Cranford school board gets strategic plan update

Cranford High School auditorium rigging to cost $112K

Image via Cranford TV35
Cranford school board President Kurt Petschow, left, questions Superintendent Scott Rubin at the July 22 board meeting.

CRANFORD, NJ — The school district will expand its classroom bullying prevention lessons to include grades four, six and nine this year, along with peer mediation in the high school as part of its five-year strategic plan, Superintendent Scott Rubin told the local school board at its July 22 meeting.

The information came along with numerous updates to the 2018-23 program, including safety upgrades, “engagement” initiatives and other initiatives, such as data and personalized learning, which were detailed by Rubin and Assistant Superintendent Brian Heineman.

The roughly 30-minute presentation outlined the items in the plan already implemented and those still to come.

The bullying prevention classroom instruction was placed under the heading of “culture, climate, safety and wellness,” and included the hiring of Gayle Colucci, a language arts teacher, as the district coordinator for culture and climate last fall.

Rubin also hailed the launch of StopIt, an anonymous bullying reporting tool, as a highlight of the initiative. He also pointed out that the district has or will be undertaking more visible security measures; each school will be equipped with electronic double-door entry systems, new visitor-entry protocols and additional security cameras.

Rubin began his PowerPoint presentation by detailing the “engagement” projects the district has undertaken, such as enhancing its website to be more like the one used by Cranford High School.

“We actually took a page out of the high school book,” said Rubin, who noted students run the website. “Who better to talk about increasing our social media presence than the students.”

The enhanced district site will also use high school students, offering them school credit to run it, Rubin said. The website and increased social media use will be part of a broader strategy to solicit input through a survey early in the fall before a committee finalizes an engagement plan.

The largest portion of the update came from Heineman regarding “personalized learning.” He said one of the biggest challenges in addressing the issue was defining it, adding that some teachers didn’t know what the term means or how to implement it.

He said he had attended a conference at which an epiphany occurred.

“Sometimes you go to conferences and you say, ‘Wow this is not great. Why am I here?’” he said. “And other times you go, ‘This is fantastic.’ It’s like a light from the sky. And this was a light from the sky presentation.”

He described the “Pathways to Personalization” program developed by the Highlander Institute of Rhode Island, detailing “priority practices.” He returned to Cranford and the personal learning design team, which met and decided to focus on classroom culture, student choice and student assessment as priority practices. The program will be tested in a handful of classrooms in the fall, discussed, tweaked and finalized before being implemented districtwide in the spring, Heineman said.

He also said that the change to “standards based” report cards in the elementary schools is in the final stage, with grade four having received it last year and grade five using the new cards in the coming school year. But that will only start the process anew, he said.

“I’ll propose looping back through again,” he said. “I’ll be here next year stating how we start the cycle all over again. It’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, when you get to one side, then you start the painting all over again. It’s going to be kind of a nonstop process to really fine and hone the language of these things, the report cards.”

Also discussed at the July 22 meeting were a shuffling of principals among the schools and a repair costing more than $100,000 to the Cranford High School Auditorium stage.

Kevin Deacon, who has been the principal at Livingston Avenue School, will become the principal at Hillside Avenue School, replacing Curt Fogas, who is retiring after 20 years in the post, Rubin announced. Deacon arrived in Cranford in 2013 as the assistant principal of Orange Avenue School and then became principal at Livingston three years later.

The other matter involved the rigging system for the high school auditorium stage, which was inspected and deemed in need of further work, despite having been repaired a year ago, according to Robert Carfagno, the district business administrator. Because the issue involves safety, Carfagno had the authority to solicit bids. Only one company, iWeiss Theatrical Solutions, of four contacted offered an estimate, which was chosen at $112,750.

Carfagno said the work would not be completed by the beginning of the school year, and hoped it would be done by early October. While acknowledging the rigging system is “on its last legs,” he said that the auditorium is inspected every year, and that this year’s inspection uncovered the requirement for more extensive repairs than indicated less than 12 months ago.

“It’s inspected every year, repairs are recommended, we get the repairs, and then within six, eight, 10 months, we get another inspection and then all of a sudden the sky is falling, and we can’t use it,” Carfagno said. “I have a personal issue with that.”