MANCHESTER – Both students and staff said their goodbyes to summer as the official 2019-2020 school year kicked off. Teachers started the year with a district-wide staff orientation on Sept. 3, while students had their first day of school on Sept. 5.
During the orientation, Manchester staff discussed some of what’s new to the district this year, including changes to the curriculum, security, and technology, among others.
According to Lee Bruzaitis of the Manchester School District, new math and mindfulness programs will be debuted at the elementary levels.
“A new elementary math program, Ready Classroom Mathematics, is being implemented this year for grades two to five, and piloted in kindergarten and grade one,” Bruzaitis stated.
The new math program will focus on real world authentic connections, mathematical practices, problem solving, discourse and collaboration. Bruzaitis noted that the curriculum incorporates “highly personalized” instruction to meet the needs of all students.
At the elementary and middle school levels, students will experience new social-emotional learning/mindfulness programs. These programs will “address social emotional learning and character development, as well as to support students in making positive and constructive decisions.”
Teachers will engage with students in activities, such as breathing techniques, movements, and awareness strategies, that are designed to bring mindfulness into the life of the teacher, learner, and classroom setting.
Superintendent David Trethaway also outlined his main goals for this school year, including those for the new and existing curriculum. He plans to monitor the new elementary math program, Ready Classroom Mathematics, through data collection, as well as used data collected to target areas of “need and strength.”
Trethaway also wants to continue working with the Director of Curriculum and Director of Special Services and Principals “to expand and improve tiered system of support to provide targeted interventions for classroom teachers and to provide input in identifying and meeting the needs of all students including Basic Skills and Special Education students,” according to the superintendent.
On the security front, Manchester Schools recently added additional security cameras to the middle school and high school. The school bus camera program will continue, added Bruzaitis.
Manchester Township High School students will be saying goodbye to School Resource Officer, Chris Cerullo, who is leaving his position at the high school for a promotion. SRO Cerullo will be replaced by SRO Victoria Raub. MTHS also has two civilian security personnel, added in 2016.
In addition, two Class III officers, John Zupan and Rick Pasqualini, will be joining the team.
“They are retired police officers, paid by the school district, who will carry weapons. They will move as needed between the middle school and elementary schools,” said Bruzaitis.
The district has also invested in new technology equipment, replacing 1,425 Chromebooks and 200 laptops over the summer, as well as installing new phones in every high school classroom.
“The goal is to expand this district-wide,” Bruzaitis said.
Bruzaitis also noted that the district is making efforts to go paperless, “with many more documents and forms being made available online and through the Genesis Parent Portal and Google Classroom.”
The Genesis Parent Portal is a safe and secure site used by many districts that allows parents to view student information. In Manchester, the portal is used for students in grades 6-12. Another one of Trethaway’s goals is to expand this to include grades 1-5 by later this year.
Over the summer, infrastructural improvements included flooring and roofing work, painting, ceiling tile replacement, and the replacement of the fuel tanks at the bus depot.
According to Trethaway, the district is looking to convert the former Middle School Woodshop into a District Technology/Conference facility. A timeline for the completion of this project has not yet been made.
Trethaway also noted that he wants to look into making upgrades to the bleachers at the football complex as well as the possibility of moving the Building and Grounds Main Facility to MTHS.
Also, students will start to see some new menu options as the district has contracted with a new food service provider, Pomptonian.
Manchester Township High School students will now have a newly outfitted STEM classroom, “thanks in part to a $15,000 grant from the Manchester Township Educational Foundation (MTEF),” said Bruzaitis. The school will also offer a ‘Business Academy’ course with concentrations in marketing, finance and administration.
Local Girl Scout and MTHS junior Rory Dunckley has made great headway on her “Hawks pride” project which was to install a paver walkway at the entrance of the football complex that spells out ‘Hawks’.
Manchester Township Middle School students will have to make sure to be on time, as the administration plans on stepping up their attendance initiative in order to reduce chronic absenteeism.
“They will also implement a new social-emotional learning/mindfulness program and plan to offer new drama and music course options in the fourth quarter,” said Bruzaitis.
Ridgeway Elementary School is focusing its efforts on wellness and positivity with the continuation of its Wellness Wednesdays program. A recent Girl Scout project also decorated the walls with positive quotes and an ‘interactive’ bulletin board that uses mirrors to help students imagine themselves as graduates, scientists, leaders, etc.
Manchester Township Elementary School received a new roof and new ceiling tiles on the second floor. Students will also take part in a new mindfulness program called “Dragon Masters,” representing their school mascot.
Similar to MTHS, the Regional Day School is developing its very own MakerSpace/STEAM lab with a $15,000 grant from the MTEF. A second preschool class will also be added.
Whiting Elementary School will debut its outdoor classroom that was built with the help of a $10,000 PSEG/Sustainable Jersey for Schools outdoor classroom grant.
As we roll into another school year, let us not forget the recent cuts to state aid that many local school districts have been suffering from. Trethaway added that another main priority is monitoring the district’s funding schedule for the next 5-7 years to address the cuts. This process will also include a review and revision of a “Strategic Plan” to prioritize and address needs within budget constraints.