Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Monday, January 3, 2011

Top 10 Events in Ridgewood Public Schools in 2010.

Since all the cool bloggers seemed to include Top 10 lists in their posts this past weekend, I thought I would do my version. This is a list of the 10 most important things that happened in the Ridgewood Public Schools in 2010. Obviously this is completely subjective and unscientific, and was only barely researched – it’s mostly off the top of my head, to be honest. If I’ve forgotten something that you feel belongs in the Top 10, let me know.

10. RHS Spirit Week. According to my son and daughter, in recent years, Ridgewood High School has not had much “school spirit.” In fact, I remember in 2006 when my daughter’s Class of 07 was thrilled when they successfully campaigned to hold a Homecoming Dance for the first time in years. This past October, however, Principal Jack Lorenz and his team of administrators focused on Spirit Week as a way to bring the campus together following several tragic events, including the deaths of two students and one former student in the space of a year. Spirit Week 2010 was a success, with unprecedented participation in various events, including a big pep rally before the first home football game and later huge dance on Halloween weekend. (Yes, there were some management issues with that dance and the unexpectedly large turnout, but the fact that so many kids wanted to be at the high school was a good thing.) Overall, the positive vibe of Spirit Week has continued throughout this school year and has brought a welcome sense of togetherness and sharing to a place that too often seems to focus solely on achievement.

9. Parent Involvement. Throughout the year, from Jamboree, Project Graduation and band and sports booster groups at the high school, to awesome parent-run Spirit Night at BF, to Somerville-Hawes Dad’s Night and continued growth of all the Home & School Associations, it’s amazing to see the level of parent involvement – and, of course, fundraising – that continues in Ridgewood. I don’t want to focus too much on fundraising, because I truly do think the parent involvement and volunteering alone is remarkable, but the fact is, in 2010 over $548,000 in funds or gifts-in-kind were donated to the RPS. Thank you for your generosity and commitment!

8. Ridgewood Dominates Bergen County Music Education. In early December, more than 350 students from around Bergen County auditioned and competed for 85 positions in the performing ensemble that recognizes Bergen’s best musicians. A total of 21 Ridgewood High School band members were selected to perform in the All-County Band, the most ever chosen from one school! (I’m told the previous record was held by…Ridgewood!). I’m so proud of our music students and our music faculty throughout the district.

7. RHS Girls’ Lacrosse State Champions! In June, Ridgewood High School’s girls’ lacrosse team won the school’s first-ever women’s state championship, defeating West Morris of Mendham 7-6. Abbey Van Horne summed up the team's feelings: "We knew this was going to be our year," said an ecstatic VanHorne. "We've had so much fun playing together that we almost felt like it was our fate to win. When we we're out there playing together and having fun we almost feel unstoppable. I couldn't ask for a better group of teammates and to accomplish this with them is absolutely amazing."

6. Skyward student information system. Over the summer, the District began implementing the Skyward student information system, a very sophisticated program to consolidate and manage all the information we hold about students – address and contact info, grades, discipline, etc. It was (is) a bumpy transition, but things are smoothing out and parents are starting to have access in new ways. For example, high school report cards and progress reports are completely online (no more racing home try to intercept the mail before Mom and Dad see the report card). This past semester, access was broadened to include a two-week window during which teachers’ entire grade books were accessible. Parents who wished to have more detailed information about their children’s academics were able to see assignment grades, homework, quiz and test scores, etc. Will this be helpful or create more stress?

5. Athletic field improvements & so-called “Lightgate.” The successful referendum in December 2009 meant long-overdue upgrades to the athletic fields at the RHS Stadium (who knew it was called that?), Stevens Field and BF. The artificial turf and drainage have resulted in a huge improvement to the Village’s field inventory, giving much more access to many more kids, instead of the fields sitting empty most of the time. Recent concerns of the neighbors regarding the lights and increased field usage are a bit of a speed bump – rumors and misinformation are an issue, once again – but we’ll work it out.

4. The long-awaited parent survey. In June, the District conducted a survey of all parents’ to find out what parents think about the schools their children attend. The results were reported in late December, and there will surely be additional discussion throughout this year. I’m hoping to make this an annual survey, so it will be most interesting to see how opinions change over time. Most surprising finding: several elementary school parents want more homework, more rigor and tougher academics as early as kindergarten. Hello? Race to Nowhere anyone?

3. Keeping score. In February, it was reported that Ridgewood’s SAT scores are number one in Bergen County, behind only Bergen Academies. NJASK scores for 2009-10 were recently reported, and while our elementary scores remain strong, our middle school scores show continued room for improvement, in comparison to other schools in our District Factor Group. Each principal (at every school, not just middle schools) is setting goals and creating action plans to achieve them. I’m perplexed by the middle school scores…it’s good to know that our students’ performance “catches up” in high school, but what is behind the middle school dip?

2. Referendum projects approved & on track. In December 2009 voters approved a $48 million referendum to upgrade and expand facilities. Throughout 2010, several roof repair and electrical projects were completed throughout the District, RHS saw massive repairs to sidewalks, stairs, doors, lighting, new lockers, etc. The Hawes School and Ridge School expansions are moving along. Bids will be received later this month for the expansions at GW Middle School and Willard School. Overall, Referendum 2009 represents the most facilities improvement in the District’s history, and will enable our schools to be used most efficiently to educate our entire student body.

1. Budget Cuts 2010. The most significant impact last year came from the $6 million in budget cuts we were required to make to keep the District budget within the state-mandated tax levy cap. The loss of our state aid, plus our failure to get concessions from our primary union, the Ridgewood Education Association, made a difficult situation even worse. Last March, prior to the budget vote, I wrote that the changes resulting from cuts would be affect our District for years to come. One early fallout: retirements of several veteran educators in June.

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