Friday, March 27, 2009

I can't help but wonder, what do the residents of T.R. feel about this consolidation? I know that they have been largely kept in the dark about all of this and I am frequently shocked when T.R. residents don't know anything about the consolidation plan. It was written by their Superintendent after all.

How do the T.R. residents feel about crowding even more children into their already packed schools? How do T.R. residents feel about three towns worth of children attending thier middle and High Schools on a waived tuition in basis, while those three town's tax dollars continue to go to Central Regional?

Who is going to pay for the law suit that will undoubtedly be filed by Central Regional Schools when Michael Ritacco systematically "steals" towns from their districts? The contract with Central Regional is a legal, rather than legislative issue; why does Mr. Ritacco think he can disolve a legal contract with a legislative loop-hole?

The Consolidation plan that Mr. Ritacco has written reads like a work of fantasy with holes through which one could drive a Mac Truck.

If we are looking for savings, this is not where we are going to find it. Studies have shown that consolidation does not automatically result in savings and just serves to hurt our children.

If Mr. Ritacco is looking to save money, let him start with a voluntary paycut.
According to his contract, Ritacco's base salary from the regional district for the period ending June 30 is $228,000 annually.
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IN NEARLY 20 YEARS AS A SMALL district administrator, I have participated in two formal regionalization studies, conducted by the boards of education of two or more school districts considering consolidation. In each of these studies data revealed that there would be little if any financial savings for the districts. When weighed against the research supporting the educational benefits of small schools, the districts all opted to maintain the status quo rather than risk negatively impacting student academic achievement. The main concern was that in consolidating districts, local small school's would close and the students would merge into larger regional schools. Deeply rooted in the tradition of "home rule," many of New Jersey's school districts have fewer than 500 students in only one or two schools. Many of these districts serve students in the elementary grades only, then send middle and high school students on a tuition basis to a neighboring district. There are 593 operating school districts in New Jersey--but not for long.

Smaller Districts under Attack Almost 40 years of research and literature indicate that small schools compared to larger schools have higher attendance and graduation rates, fewer dropouts, equal or better levels of academic achievement (standardized test scores, course failure rates, grade point averages), higher levels of extracurricular participation and parent involvement, and fewer incidences of discipline and violence. But New Jersey's smallest districts are under attack. Daily headlines prove that war has been declared: "New Law: No School, No District"; "School Consolidation in New Jersey: Why Not Do This? Better Schools, Lower Taxes: What This Could Mean to You." The fiscal accountability, efficiency and budgeting procedures recently signed into law by Gov. Jon S. Corzine promise a new executive county superintendent with expanded powers to promote school consolidation. The Uniform Shared Services and Consolidation Act Chapter 63, P.L. 2007, was passed to encourage "the financial accountability of local units of government through empowering citizens, reducing waste and duplicative services, clearing legal hurdles to shared services and consolidation, and supplementing, amending, and repealing sections of statutory law." The perception is that through consolidating small school districts, tax dollars will be saved by reducing administrative and instructional costs. What about academic standards? What about student performance? What about doing what is best for kids? At what point will the political consolidation and regionalization conversation acknowledge the wealth of research supporting small schools and admit that the district structure in New Jersey is meeting the needs of students in the most effective way? New Jersey has laid out a plan of attack against small districts, ignoring overwhelming research, including that of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NREL), which has repeatedly found small schools to be superior to large schools on most measures and equal to them on the rest. NREL researchers found that states with the largest schools and districts have the lowest school achievement, highest dropout rates, and least favorable teacher-student ratios. New Jersey is even disregarding its own research and is ignoring the "Executive Summary of Findings" of its own Assembly Task Force on School District Regionalization (1999). This document clearly states that school regionalization does not automatically reap major savings or improve the quality of education. Furthermore, it indicates that small districts can produce excellent results and should not be regionalized simply because their enrollment falls below a certain number. Urban Schools Go Small Counter to the consolidation movement in New Jersey, large metropolitan districts such as the Chicago Public Schools are actively creating small schools as a districtwide school improvement strategy. In their report Small Schools Get Results, they update the research with snapshots of factors including higher GPA, increased graduation rates, decreased dropout rates, improved attendance, decreased negative social behavior, and higher levels of extracurricular participation, all reasons for sustaining small schools. When large metropolitan districts like Chicago, New York, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Oakland, Portland and Tacoma are seeking ways to create smaller schools, why then is New Jersey ignoring the research and moving toward consolidation and regionalization? It would appear that although the preponderance of professional literature indicates that educational researchers support the concept of small school effectiveness, the determinants of school size are seldom the result of research. More often, school size is the result of other factors--political, economic, social and demographic. Educate Your Communities Small districts nationwide should watch the events unfolding in New Jersey. Is this a trend that could spread? What can other small districts learn from New Jersey as they watch this political process play out? Clearly, the first lesson is the need to educate your community about the value of small school educational programs. Residents need to know that research supports small schools as effective and efficient for delivering quality education. Use the media to spread the word that bigger is not always better. Second, don't be afraid to brag a little. Let your community know the good things that are happening in small schools. When communities see that their tax dollars are supporting a high quality product, they will be less likely to relinquish control of that program in the false pursuit of cost efficiency.

Donna Van Horn is chief school administrator of the Weymouth Township School District and an instructor in the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education.

RESOURCES Big School, Small School: High School Size and Student Behavior, Barker, R, and Gump, P. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1964.
Education and Urban Society 21/2, "School and School District Size Relationships: Costs, Results, Minorities, and Private School Enrollments." Jewell, R. S. (February 1989).
Educational Researcher 23/5, "Losing Local Control." Walberg, H.J., and Walberg, H.J. III. (June-July 1994). School Size, School Climate, and Student Performance, Cotton, K. Portland, Ore.: Northwest Regional Education Laboratory, 1996.
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More Articles from District Administration

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Volleyball Game

On Monday, I watched Island Heights Grade School face off against Seaside Park Elementary School in a friendly volleyball tournament. We do this quite a bit, they hosted the basketball game last week, we hosted volleyball this week.

Seaside Park is also a small school, another one that is being lost to "the powers that be".

As I watched the fourth, fifth and sixth graders of these two schools, it struck me how similar they are. All from tiny towns, no designer sneakers or clothes, just kids being kids. Not a cell phone in sight, no one was texting. It was refreshing, then it was sad. I got a strong sense of impending extinction. Suddenly our small schools, who no one really cared about before, are under attack.

How will we ever explain this to our children?

My sweet school.

I started this blog because I am frustrated, I am sad and I am furious. It's tough to have all these emotions at once without having your head explode, so you can imagine how close I am to brains everywhere. Let me explain..........

I live in a small town, a town in New Jersey called Island Heights. We are a 1 mile town, we are a quiet town, we are a proud town. Our town has it's own police department, fire department and grade school; Island Heights Grade school.

Island Heights Grade School is a lovely, small school. We have a gazebo and a beautiful garden that surrounds it where you can find our students hanging out, talking and creating friendships, lifelong friendships. We have full day Kindergarten with a wonderful teacher who remembers that her students are still babies in many ways, while still teaching them everything that they need to learn before first grade.

Each year the sixth grade class hosts a spaghetti dinner for the Town, and whoever else would like to come. The students and staff and even the parents of the younger children help out. The 6th graders serve as wait staff to the hundreds of people who attend, serving salads, spaghetti and meatball dinners and drinks.

Every spring Island Heights Grade School holds a Carnival to celebrate the end of another successful school year and to welcome future students. Our Fire Department brings out the antique fire truck, "The Fox" for the occasion and the kids just love it.

It not just all fun though. Island Heights Grade School ranks number 101 out of 1,369 schools in New Jersey and number 27 out of 604 school districts. (

Sounds like a wonderful thing, right? Well, we are about to lose it. Thanks to state legislators and Michael Ritacco, we are being forced out of our building and forced to bus our children to a Toms River school so that Toms River may use our building to house Toms River preschool and full day Kindergarten.

Why? To save money and I'm not convinced we will.

Who will pay? Our children.