By KAYLA J. MARSH
MIDDLETOWN — Township school officials provided community members with an update regarding a strategic plan that was established last year and discussed several goals and steps that have already been taken to help the district function as a united community.
At the Board of Education’s Jan. 26 meeting, Business Administrator and Board Secretary Amy Gallagher said the strategic plan is typically a three- to five-year vision that establishes distinct goals for the district’s future.
“It is a five-year plan, so there are other things that are not scheduled to be looked at until further down the road, but we have been focusing on a number of things for this year,” she said.
The Middletown Township School District consists of 17 schools — 12 elementary, three middle and two high schools — and serves more than 10,000 students, pre-K through 12th grade.
“One of the goals was to ensure the facilities and resources support the student population as it changes over the next five years and beyond,” Gallagher said.
According to Gallagher, some items the district is working on include identifying building capacities for all 17 schools, continuously updating and monitoring the demographic study projections versus actual student enrollment at each grade level and gathering input from stakeholders on attitudes towards redistricting, new construction or possibly renovations and additions.
“We have gathered a lot of information on the schools and … have found that the enrollments for this year do not match what the demographic study was projecting,” she said. “It had projected that the enrollments would be declining almost 10 percent over the next five years, and we’re now in the second year of the study and we really haven’t seen that.”
Gallagher said the district has also been taking surveys of the facilities and identifying any needs those buildings will have over the next five years and prioritizing them.
“We are determining and looking at the cost of redistricting to accommodate student population trends and looking at alternative school configurations,” she said. “These are things that are going to be discussed and analyzed … because anything that we do look at is going to end up taking time and money … so we do need to have more discussion about which options we’ll look at seriously before we commit the resources.”
The district is also looking to maintain the “safe, high quality and efficiently operating facilities” it has “in alignment with the mission statement and beliefs.”
“We have a variety of actions that we are working on during the current year, including … participating in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program and creating community awareness of this initiative, incorporating energy efficiency and sustainable initiatives and incorporating security improvements.”
Jill Takacs, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the district is also looking to ensure the success of students by “providing the support and opportunities necessary in developing well-rounded, contributing members of the academic community and beyond.”
“We have several new or updated curricula that we implemented in September 2015,” she said. “We also have approximately 33 new or updated curricula to be written this school year to be implemented in September 2016.”
In addition, the district has added a new Added Government, Law, and Public Policies Pathway for high school students and has provided countless professional development opportunities, workshops and new electronic adaptive resources and extracurricular activities to support student and teacher success.
Mary Ellen Walker, assistant superintendent for operations, said one of the areas focused on was to make some changes at Board of Education meetings, which are now being taped and posted on the district website.
“The next area was parent involvement, and the objective was to establish strong parent-school partnerships through effective methods of communication,” she said. “We started looking at all the ways we communicate and we do really communicate in a variety of ways.”
Aside from the district website and all the attached pages such as the virtual backpack, calendars, teacher’s pages and blogs, Walker said the district is using Twitter more and more and said newsletters, phone and text blasts and parent information nights have also added to community knowledge.
“They’re great ways to get info about what’s going on in schools [and] what our teachers are doing,” she said. “We are working on standardizing the way our district main page looks and each school website looks so you find the information in the same way. We are setting up Google calendars, working on a new phone, text, email communication and are investigating a phone app so you can have direct access to the pages you use most.”
Walker said the district is also working to showcase the activities and accomplishments of Middletown’s schools.
“We’re holding more events than we ever have,” she said. “There are all kinds of stuff going on where kids from all over the district are coming together and working and showcasing their talents and doing trips.
“This has truly been a community effort when everybody came together and developed the strategic plan, and we really think that we need to do this due diligence and really follow it and see it through.”