Friday, April 25, 2014

On shared services and mutual cooperation

The Tri-District Consortium of the Andover Regional, Green Township, and Newton Public Schools has been touted around the State of New Jersey over the past five years as a model for shared services by school districts.  Last week the partnership came to an abrupt conclusion when the Green Township Board of Education approved an end to its participation.  The resolution stated that "the Tri-District Consortium has attempted and achieved many successes and has fulfilled its purpose", that its "goals...have been met", and that the Board "will continue to have open communication in all areas that benefit the three districts involved."

That the Consortium has produced many successes is clear, as the evidence would attest. Here is a list of 25 of the more important accomplishments of the Tri-District Consortium from 2009-2014:
  1. Wrote and implemented common curricula in all nine Core Content Standard areas.
  2. Created and ran a joint preschool program for general and special education children.
  3. Planned and implemented student programs such as the NASA Downlink, a first for New Jersey's schools, and other transition activities for 8th grade students as they prepare to enter Newton High School.
  4. Researched and recommended the Danielson Framework for Teaching and the Multidimensional Principal Performance Rubric as research-based evaluation instruments to comply with the TEACHNJ Act.
  5. Created new formats for teacher Annual Performance Reviews, Professional Development Plans, and Corrective Action Plans linked to the Danielson Framework.
  6. Provided training for administrators and teachers on the new teacher and principal evaluation frameworks through cohort pricing.
  7. Ran joint District Evaluation Advisory Committee meetings to gather and share staff feedback to improve the teacher evaluation process.
  8. Developed common objectives and activities as part of each district’s Local Professional Development Plan and Mentoring Plan.
  9. Planned and executed joint in-service programs based on common curricular, instructional, and assessment needs.
  10. Integrated the professional development activities planned by each district to avoid redundancy and opened invitations to all staff members.
  11. Organized annual administrative retreats to engage in strategic planning and leadership development activities.
  12. Assessed staff technology competencies and proposed in-person and online technology training opportunities.
  13. Developed district technology plans with common statements on professional development, technology curriculum revision, and peer observations.
  14. Contracted with shared providers for applied behavioral analysis, occupational therapy, and curriculum consultation.
  15. Coordinated eligibility criteria for student classification in special education and gifted & talented education. 
  16. Identified additional special education classrooms to be considered for joint programming.
  17. Provided workshops for parents of special education students based on identified needs.
  18. Examined pre-referral practices and developed a common protocol to help IEP teams make more informed decisions about the need for child study team evaluations. 
  19. Provided training on the new referral packets to teachers and I&RS teams.
  20. Adopted shared school calendars and professional development calendars with offerings open to staff in all three districts.
  21. Explored shared services with regard to health benefits, legal and auditing services, banking, transportation, and food services.
  22. Studied and recommended improvements to athletic facilities.
  23. Ran student design contests that resulted in a new logo as a symbol of our brand, and a new webpage design as the communication hub for staff, students, parents, and community members.
  24. Gathered and shared data to develop common elements in negotiations proposals.
  25. Requested and received state approval for a common approach to the QSAC evaluation process to include a joint presentation on our shared services to county DOE officials.
The guiding intent of the Consortium was always to pursue initiatives that could provide: (a) better programs and services to our students and staff; or (b) cost savings to the districts. The best outcomes occurred when both happened at the same time. 

A prime example of this is the preschool program, which continues to provide students from all three districts with a rich, nurturing environment and a research-based curriculum taught by certified teachers. The tuition for the program is just over $9,300 for fully self-contained students, and half that for mainstreamed special education students. This is a deep discount compared to the tuitions associated with typical special education programs. Tuition for parents of general education students is $250 per month, significantly less than private providers who usually have neither certified teachers nor a comprehensive school environment. There is little doubt that the three districts could not provide a program of this quality at this cost on their own.

This kind of success is why this decision is so disappointing, or as one Andover board member called it "short-sighted." At the beginning of the current school year, the three districts agreed to revisit the Consortium's mission and goals and develop a new strategic plan for 2014-19. Multiple meetings were held in pursuit of this objective based on the idea that the partnership would be improved and continue to seek mutually beneficial approaches. There was no discussion about an end to Consortium meetings or activities.

The Newton Public Schools believe shared services are as relevant to our future as they have been to our past and present. To that end, 
  • We have productive relationships and active initiatives with entities as diverse as the Town of Newton, Sussex County Community College, Newton Police, Sussex County Chamber of Commerce, Project Self-Sufficiency, Thorlabs, and Picatinny Arsenal to name just a few. 
  • We meet regularly with our professional organizations such as the Superintendents' Roundtable, Business Officials Association, Principals and Supervisors Association, NJAC Principals Group and others to seek new avenues for cooperative activity. 
  • We share students with Sussex County Technical School and have shared athletic programs with Lenape Valley in swimming and ice hockey. 
  • We will continue to seek avenues for cooperation with our sending districts to provide the best possible services to our students. 
Mutual cooperation is a way of life for us. We look forward to working with willing partners to provide the most effective educational programming to our students in as fiscally efficient a manner as possible.

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