Representatives of the New Jersey Department of Education at School No. 1 during a visit to Linden Public Schools to see what programs are working for large and growing school districts.  Above, Department of Education representatives, from left, Liz Walsh and Rebecca Wills, with Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi and School No. 1 Principal Dona Preston. In background are Supervisor of Data and Assessment Dariusz Kondratowicz, Instructional Coach Reina Irizarry-Clark, Assistant Superintendent Denise Cleary, and Director of Technology Michael Walters. Below, Walsh, left, and Wills talking with students at School 8, left, and School 1, right.

Department of Education rep with students at School 8  talking to a student

By Gary Miller

Two representatives from the New Jersey Department of Education visited Linden Public Schools on Monday, March 19, to hear about and see in person some of the great programs in the schools.

Liz Walsh and Rebecca Wills, who are involved with strategic operations for the DOE, met with Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi in his office, along with several other administrators, before they took tours of Schools No. 1 and No. 8.

The visit was part of an assessment of school districts being done under Commissioner Lamont Repollet to figure out what programs are successful in large and growing school districts.

“We were excited to be able to talk to Ms. Walsh and Ms. Wills about our successes and challenges in Linden,” said Dr. Robertozzi. “But even better was taking them on a tour of two of our elementary schools. We’re so proud of the work that our teachers and students are doing that it’s a real thrill to be able to show it off to our friends from Trenton.

“We’re always grateful for the support we get from Dr. Repollet and the Department of Education.”

Among the major successes the Linden administrators highlighted were:

– The increased use of testing data to inform instructional decisions: Two of the staffers who met with Walsh and Wills were Supervisor of Data and Assessment Dariusz Kondratowicz and Instructional Coach Reina Irizarry-Clark, both of whom have been key to this push. Irizarry-Clark was able to show how data is broken down to give feedback to teachers on Instructional Leadership Teams, who pass the information on to their colleagues. Kondratowicz also pointed out that Linden has been able to eliminate the gap in testing scores between economically disadvantaged students and the general student population. Linden has been named by the New Jersey Education Association as a model district in the use of the data.

– One-to-One initiative: Director of Technology Michael Walters talked to Walsh and Wills about the district’s push to put a computer in the hands of every student, which he said has leveled the playing field and put all students on equal footing for learning. All students have access to a computer in class, and middle and high school students have MacBook Air laptops that they bring home and carry year-round.

– Parental outreach: Dr. Robertozzi and Assistant Superintendent Denise Cleary discussed Parent EST (Education Support Team) and grants from the New Jersey Education Association known as FAST (Families and Schools Together) as two of the areas that help keep parents involved in their children’s education. Parent EST meetings are held once a month as a forum to offer concerns or feedback to Board of Education members, who then share it with Dr. Robertozzi. Each meeting has a guest speaker to talk about specific programs or initiatives in the district. FAST grants allow schools to hold events where students and families can get together with staff at the school for a night of fun.

Instructional Coach Reina Irizarry-Clark talking to Department of Education visitors Rebecca Wills, second from left, and Liz Walsh, right, and School No. 8 Principal Michelle Rodriguez.

Among other highlights were:

– The highly successful NJROTC program at Linden High School, which now has 500 members.

– A peer-to-peer teacher feedback program at the high school.

– The district’s status as a Department of Education model program for English as a Second Language.

– The Professional Development Resource Center, a building dedicated to increasing the number of professional development opportunities for faculty.

– The district Launch, a day of professional development and team-building to kick off the school year.

– Programs aimed at increasing teacher diversity, including a partnership with Kean University for student teaching and an intro to education course at Linden High School.

During their visits to the schools, Walsh and Wills walked and talked with School No. 1 Principal Dona Preston and School No. 8 Principal Michelle Rodriguez. They then visited classrooms of different grade levels with the principals and talked to students about what they were learning in class.

“I love to take any opportunity I can to visit with our students and see our classrooms in action,” Dr. Robertozzi said. “I think it gave Ms. Walsh and Ms. Wills just a small glimpse at all the good things going on in our schools.”