Ocean City schools become a statewide model for excellence

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Ocean City schools becomes a statewide model for excellence with EE4NJ pilot program. Ocean City schools becomes a statewide model for excellence with EE4NJ pilot program.

OCEAN CITY — Last year, the Ocean City School District was selected as one of nine pilot districts for the Excellent Educators for New Jersey. Known as EE4NJ, the program was created to develop a model for teacher evaluation in the state.

In its second year of the pilot program, the school district is leading the pack and putting the district on the map statewide.

Robert Fisicaro, project manager with the New Jersey Department of Education, said Ocean City “hit it out of the park” in a presentation the district made to the New Jersey School Boards Association, Oct. 25-27 in Trenton on the implementation of EE4NJ.

“I think Ocean City has done a terrific job in several areas,” said Fisicaro, who is leading the implementation of the program. “They have developed a terrific partnership between the teachers and the administration. They have developed a common language of what good instruction looks like and that’s very important. There are common expectations.”

Presenters at the meeting included Superintendent Kathleen Taylor; Joann Walls, Ocean City Primary School principal and project manager; Curt Nath, Spanish teacher at Ocean City High School and president of the Ocean City Education Association; Lindsay Morris, math teacher at the Ocean City Intermediate School and member of the district’s EE4NJ committee; and Janet Romano, music teacher at the Ocean City Primary School and member of the district’s EE4NJ committee.  

Brenda Moiso, president of the Ocean City Board of Education, attended with fellow board members Joe Clark, Tom Oves and Pete Madden. Business administrator Tom Grossi also attended.

“This is very hard work and they are to be commended,” Fisicaro said, adding that numerous school districts complimented the presentation.

He said he appreciated the “steadfast leadership” that Ocean City demonstrated and the collaborative approach that Taylor had fostered with her staff. Including staff members and teacher-leaders in the presentation was a “terrific idea,” he said, and highlighted the importance of collective buy-in and culture change for effective education reform.

Ocean City has made “terrific progress” over the past year because the entire team is “now substantially out in front of this ambitious reform initiative,” Fisicaro said.

“One of the goals of the program was to have evidence of student learning, and tie that into the evaluation,” he said. “I think their efforts are to be applauded. They’ve had some terrific innovation in Ocean City. Their progress has been noteworthy. Some of the ideas they have come up with will be useful at the state level when every district must implement this next year.”

Fisicaro said the state has offered two years for the pilots to be implemented.

“We’re very happy. The work they did will benefit every district statewide,” he said. “The teachers and administration have worked together towards the same goal.”

Charlene Zoerb, a field service representative for New Jersey School Boards Association in charge of school districts in Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland counties, said “Ocean City is to be congratulated.”

“Districts statewide are looking to them,” she said. “Dr. Taylor made and the staff made an excellent presentation. When Dr. Taylor was talking about what this has meant to the district, you could hear a pin drop. Everyone is so focused on this, it’s critical.”

The students in the Ocean City school district, she said, will be the ultimate winners.

“This is so important to their education, this is going to ensure that every child has an excellent educator in their classroom,” she said. “For the first time ever, student achievement will be included in a teacher’s evaluation. This is a different component than what we have been used to in the past.”

Taylor said Ocean City applied for the opportunity to become a pilot district, so that the district could have a “seat at the table” as the inevitable new plan was developed. Zoerb said that forward-thinking approach greatly benefitted the district and the students.

“Ocean City has been part of the important conversation, they have been a leader,” she said. “This has been an extremely ambitious project, especially as a pilot. They have broken new ground, and this has required a tremendous amount of energy and commitment on Ocean City’s part.”

The new evaluation program, she said, is geared towards assessing a teacher’s level of skill and expertise. Those who are found lacking will be provided professional development opportunities to improve. Teachers deemed highly skilled and effective, she said, will serve as role models and mentors to help others within their professional learning communities.

“This is all geared towards improving instruction, it’s key to making kids successful,” Zoerb said.

Teachers will have to work four years, rather than three years to earn tenure and prove to be effective. If they have two years of successive substandard evaluations, they will lose their tenure.

The school district was asked to repeat the presentation to a state administrator’s meeting last week.

EE4NJ, Taylor said, is “part of a journey towards continuous improvement.”

The purpose of the pilot program, Taylor said, was to provide feedback to the DOE with recommendations about the evaluation system, collaborate with other districts on development, provide opportunity to support effective teachers and engage educators in shaping the new DOE evaluation system. 

The DOE provided $1.1 million towards this project to be shared by the nine districts selected to participate. Funding, Taylor said, is based on the number of teachers on staff.

Ocean City selected the Charlotte Danielson Model, which revolves around professional learning communities, a “collaborative culture” where teachers work together to set standards and share goals. Differentiated learning, designed for the individual, was also important.

Taylor said the pilot program was “a phenomenal amount of work,” but well worth it. She said she was “very excited” that Ocean City was a state leader in the process and very proud and appreciative of the administrators and staff for their hard work.


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