Danielle Shanley, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, spoke with Patch to address concerns about New Milford High School’s drop in rankings in New Jersey Monthly’s biennial report released last week.
According to the report, , based on data for the 2010-2011 school year and, says Shanley, is not "real time data."
Shanley said that during the time that New Jersey Monthly gathered its data, Superintendent Michael Polizzi was just rounding out his first year and Shanley had just started. "We were just beginning to identify areas that needed change," she said.
Since 2010, Polizzi and his team established the High School Academies program, increased A.P. classes, implemented the Junior Academy at the middle school, developed Inner Bridge Crossing that provides in-district services for children on the autistic spectrum, added 30 new courses between the middle school and high school, encourages the use of student technology as learning devices, and established teacher-driven Professional Learning Communities.
Shanley said that to reflect the real world that these students will be entering upon graduation.
Shanley said that woven into each subject matter, teachers are encouraged to promote divergent thinking, creativity, collaboration, global awareness, ethics and service among their students.
Citing the Holocaust Studies program run by Colleen Tambuscio, Shanley said that was a prime example illustrating authentic learning not offered by many high schools.
"The students who traveled on the this year didn't just learn history, they made history," Shanley said. Tambuscio and her students dedicated a memorial to the Wolf family in the woods where they hid from the Nazi's for three years.
"Does New Jersey Monthly measure that educational experience?" she asked.
Shanley said that one factor contributing to the drop in rankings was class size, something that was immediately addressed when Shanley arrived.
"In the 2010-11 school year, we recognized that we had to address class sizes at the high school, as well as in other buildings," Shanley said.
"We added teaching positions in 2011-12 and added even more in 2012-13, but this is not reflected in the New Jersey Monthly report."
Another factor affecting the drop was that the state now looks at dropout rates differently, according to Shanley.
"We are held responsible for the graduation of a student if they attended New Milford High School at anytime during their high school career," Shanley said.
For example, if a student decided in the middle of senior year to go back to a foreign country they are counted in New Milford's dropout rates, she explained.
"Let's say a child leaves New Milford and goes to any school in New Jersey, or even the nation, we can technically release that child to another school," Shanley explained.
"If the student leaves the country, but doesn't officially transfer out, we have no way of finding out if they are in school in another country or not. The state counts that student as a drop out," Shanley said.
As previously reported by Patch, the New Milford school district is extremely dedicated to 21st century learning provided by the Partnership for 21St Century Skills that emphasizes student outcomes that are very different from New Jersey Monthly, such as:
- Learning and innovation skills (critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity);
- life and career skills, core subjects and 21st century themes; and
- information media and technology skills.
"We value inquiry and problem based learning environments for our students--higher level math, authentic and responsible research, and lab based sciences," Shanley said.
The data upon which New Jersey Monthly’s rankings are based comes from the state Department of Education’s most recent , according to the publication.
"I believe we should be celebrating all that we have managed to do in the past two years in spite of the reduction in funding and budgetary caps," Shanley said. "We are making great qualitative strides K-12 in all facets of the educational system."
Shanley explained that many of those long term, systemic changes cannot be measured in a limited, quantitative data collection from the 2010-11 school year.
"If New Jersey Monthly wanted to write a comprehensive story on what really makes a high school great, I welcome them to come here and I will show them one," Shanley said.