board of Education acknowledges the research-based educational validity of homework when it is assigned to pupils based on their academic grade level, ability, and individualized needs.  When assigning homework, teachers should take into account other activities, such as family time, that make a legitimate claim on the pupil's time.”  WTSD Regulation 2330, which governs the implementation of Policy 2330, stipulates the following:
  • Teachers should insist on high standards of quality in homework, however they must operate in consideration of students’ individual learning needs and home life.
  • Teachers are encouraged to utilize tools such as Google Classroom, Edlio, Google Sites and/or Google Calendar to communicate homework assignments to students and parents.
  • All homework must be evaluated by the teacher and the teacher's feedback must be communicated to the pupil.  Homework is not a valid learning activity if the pupil receives no acknowledgment of his/her work and no feedback.
  • Grades K-8: No homework shall be assigned over holidays and weekends.
  • Kindergarten and Grade 1: Reading and/or mathematics practice not to exceed 10 total minutes per night.
  • Grades 2: Reading and/or mathematics practice not to exceed 20 total minutes per night.
  • Grades 3: Reading and/or mathematics practice not to exceed 30 total minutes per night.
  • Grades 4, 5, and 6: Homework should require no more than 45 total minutes per night.
  • Grades 7 and 8:  Homework should require no more than 60 total minutes per night.
  • Grades 9-12: Homework should be based on the academic course level.  The due date of reading assignments, written assignments,  and assessments that require preparation and studying must be made available at least three days in advance to students.  Notification of long-term assignments and major projects must be provided to students at least a week in advance of the due date.


Cooper, H. (2007). The battle over homework (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic
achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987–2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1–62.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.
Marzano, R. J., & Pickering, D. J. (2007, March). The Case For and Against Homework [Electronic
version]. Educational Leadership, 4(6).=
Pressman, R. M., Sugarman, D. B., Nemon, M. L., Desjarlais, J., Owens, H. A., & Schettini-Evans,
A. (2015). Homework and Family Stress: With Consideration of Parents’ Self Confidence, Educational Level, and Cultural Background. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 43(4). Retrieved from
Research Spotlight on Homework: NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education
(2015). In Retrieved August 1, 2016.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Standards-based Report Cards Coming to Daniel Webster School in 2016-17

As a an educator and father of four (including a 2nd grader and a Kindergartener), I am keenly aware of the need for accurate communication between schools and families.  For too long schools have provided K-2 students with letter and number grades. Such traditional reporting does not provide precise information as to students’ academic progress and development.

Daniel Webster School will be utilizing standard-based report cards starting in 2016-17 to more accurately provide families with information on how students are progressing towards mastery of grade-level standards.  Mrs. Rudowsky, Daniel Webster School Principal, and Ms. McGinley, Supervisor of Elementary Education, chaired a committee of teachers and specialists to develop the new report cards.  The DWS report cards are based upon the New Jersey Student Learning Standards and incorporate elements from model schools who already utilize standards-based report cards.  An important additional component of the DWS report cards is the Independent Reading Level.  Every student will have their reading level assessed four times beginning in September 2016 utilizing the Diagnostic Reading Assessment (DRA2). This vital information will enable parents to select appropriate and challenging reading materials for their children that best support their academic growth.  The standard-based report cards will be provided to parents on a trimester basis rather than the previous quarterly system.  The trimester system will allow more time to focus on skill development.  Mrs. Rudowsky and Mrs. McGinley will be presenting on the new standards-based report cards to the DWS PTO in September and at the DWS back-to-school nights.

The new standards-based report cards can be viewed by clicking here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Strategic Plan for the Next Three Years

Upon entering the district,  I initiated a three stage research-based entry plan to become familiar with the district’s stakeholders, culture, and critical issues.  In March, the Districts’ joint School Improvement Panel (SCIPs) and District Evaluation and Advisory Committee (DEAC) came together with the administrative team to develop professional learning goals for 2016-18.  In May, a mixed methods District Goals Survey was administered.  Responses were received from the District’s stakeholders:  students, parents, teachers, community members, trustees and administrators.  In June, the administrative team aggregated the quantitative and qualitative stakeholder input and drafted Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Research-based, and Timebound (SMART) goals.  These goals were developed into a three year strategic plan with input from the Trustees of the Board.  Last evening the Board voted unanimously to adopt the 2016-2019 WTSD Strategic Plan including the Strategic District Goals, 2016 Strategies, and 2016 SMART Goals.

At the end of each year, I will report to the Trustees and members of the community on our  progress towards strategic goals utilizing quantitative and qualitative indicators.  Thank you to all of the stakeholders who gave their time to provide input. Through this process we have come together as a community to create a shared vision for our District and developed a plan to make that vision a reality. An infographic was created to display a summary of the Strategic Plan and 2016-17 SMART Goals.

The following works were referenced when developing the 2016-19 WTSD Strategic Plan:
Bernhardt, V. L., & Bernhardt, V. L. (2013). Data analysis for continuous school improvement. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2013). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Buffum, A. G., Mattos, M., & Weber, C. (2009). Pyramid response to intervention: RTI, professional learning communities, and how to respond when kids don't learn. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Daggett, W. R. (2015). Daggett System for Effective Instruction. International Center for Leadership in Education.

Daggett, W. R. (2015). Rigor/Relevance Framework . International Center for Leadership in Education.

Dufour, R., & Marzano, R. J. (2011). Leaders of learning: How district, school, and classroom leaders improve student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Gruenert, S., & Whitaker, T. (n.d.). School culture rewired: How to define, assess, and transform it.

Hoyle, J. R. (2005). The superintendent as CEO: Standards-based performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Jacobs, H. H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Marzano, R. J., & Waters, T. (2009). District leadership that works: Striking the right balance. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Oshry, B. (1995). Seeing systems: Unlocking the mysteries of organizational life. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Senge, P. M. (2000). Schools that learn: A fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education. New York: Doubleday.

Sheninger, E. C. (2014). Digital leadership: Changing paradigms for changing times.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by design: Mission, action, and achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Zehng, B., Warschauer, M., Lin, C., & Chang, C. (2016, February 5). Learning in One-to-One Laptop Environments A Meta-Analysis and Research Synthesis. Review of Educational Research.