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Push to Improve Brick's High Schools Underway

Superintendent, principals spearheading effort

Brick Township's two high schools have the potential to be great, and school officials say a new plan which will use data-driven assessments and a team outlook on teaching and learning will help it reach that potential.

"We want to make sure that all our students are learning at the highest possible level," said Dr. Richard Caldes, principal of Brick Memorial High School.

He and Brick Township High School Principal Dennis Filippone announced an ambitious plan at Thursday night's Brick Board of Education meeting which they say will improve test scores, get the two high schools in sync in terms of curriculum and create a professional learning community.

"We want teachers to build shared knowledge and be collegial about testing and pacing," said Filippone.

The two administrators said Superintendent Dr. Walter Uszenski quickly requested a plan be put in place to improve the high schools once he arrived in the district this summer.

"Our high schools are our flagships, so to speak, and we need to make them their best," Uszenski said at the meeting Thursday.

The planning stages of the effort will begin this year, as administrators hope to create a "data culture" where committees of teachers and supervisors will be able to pour over data and determine how students are learning, which are in need of improvement and which would benefit from advanced classes. Teachers will also meet in "content area groups" where they will analyze data and determine which curriculum is most effective.

Filippone said the high schools will also begin giving assessment exams to students every four weeks instead of waiting until final exams given twice a year.

"We will look at student progress, teacher progress," he said. "We'll be able to document the effectiveness of our strategy and our schedule."

The curriculum and strategies of the two high schools will also be identical, as will the assessments.

Caldes said administrators would also begin a review of the high schools' block scheduling and consider adjustments. The adjustments will include augmented schedules to allow students to take more honors and advanced placement courses, he said.

"We're looking to add more courses to enhance our offerings, and to do that, we need to look at and modify our current block of courses," said Caldes.

Additionally, teachers will be able to access curriculum mapping and lesson plans online, and track progress.

"Our curriculum, by the time we're done doing this, will be up to par with anybody else in our state," said Caldes.

The data will begin to be collected this year, the principals said, and the committees of teachers and administrators will form as the year goes on, with some aspects of the overall plan potentially being implemented by the end of the school year.

"They have been giving 110 percent into the initiatives," Uszenski said of district teachers. "They know they are going to make our curriculum a lot more rigorous, but they also know it's going to put us into the 21st century."

"I'm excited about the direction we're going in," said board member Len Cuppari, praising the plan. "I applaud Dr. Uszenski and our administration. It will give us information we can react to. I'm enthusiastic."

The district's two high schools recently ranked relatively low in the Sept. 2012 issue of New Jersey Monthly magazine, where the state's public high schools were ranked according to a formula employed by the publication.

Out of 328 high schools statewide, Brick Township High School ranked 261 and Brick Memorial High School ranked 269.

Uszenski, a township resident, said the perception of the township's high schools would improve under the plan.

"The culture of the district is going to change, where we have a common language through the district, pre-K through grade 12," he said. "We are going to turn around the perception about Brick."

Lori Morrison September 23, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Jersey girl, When I went to Brick High we were still on split sessions until my senior year when Memorial first opened. The seniors stayed at Brick, and the rest went to Memorial. Scheduling on many classes was limited to seniors only because of the volume of students. We had 6 classes a day at 35 minutes per class with an average of 30 plus students. Freshman attended the afternoon shift so the classes were smaller but the course choices were even more limited that the upperclassmen. Many students reached a point where they just stopped going to school and signed themselves out when they turned 18. Back then the quality of education was not good. I wished we had some of the current courses available back then. Then you needed 100 credits to graduate and when I started my senior year I had 95 credits To lifelonginbick, I lucked out and was placed in Mr. Warnick's art class instead of Interior design. I wanted to take another half year english class but it was limited to seniors only.
Springteshya DeGeorge September 24, 2012 at 10:43 AM
I'm being honest when I say my clients' biggest issue is Brick's schools. Crime has gone up in most areas, whether it's robberies or financial scams...
Reality September 24, 2012 at 10:54 AM
And the NJ Monthly Magazine rankings will certainly not help attract the more affluent, college-educated buyers to purchase in Brick.
betterdays September 24, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Brick schools definitely need to improve in many ways, no doubt about that. But take any ranking done by a magazine with a grain of salt. Trust me, I've been involved with them on the inside (not this one, but other pubs).
Reality September 24, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Go on the NJ Department of Education website, and compare Brick's SAT scores, # of students taking AP classes, NJ ASK scores, etc. You'll see why we continue to rank so poorly. (And why DeGeorge's clients' comments and reasons for not purchasing in Brick are indeed valid.)

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