East Windsor Regional Schools
25A Leshin Lane, Hightstown, New Jersey 08520               609-443-7717

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  Read the stories below by our Feature Writer, Dick Brinster    

 

 

Drew Students Stage Play on Egyptians  

 

First, they learned about Egypt , then the fifth-grade students at the Perry L. Drew School put it to song.

 

No, the "Kid's-Eye View of Ancient Egypt ," presented Feb. 27-28, didn't include "You Belong to Me," the pop hit dating back a half-century that advised a loved one to "See the Pyramids Along the Nile."

 

But the Mummy Rap was a huge hit.

 

The program, the culmination of efforts from Social Studies, Art and Music classes, left the students with a feeling of accomplishment and the parents thrilled for the participation of their children.

 

"I think it's a great show because we learned a lot about Egypt ," Akshaya Srinivasan said, a theme echoed by Sowmya Yamarthy.

 

Alexa Lopez enjoyed her role as the play's narrator, and considered the entire experience very worthwhile.

 

"The whole play was awesome," she said. "I enjoyed doing the play, singing the songs, making the masks in art class.”                                           


Amani Najar's mother practically echoed those words, and other parents uttered the sort of phrases used by Broadway critics while giving a big thumbs-up.

 

" . . . A really great performance and excellent choreography," said Sohum Shah's mother.

 

" . . . Great show and excellent artwork!" according to Adam Sherif's mother.

 

Foremost among the school staff were Music teacher Linda Behrens and Art instructor Bonnie Prutow.

 

"The students learned all of the songs, choreography and narration parts in their music class," Ms. Behrens explained.

 

It was the job of Ms. Prutow to oversee the decorative aspect of the play.

 

A particular emphasis was placed on the death mask, which Ms. Prutow said was part of the mummy process, all part of the ancient Egyptian belief that the underworld was full of danger and that specific parts of their burial rituals would guarantee a safe passage through to the Hall of Two Truths.

 

"The children reviewed the historic examples presented and chose their own interpretations for their finishing touches," she explained. "Some of the students chose to use hieroglyphics to ensure a safe passage to afterlife."

 

The show was written by Donna Amorosia, and the songs included: " Temples and Tom bs, Down By the Banks, Pharaoh ... Our Man, The Pyramids and the King Tut Rap."

 

" Temples and Tom bs is a very exciting set of songs and our class really enjoyed it,"   Siddharth Challani said.”

 

Jessica Rubin, sounding like a youthful critic, called the numbers "very catchy."

 

The opening and closing songs were sung by all 110 students. Each class had its own individual song, highlighting various topics, such as the Nile River or the ancient pharaohs.

 

Carol Boccanfuso, Maureen Dynarski, Cheryl Fuhr, Gloria McNamara, Kristine Stefano, Ann Thunhorst, and Ina Wolfson assisted with rehearsals and preparations for the show.

 

And some of the parents had a hand in it, too.

 

"My mom made the costumes for the pharaoh and the prince (me)," Freddy Mikhail said. "It is amazing how she made it. She deserves a big thank you!"

    


New Report Card on Horizon

So, Johnny got a "B" in Science.

 

On the surface, that looks good. But what does it mean?

 

Should he have done better? Or did he achieve it because his work habits were good even though he might have fallen short in his knowledge of the subject matter.

 

"A grade of 'A' or '92' does not tell you anything specific about a child’s strengths, weaknesses or attainment of standards," according to a guide for the Standards-Based Report Card.

 

The guide for K-5 students will be presented at parent workshops February 26 at the Grace N. Rogers School auditorium and on March 18 at the Perry L. Drew School gymnasium. Both workshops are scheduled for 7 p.m.

 

The guide serves to explain the East Windsor Regional School District ’s Elementary Standards-Based Report Card.   The report card, to be implemented next September, has been designed to provide parents, teachers, and students with a more accurate description of their child’s progress toward meeting the grade level New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards (NJCCCS).

 

All students must perform at their highest level to meet and exceed the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. Grading is a method of helping students know where they stand and what they have to do to meet those standards.

 

The guide, issued by Debbie Feaster, Director of Elementary Programs, and her staff, points out that grading has always been very subjective in nature.

 

"A traditional report card and grade do not report achievement of standards," the guide says. "A traditional average is based on all work; work that may or may not be focused on the rigorous standards of that course and/or grade level."

 

By modern educational standards, simple assignment of a grade falls short of serving the best interests of the student, according to Dr. Douglas B. Reeves, a respected expert in the field of assessments and standards.

 

"By comparing one child’s performance to a clear standard, parents, students and teachers all know precisely what is expected," Dr. Reeves, founder and CEO of the Center for Performance Assessment, wrote in his 101 Questions and Answers about Standards, Assessment and Accountability . “Every time a student attempts a task, the performance is compared to the standard, not the other students’ performances. The most important advantages for students and families are fairness, clarity and improved learning."

Parents will receive a detailed report three to four times a year with the students’ academic progress being reported as 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, NE and initiative and work habits reported separately as S (Satisfactory) or N (Needs improvement). Parents may also view real time data by going on the district's Web site.

 

Then, using the OnCourse system, parents will be able to view their child’s progress in real time through the grading portal.   Parents of children using the Standards-Based Report Card will receive an end of the year survey for input as to how to improve our grading and reporting processes.   Parents should also expect the report card to be an important tool that will be used in conferences.  

 

Questions should be addressed to Debbie Feaster, Director of Elementary Programs and Personnel at 609-443-7717 ext. 2015.or by e-mail to dfeaster@ewrsd.k12.nj.us.

 

    


Kreps Schedule Getting Overhaul

"They are prisoners of time," Michael Dzwonar says in assessing what he calls an antiquated educational schedule for students and teachers at the Melvin H. Kreps Middle School .

 

So, the assistant superintendent of schools is working with Kreps principal Avis Leverett to give teachers and students 50 percent more instruction time in the core curriculum subjects of mathematics, social studies and science. They hope to accomplish that next September by condensing the 10-period day to seven.

 

"The teachers just can't do what's necessary now," Mr. Dzwonar says. "Can it be done while shuffling kids nine times a day? I don't think so."

 

The new scheduling proposal, which Mr. Dzwonar believes will be the first at Kreps in 15 to 20 years, would provide 60-minute periods instead of the current 41. The changes would create 75 additional daily minutes devoted to direct instruction.

 

The formula, which Mr. Dzwonar unveiled at several community, board and staff meetings over the past six months, adds time by extending the school day by 15 minutes. It combines the homeroom and first-period class, reduces the number of passages between classes from nine to six and eliminates the flex (study hall) period. Teachers would spend more time providing direct instruction and less time fulfilling corridor duties and monitoring free periods.

 

The changes are designed to intensify the learning process in the belief that the result will be improved student learning and achievement. This approach is the foundation for the impressive progress experienced in the East Windsor Regional District's four elementary schools after Mr. Dzwonar and the principals began the process of instituting schedule changes three years ago.

 

"The scores went up dramatically," he said of student testing at the Ethel McKnight, Walter C. Black, Perry L. Drew and Grace N. Rogers schools.

 

In a presentation open to the entire community on Jan. 14, Mr. Dzwonar pointed out that implementation of the revised schedule next September will result in the equivalent of 131 days of additional instruction time in core curriculum areas over a three-year period.

 

Janis Haddock, who has three sons in the district, including one in the middle school, supports the proposal. She was impressed with what she heard during a presentation Jan. 22.

 

"I came away with the feeling that our district is heading in the right direction. Mike Dzwonar's presentation was comprehensive and a little eye-opening in the fact that we could be giving our kids so much more than is currently offered," Ms. Haddock says. "The new changes that would, in effect, give our children hundreds of hours of more core curriculum instruction is a reason for change in itself.

 

"That fact coupled with the added time spent in the related arts would mean our children are getting the most for our money."


She agreed that the current Kreps schedule is inadequate and praised the administration for putting considerable time and research into what practices will be of the greatest benefit to the students.

 

"Change is hard, but is needed," Ms. Haddock says. "I believe our children will benefit from the proposed changes and our district will continue to make marked improvements over the next few years."

 

She isn't alone in her thinking.

 

"We need this schedule change to happen," says Lisa Ernst, who has one son in Kreps and another entering the school next fall. "My older son had trouble adjusting to the 41-minute periods."

 

She calls herself an anti-flex parent who has difficulty understanding why others believe the non-instructional time is worth very much.

 

"Do parents really think that their middle school children are flocking to teachers for extra help during flex when they could be hanging out with their friends?" Mrs. Ernst asks.

 

Students in the elementary schools are currently outperforming those in the middle school, Mr. Dzwonar says.

 

  "Until we implement similar schedule and curricular changes in the elementary schools, it was always the reverse," he explains. "In recent years, the data from the Kreps school stayed flat while there was a great improvement in the elementary schools. We need to fix that."

 

In 2006, students in the elementary schools scored nearly 95-percent proficiency in mathematics and 44 percent were rated advanced proficient. Scores for eighth graders were nine percent lower in each category. In language arts, proficiency was achieved by 98 percent of fifth graders and just 89 percent of those in the eighth grade.

 

Mr. Dzwonar quickly adds that the changes are about much more than just raising test scores. He maintains that the additional instruction time is in keeping with the state's view that students must move beyond simply memorizing material to a classroom experience where they recognize how to better apply what they are being taught.

 

The 60-minute periods are considered essential to achieve those goals and eliminate what he classifies as "assembly-line instruction."

 

"The additional time will be used to develop deeper understandings such as critical thinking, problem solving, integrated technology, content literacy and argumentative and persuasive skills," Mr. Dzwonar says. "In the current schedule, in which students are shuffled every 41 minutes, nine times a day, teachers cannot deploy the results of educational research and the best practice strategies necessary to help students develop a deeper understanding of the content."

 

The new schedule will be supported by curricular revisions in all content areas and supported with aggressive professional development for the instructional staff. Examples include a transitional program for sixth graders and a revision of the world language program which will permit daily intensive foreign language instruction for seventh- and eighth-grade students.

 

Currently, foreign language is only provided to students three of every six instructional days. Reading and writing would be taught in a literacy block as opposed to two separate classes.

 

A more rigorous math track would be created which would significantly increase the number of students taking geometry and algebra in grade 8 by the end of three years. Students in grade 8 will have choices to take more focused electives in technology, art and music compared to the current one-size-fits-all program.

 

The music, technology and art programs would be greatly enhanced for seventh- and eighth-grade students under the rescheduling proposal. Currently, all students have a daily 42-minute class for a quarter of the school year with no electives.

 

Under the new plan, one-hour classes would be offered every other day on a trimester basis for seventh-grade students. Eighth-grade students would have the option of taking mini-electives for a more in-depth study of a topic of their choice.

 

At this time courses being considered in art include cartooning, illustration, graphic design, sculpture and art history. In music, the possibilities would be genre study, dance, piano, wind ensemble, guitar, and composition. Technology considerations include web design, Photoshop, and computer programming.

 



 

 

Summary of Schedule Improvements

  1. Increase the rigor and relevance in the core academic areas of Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and Language Arts
  2. Integrates literacy (Reading and Writing)
  3. Includes a transitional program for grade 6 students
  4. Provides daily intensive foreign language instruction for two years
  5. Provides structure to implement best instructional practices in all subject areas

Provide time to Support:

  1. Student centered related arts (more rigor and choice)
  2. Reduce class size in core academic classes to facilitate student centered instruction
  3. Reduce the number of students per team