JACKSON – The new school year has begun and it promises to be an exciting one filled with change and expanded programs, according to School Superintendent Dr. Stephen Genco.
Last year, the district saw the creation of the Academy of the Arts, updates to its math and science curriculums, the implementation of Next Generation Science Standards, and the conversion to new middle school grading changes and standards-based report cards for our elementary school.
“We also made significant facilities improvements and identified projects for the future,” Genco said.
This year’s initiatives include launching the Academy of the Arts, updating curriculum in social studies and science from kindergarten to 5th grade and reviewing its math curriculum for grades 6-12.
Genco said that the kindergarten thru 12th grade technology curriculum is set to be updated next year. The district’s Aquaponics program will be expanded during this school year.
Genco explained that aquaponics is the “cultivation of plants and fish in an integrated system. Wastewater from fish tanks provides nutrients for hydroponically grown plants, and then the plants filter water to return to the fish. This program offers learning in multiple disciplines including biology, physics, environmental science and math and we are among a small handful of districts that are embarking on this exciting field of learning.”
The district will also increase student awareness of mental health and support social and emotional learning. Teachers will also work to enhance student engagement practices district-wide. “We are working with the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide to enhance our ability to manage a traumatic loss and we look forward to the ways they will help us support our crisis teams and our caring school community,” Genco said.
Genco said he was excited to see the district enhance student engagement practices district-wide. “This fits in perfectly with the theme for this year’s Oct. 9 In-Service of “Student Engagement and Team Building. In my opinion, these two ideas are inextricably linked. We simply cannot do our best to engage students in meaningful, rigorous and relevant instruction if we do not approach our mission as a team.”
The district held its annual new teacher orientation before the first week of school. “Meeting our newest educators at new teacher orientation was, as always, particularly inspiring,” Genco said.
Nicole Breccia was among around 20 new teachers who took part in the orientation. Breccia is now teaching math and technology classes at the Christa McAuliffe Middle School. “It was really good as we got to see the many resources available to us and there was a special program concerning student engagement run by two high school teachers.”
This is Breccia’s first year teaching and she said the orientation also familiarized staff with things like payroll and other basics and also involved an exercise that rated things that teachers are most comfortable with within the classroom. “It involved how we will make things relatable to our students in the classroom,” Breccia said.
Breccia added that she was not daunted by the large size of the school district as she grew up in a community with 17 schools. “I think the school district is the right size for a population like Jackson.”
Regarding school facilities, Genco said that the staff has been spending “time in our buildings over the past few weeks. The custodial and maintenance staff has once again performed the miracle of finishing up dozens of projects (big and small) and have buffed up our buildings and grounds so we can put our best foot forward.”
Genco said the district’s transportation department has “again pieced together the intricate puzzle that results in getting more than 8,500 students back and forth to school safely and our business, payroll and human resources departments haven’t stopped working all summer to ensure everyone is in place with the tools they need to succeed this year.”
Genco added that the district was moving forward on the facilities end prioritizing and planning for several new projects, the most significant of which will be roof replacements and the installation of safety vestibules in schools.
“We will also be decommissioning an old sewer plant and continuing to pursue energy savings throughout the year,” Genco added. “We were just notified that all 10 of our schools have achieved Bronze Level certification under the NJ Sustainable Jersey for Schools Program, which is earned by districts who demonstrate measurable progress and programs to conserve energy. To help put that distinction into perspective, only 14 schools in all of Ocean County received that certification – and 10 of them are right here in Jackson.”
“The district’s administrative team, teachers, guidance counselors and support staff have been re-writing curriculum, developing programs and creating schedules to ensure every student is both challenged and supported,” Genco said. “Knowing the commitment and passion for students that our staff all shares, there is not a doubt in my mind that we will do just that. Much like how we pulled together to get those doors open to students, I look forward to working together during this new school year to support our students and to support each other.”