Message From the Superintendent
September 3, 2019
It's the start of a new school year. Do you have a message for our PPS community?
My message is this: Our kids are coming! They are coming with their backpacks and binders. They are coming with their hopes and dreams. They are coming with their unique experiences, perspectives, and potential. And we will be here to welcome them – every one of us!
The Princeton Public Schools are a team – and not just a team of educators. We are joined by parents, guardians and community partners in supporting and inspiring the children of our town. Indeed, it is only through our collective expertise and commitment that we are able to meet the varying needs of all the students about whom we care. It is only through our collective efforts that we can fulfill our remarkable mission of ensuring that every one of our students is prepared with the knowledge, creativity, and compassion to truly lead a life of joy and purpose.
Is the district focusing on specific goals this year?
At the top of our list is the implementation of restorative practices. Building on our work in the area of equity, restorative practices are strategies that students and staff can use together to foster a strong sense of community and connection in our schools and classrooms. They create the environments that lead to the highest levels of learning and engagement. And when missteps happen, they provide the pathways back to trusting, healthy relationships. In addition, we are continuing our focus on differentiating instruction through project-based learning, authentic assessments, and enrichment experiences designed to inspire and challenge every child.
Are there curriculum changes in the district this year you would like to highlight?
We are excited to be implementing the new ReadyClassroom math program in our elementary schools. A researched-based program, ReadyClassroom is designed to deepen discourse, engagement and understanding regarding mathematical concepts. We are also beginning our rollout of a school-wide enrichment program starting at the elementary schools. We are calling the program FOCUS (Fostering Our Children's Unique Strengths), and our vision is ultimately to provide enrichment in Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics, or STREAM. Our school science specialists, now STREAM teachers, will continue to provide science enrichment to all students and, additionally this year, talent- and interest-based enrichment opportunities for students in grades 3, 4, and 5. Later this fall, we will be asking parents to complete a survey describing their children's strengths and interests. We will also hold parent Q&A meetings to present the multi-year plan for FOCUS, which will continue to evolve K-8.
At the high school, we are continuing with the successful changes we made to the schedule last year, including a later start time and longer blocks of time for more engaged learning.
What's happening with facilities?
We have a knowledgeable and energetic new Director of Facilities, Dave Harding, who hit the ground running in July! He is helping to oversee multiple referendum projects, including the installation this summer of air conditioning at Riverside and the PHS gym, as well as upgrades to the electrical capacity at all six schools. During the course of the coming year, we will be installing security vestibules at all schools, expanding space at JW and PHS, and renovating the guidance area and some athletic spaces at Princeton High School. Next summer, we will install HVAC units in classrooms at Littlebrook, Community Park, Johnson Park, and John Witherspoon.
We believe that welcoming, well-maintained, and energy efficient facilities support the wellness of our students and staff and the learning in our schools.
What other changes are you particularly excited about this year?
Food! In Princeton, we view our cafeterias as an extension of our classrooms – and of our values. We are working with K. Lee Dixon, the new food service director we hired in conjunction with Nutri-Serve Food Management, the company that provides meals in our school cafeterias. Our goal this year is to enhance the wellness of our students – and our planet – by providing globally adventurous, locally-sourced, wholesome and delicious meals. I think students, parents and staff will notice some exciting changes in the months ahead!
Are there new security procedures in PPS buildings this year?
Yes. We have explored best practices in school safety and recently completed a review of security. With the help of expert advice, we are moving forward with recommendations that include new security vestibules, visitor protocols, video cameras and additional training for school safety personnel. All parents should be aware that we have new visitor procedures. To find out more about these procedures click here.
What's the enrollment at PPS this year?
As of today we have 3,890 students. Enrollment is a moving target but we are continuing to see an upward trend. We have been working with experts, including members of our community, on demographic projections that consider historic trends as well as future construction planned in our community over the next 10 years. Our goal in the months ahead is to engage in robust and collaborative planning with the municipality and with a broad cross-section of our community. Together we will refine our demographic projections, define school and community needs, outline multiple options for possible school expansion, and explore funding options that could potentially mitigate costs. We are planning for the future of our kids and our community – and we look forward to engaging everyone in the process.
What about new staff? Have there been changes in the district?
PPS has hired 15 highly-qualified new teachers for full-time and part-time positions. We have 17 new support staff employees, a category that includes secretaries, instructional aides, bus drivers, custodians and some part-time staff. We also have four new-to-our-district administrators, including a new special education supervisor, a new business administrator, a new math supervisor and a new facilities director, who are replacing staff who have retired or left the district. In addition, we promoted several of our experienced staff members to fill administrative openings. Jessica Baxter is our new principal at Princeton High School. Rashone Johnson is a new assistant principal at PHS. And Mridula Bajaj has been named as our new Supervisor of Science, Professional Development and Assessment. I am tremendously excited by the energy, expertise, and commitment of all of our new staff, and I know they are joining a community of educators who truly care about our students.
Do you have a message for teachers?
Our theme this year is Knowing Every Child - Supporting Them Together. Nothing great is ever achieved alone. I am grateful for the many ways our teachers, our administrators and our support staff work together to achieve our goal of joy, purpose, and high-level learning for every student. As educators, we are privileged to have the most important job on the planet. We are changing the world one child at a time, and we are doing it together.
I am truly excited about the year ahead and the opportunities we will have to support and inspire our students and one another.
Are there important dates to remember?
School starts on Wednesday, September 4 for all of our schools except Riverside Elementary. Our Riverside students will begin school one day later on Thursday, September 5thso we could ensure their building was clean and ready following the construction there this summer. Back to School Night for all of our elementary schools will be held Thursday, September 12. John Witherspoon's Back to School Night will be Thursday, September 19. Princeton High School's Back To School Night will be Thursday, September 26th. Check our website for more information about dates.
Anything else you would like to mention?
Two things actually. First, we are excited to announce that the State Department of Education has just approved our application to expand our preschool program! We will now be receiving more than $700,000 in additional state aid that will allow us to offer, free of charge, a new dual language immersion preschool class at Community Park as well a new class in partnership with the YWCA. We will also continue to offer preschool classes at Johnson Park and Riverside. Free, public preschool is widely recognized as an important path towards closing the achievement gap. This is an exciting opportunity for the Princeton Public Schools and for our entire community. We look forward to starting our new preschool classes on October 1, 2019.
Finally, earlier this summer, the organization Niche announced that Princeton Public Schools was rated as the number one school district in New Jersey and 17th in the nation. The rating was based on academic assessments but also on factors such as racial and economic diversity, school environment, health and safety, as well as survey data from parents and students. The rating is certainly a reflection of the care and commitment of our staff and students. It is reflection as well, however, of our desire as a district to continually improve. It is that desire, that sense of mission, that will motivate us in the year ahead.