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 NJ.com'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 Code.org 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 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01926187.2015.1061407
Research Spotlight on Homework: NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education
(2015). In http://www.nea.org/tools/16938.htm. 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.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Weehawken High School Launches New AP Capstone Diploma Program in September 2016

In February 2016, the Weehawken Township School District was selected by the College Board to implement AP Capstone  — an innovative high school diploma program that allows students to develop the skills that matter most for their future college success: research, collaboration, and communication. The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program (AP) enables willing and academically prepared students to pursue college-level studies — with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement, or both - while still in high school. AP Capstone complements the in-depth, subject-specific rigor of AP courses and exams. The AP Capstone Program includes a two-course sequence: AP Seminar and AP Research. Students who complete AP Seminar and AP Research with scores of 3 or higher, and receive scores of 3 or higher on four AP Exams in subjects of their choosing, will receive the AP Capstone Diploma.

The AP Seminar course, typically taken in 10th or 11th grade, will equip students with the power to explore academic and real-world issues from multiple perspectives. Through a variety of materials  — from articles and research studies to foundational and philosophical texts  — students will be challenged to explore complex questions; understand and evaluate opposing viewpoints; interpret and synthesize information; and develop, communicate, and defend evidence-based arguments. Teachers have the flexibility of choosing themes based on student interests, whether they are local, regional, national, or global in nature. Samples of themes that can be covered in the AP Seminar course include education, innovation, sustainability, and technology. By tapping into students’ personal interests, AP Capstone gives a broader array of students an entry point into challenging course work. Students are assessed through both an individual project and a team project completed during the year and a year-end written exam.

The subsequent AP Research course will allow students to design, plan, and conduct a yearlong investigation on a topic of their choosing with support from experts at the university level or in the community. Students will build on the skills learned in the AP Seminar course by using research methodology; employing ethical research practices; and accessing, analyzing, and synthesizing information to present an argument. At the end of the course students have the confidence to present and orally defend their own scholarly academic research.

The first class of AP Seminar students at Weehawken High School will start their journey through the AP Capstone Program in September 2016.

#WeeLearn in the Summer

Classrooms are silent and empty. Displaced furniture crowds hallways to make space for maintenance and construction projects. Yet, the WHS media center is BUZZING. It is summer and summer in Weehawken is for learning.

WTSD teachers and the administrative team are participating in summer professional development academies held daily in the WHS Media Center. The summer academies kicked off on July 11th and run through August 19th. Francesca Amato, Director of Academic Affairs and Innovation, is administering the entire summer academy program. All of the academies consist of a series of workshop-style sessions with a focus on providing teachers with classroom-ready strategies to enhance student achievement.

The complete lineup of summer academies is as follows:
  • PBL Via Google Apps
  • Enhancing Formative Assessment Practices
  • UBD Curriculum Mapping
  • Mathspace
  • CODE.org
  • Envision Math
  • Middlebury Language
  • Standards-based Report Cards
  • Google Apps Level 1 Certification
  • Stevens Institute NJRaise
  • PARCC Data Analysis
  • Ditch the Textbook and Turn your Social Studies Class into a Citizenship Lab

Ms. Amato is facilitating the UbD Curriculum Mapping academies. Mr. Calligy, District Digital Information Officer, will lead teachers through two Google Apps for Education Level 1 Certification Boot Camps. Mrs. McGinley is leading the Standard-based Report Cards course. I facilitated the PBL via Google Apps and Enhancing Formative Assessment Practices sessions in early July.

The participation of almost the entire teaching staff and all of the administrative team is indicative of our educators’ collective commitment to lifelong learning and research-based teaching practices. It is going to be very exciting to see how teachers implement what they learned during their summer academies in their classrooms come fall.