To the Library!

In the world where we have scads of information at our fingertips, why are libraries still amazing? Because they evolve as we do. Well…some of them. If you’ve never come to appreciate your library, or you have a sucky one, I’m sorry. The power and resourcefulness of a quality library is priceless.

I was fortunate to have a superb library growing up. We had a wonderful children’s section, where we could even take out puppets and pop-up books. There was an ample variety of music, a great research section, and we even had an art gallery–always a quiet place to study, to jump into a great book, or even become engulfed in current events.

When deciding to move, one of the biggest factors for me was the library. As our times have evolved, so have most libraries, whether it offers videos, music, and now, in some places, even tools for our homes. Always offering community programming, the library is still the focal point of many in town. It should be the second biggest gem, schools being first.

I’ve worked in towns where there wasn’t a library and was dumbfounded. (Just for the record, when I moved to South Jersey, I had never heard of an all-volunteer fire department either). I’ve also seen libraries the size of my office, and they were amazing. Size doesn’t matter; what they’re offering does.

Recently I have been working with several districts to pair them up with local libraries to partake in cross-venture activities. In one location, the library was shut down due to poor attendance. We are going to open the school one day a week from 4 – 8, so that the community can come in for a variety of opportunities including the use of wifi, computer labs, and, yes, check out books. Another district is planning a weekly potluck dinner with each grade level taking a week over the summer to host. The coolest concept I have seen being planned is bi-weekly movie nights with “movies under the stars” featuring summer book club reads. How cool is that? I can’t wait to hear about the results.

In 2017, the library is still relevant. It’s still a place where learners of all ages can go and engage in a variety of activities. Don’t forget this as we all start going into summer mode. Check out a good book or enjoy a movie under the stars,  video game, craft night, potluck dinner, or perhaps some light banter. It’s what the library is all about!

Thank your (BOE) president today!

While Presidents’ Day is reserved for honoring and celebrating our American presidents, I can’t help but think about local board of education presidents today as well. Like any elected officials, some you love, some you loathe, but most deserve credit for the time they put in to make sure the best is being done for students. Most have great working relationships with their superintendent, and most know the role that they play. I do keep saying  most, because, well, there are some that do not. I’ll focus on that a little later. Below are three boards that deserve some credit this Presidents’ Day.

Walt Sheets is a proud member of the Lower Alloways Creek community–a retired worker from the PSEG power plant, an active community member, and most importantly to me, a father of four.  Patriotic, witty, and possessing an infectious laugh, Mr. Sheets always had my back. No doubt we had our disagreements and clashes in certain arenas, but he always acknowledged that the superintendent was in charge and listened to my recommendations. What I still admire about Mr. Sheets was his mantra, “You take care of you first, then us (LAC) second.” I learned so much during my time in the crick and owe much of it to him.

Kevin Blondina is a board president that I ran into (literally) by accident. Both of us were enjoying a cigar, and I asked if I could use his lighter because mine kicked. From that point on, we have had one of the most cordial, real friendships around. Mr. Blondina is a financial planner in Sussex County, NJ, and I was working in Salem County. While geographically far apart, we couldn’t  have more commonalities if we tried to. We always make time to catch up over convention dinners and text on a daily basis about educational issues and how they affect us. Kevin is another who wears his heart on his sleeve and wants nothing but the best for students and staff. His passion is admirable, and his leadership style is envious. I owe much of my newly learned diplomacy to him.

Fran DiRocco is now a retired board member. Spending over 20 years on a  board, a decade of them as the president, Mr. DiRocco has navigated through a sea of educational issues ranging from collective bargaining to switching a sending school district. Mr. DiRocco’s professionalism, despite any internal board conflict, has been nothing but top-notch. I was hired under Mr. DiRocco’s term as president and chose to join the district even when the vote was 5 yes and 4 no. Was I crazy for doing so? Yep. Was it worth it?  Absolutely. Besides being 10 miles from home, I was able to work with a board president who knew what needed to be done and backed me when I needed it most. DiRocco didn’t have some underlying agenda, had nothing to prove to the town, and wasn’t bitter or vindictive when things didn’t go his way. He stayed classy until his term expired in December and now thoroughly enjoys his time volunteering at his church and on the local OEM committee.

Needless to say, I admire these three current and former presidents immensely. They set the bar on what great things can happen when an honest agenda and partnership occur.

Now what about the bad presidents?  Yes,  they are out there, too. Sadly, there are presidents who

  • Run to the soccer field to rile up parents when they don’t get their way
  • Undermine a superintendent with a self-righteous political agenda in order to prove that they are right
  • Turn road bumps into sinkholes by taking quotes and data out of context
  • Fail to recognize national and local student recognition and replace it with canned naysayers and planted questions
  • Use the board president’s chair as a springboard to attempt to get on a municipal government
  • Use the president’s chair as a throne to show they are worthy (i.e. If they weren’t hired in town as teachers)
  • Apply a “past practices” mindset to today’s problems when attempting to lead

And, yes, there are scads of examples of this all over the  internet. You will also have the chance to read about some real whoppers by purchasing one of my quick reads this summer–available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble!


Okay, that was a cheap plug, but it is nice to know about the good presidents in the land.  Enjoy the holiday…and thank a president!

2016 State of the District

Below is my inaugural State of the District letter that went to almost 5000 homes in Waterford Township / Atco, New Jersey.

——

 FROM THE DESK OF:        

  Jason M. Eitner, Superintendent of Schools                                                                                         

May, 2016

Dear Residents of Waterford Township,

It is my honor and privilege to write my first State-of-the-District letter to you. Since August, 2015, I have had the pleasure of serving as your Superintendent of Schools and have had the opportunity to speak with teachers, administrators, parents, board members, community leaders, and many other stakeholders who value our schools.  The goal is to move our schools forward educationally while keeping our finances in check.  In fulfilling my job requirements, I wish to share with you our district’s current status and the steps we need to take in order to grow, learn, and progress in ways that are best for our learners and community.

Upon entering the district, I was charged with a series of tasks with special attention needed in the following areas: curriculum & instruction, facilities, spending, and a focus on our 6th-grade students that transition to the Hammonton schools.  After examining test scores, studying schedules, reviewing teacher assignments, and vetting our current instructional practices and programming, it was apparent that some big decisions had to be made.  Additionally, I reviewed the information from the feedback forums that the Board of Education had conducted when looking for a new superintendent.  The overwhelming response was a desire to change the status quo.  It was clear that my job was to return the quality of education provided in your schools to a level that would once again see our students achieving academic excellence.  You may have heard about some of the proposed changes and those that have already occurred.  As your superintendent, I have an obligation to share with you the overall status of the district and to help explain why these changes are necessary.

To begin, the 2015-16 School Report reflects that only 21% (1 out of 5 Waterford Township students) passed the math portion of the state performance assessment, and approximately 28% passed the English language arts section.  Currently, Waterford Township is the third lowest performing district in Camden County.  This is a grave number.  Not only are our students not receiving the education they deserve, but, as taxpayers, you know the value of the district’s schools directly correlates to the value of your homes.  These scores did not happen overnight.  Years of status-quo operations have held back our progression.  Given such drastic numbers, I have implemented a series of swift changes in the district that reflect meeting learners where they are today.  Updating curriculum and technology needs was essential, and, with that in mind, curriculum has been revised, academic coaches have been implemented, and numerous personnel have been realigned to ensure that your children are getting the best possible education.  Such swift change can feel jarring to staff and community, but my hope is that everyone will see what is at stake–the education of your children, the value of your homes, and the overall health and welfare of your community.

What students learn today, combined with how students learn, is paramount for their success. Traditional instruction is no longer meeting the needs of our learners, as evidenced by our recent state performance scores and years of failing scores in the instruction & practice category of the state monitoring program. Additionally, a lack of consistent curriculum, an adherence to “past practices,” and an absence of a clear vision and message have also hindered progression.  I am proud to inform you that these issues are being corrected and we are beginning to move forward.  I am also proud to report that many teachers, parents and administrators are in favor of change.

Social media has been introduced to our district, as I believe in meeting parents, staff, and students where they are in today’s times.  We are also keeping our schools up-to-date with infrastructure improvements to everything from HVAC systems to energy-efficient boilers.  

Please note that all of this change will not lead to improvement overnight.  However, over time, these advancements will allow our district to become the academic leader it once was before and deserves to be.  Like you, I want families to come to Waterford Township to raise their children because of our schools and be proud of our community achievements.  I would welcome the opportunity to speak with anyone regarding the issues addressed in this letter.  Please feel free to call me at 856.767.8293, ext. 3010, or email me at jeitner@wtsd.org with any questions, comments, or concerns.  

Together let us embrace the changes, support our staff, and celebrate as our students achieve success.

Yours in education,

Jay Eitner

Superintendent of Schools 

JE:ng

Have You Thanked A Former Teacher Today?

I think I have mentioned it quite a few times on here, but I am from Union.  It was quite a big school system which included two middle schools and a high school with over 2400 bodies an any given day.  I was in the first class of Burnet Middle School (formerly Burnet Junior High) as a 7th grader and had your typical 7th-grade awkward experience.  My saving grace was the variety of clubs we had.  The one that had my interest from day one was the Kiwanis Builders Club.

No, we didn’t physically build stuff.  It was a community service club where we volunteered around town.  It was the basis for the high school Key Club, Circle K in college, and Kiwanis International for us who eventually grow up.  I was always looking to help out where I could.  As much as I helped out that club, that club helped me.  It helped me realize that service was going to be my path in life.

The advisor was Joan Estis.  Miss Estis was awesome.  She was a huge fan of the comic Ziggy, always smiling, always talking about how we could help others both  in school and around Union.  From food drives to Easter-egg hunts, members of the community appreciated our efforts.  It was never the quantity with Miss Estis; it was the what and the why.

For my two years in Builders Club, I did everything I could.  At the middle-school graduation, I earned one of the most prestigious honors, the Nicholas Dispinziere Award, for outstanding community service.  I still have my plaque and the speech that Miss Estis read.  My mom still talks about it.  It was, and still is, that cool.  Again, it wasn’t about the award; it was the what and the why

I was an officer in both Key Club and Circle K, but once out of college, I never found a club that I could join.  That was OK, though.  It wasn’t about the club; it was about giving back.  As a police officer, I gave back.  As a teacher, I gave back.  As an administrator and now a superintendent of schools, I still give back.  It’s who I am and who I will always be.  I owe that to Miss Estis, a teacher I never had for a class yet the one who taught me so much about life.

I just read that Miss Estis is retiring in June.  From the bottom of my heart, I say, “Thank You!”  You’ll never know how many lives you’ve been a part of.  Besides students, you’ve influenced so many in showing scads of club attendees that we can be good people.

I hope retirement is everything and more for you, Miss Estis.  If it’s not, there’s always a club where you can become involved.