Test scores show challenges for Morris School District; council also faces insurance hike, new high school pool

Morris School District difficult work remains to reduce performance gaps between affluent white students and less affluent, minority, and especially non-English speaking students.

That’s according to test results presented at Monday’s board meeting.

Financial Chairman of the Board Linda Murphy also revealed that the regional K-12 district could be facing a $500,000 increase health insurance costs. And the board is weighing a report that recommends replacing Morristown High School’s 41-year-old swimming pool — at an estimated cost of more than $8 million — within the next five years.

Murphy also said a GPS system will soon allow parents to track the arrival of their children’s school buses.

“START STRONG”

The test scores were from Start Strong, one of three benchmark tests used by district educators to measure students’ academic progress.

Administered statewide for the past two fall years, Start Strong tests students in grades 4-10 in language arts, math and (for higher grades) science to assess what they have learned in the years immediately preceding the 2020-21 academic years and 2021-2022.

New board vice president Katie Cole and new board member Carrie Lloyd, at the Morris District School Board meeting, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The results were categorized in three ways: groups that may need strong support, some support, or less support.

The most striking disparity was among the English language learners at Morristown High. More than 90 percent may need strong support in ELA, math and science, according to Start Strong findings.

And the percentage of Latino/Hispanic students, black students and those from economically disadvantaged households who may need strong help is significantly higher than for white students, the assistant superintendent acknowledged Kelly Hart.

“We really need to penetrate our economically disadvantaged subgroup and also our bilingual population programs to make sure they’re meeting the needs of our kids,” Hart said.

SEE THE NEW STARTING STRONG NUMBERS

SEE THE STRONG NUMBERS OF THE PREVIOUS LAUNCH

Created by landmark court order in 1971 to ensure diversity, the Morris School District now serves about 5,700 students from Morristown, Morris Township and (for high school) Morris Plains.

When the district began, blacks made up nearly a third of Morristown High’s population. By 2021, that figure has dropped to less than 8 percent. Meanwhile, Latinos and Hispanics now roughly match the number of white students. An influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants – some 354 in 2019 alone – prompted the district to hire more bilingual teachers.

Hart said the county is addressing Start Strong’s findings in several ways.

Morristown High junior Abigail Osorio Yuceda, left, shares a light moment with Morris School District board members Linda K. Murphy and Beth Wall (seated) and district assistant asst. Kelly Hart and Director of Curriculum Brian Young, January 23, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Launches Ready Classroom Math program for grades K-5. The three-tiered recovery system aims to prevent unnecessary extra help for high-achieving students while ensuring “no one slips under the radar,” Harte said.

The district is also redoubling its efforts to engage parents of students who need the most help. Such “parent training” seeks to support learning habits at home, Hart said.

And the district is focusing on programs for students in transition years — from 5th grade to Frelinghuysen Middle School and 8th grade to high school, he said. Brian Youngdirector of curriculum.

Start Strong has shown encouraging progress among this year’s 5th graders, Harte said.

“The big takeaway is that our schools do a really good job of narrowing down kids who need extra support, narrowing down kids who need enrichment,” she said.

IN OTHER BUSINESSES…

New boss Anne Mucci will continue her predecessors’ talks with local authorities to stop the use of district schools as polling places. The move is intended to avoid disrupting the school calendar, a board member said Beth Wall.

New aide Anne Mucci at her first regular Morris District School Board meeting, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

An “athletics consultant” is being hired at a cost not to exceed $15,000 to suggest areas for improvement and “retain our athletes in the district,” the board’s new vice president said. Kate Cole. Top local athletes are coveted by local prep schools.

At Alexander Hamilton School, the second phase of a rehabilitation of children’s playgrounds will begin this spring, Murphy said.

Board members talk with Sussex Avenue School 5th graders at a Morris School District board meeting, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Mucci praised Sussex Avenue School students from the teacher To Anthony Lewis-Lahey 5th grade after giving reports on a November trip to the Morris Museum.

The single parent to turn to the board, Ellen Stoloffasked members to implement hybrid meetings so more residents can participate.

Melissa Spiottare-elected by her peers as board president earlier this month, told Stoloff members they were having “an ongoing dialogue about the possibility” of live-streaming meetings, as they did during the height of the pandemic.

Sussex Avenue School 5th graders at a Morris School District board meeting, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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