CRANBURY: School board reveals results of Strategic Planning survey

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
CRANBURY – Community members were eager to offer opinions on curriculum quality, extracurricular activities, student assessments, homework, the use of technology and a host of other school-related topics on the Cranbury School District’s strategic planning survey.
In December, the district launched its Strategic Planning process by seeking input from all parts of the Cranbury School District community via online surveys.
And at the Cranbury School District Board of Education meeting Feb. 16, board members got a look at that community input in Phase I of the survey’s results.
The survey was designed for four groups – students, staff, parents and community members. The board plans to utilize that information to build a new mission statement, which will evolve over a series of meetings.
“We had 436 responses overall and so broken down, that looks like 110 parents, 41 staff, 39 community members, 224 students in grades 3-8 and 22 students in our 9th and 10 grades. So I was really pleased to see that students were really eager to give feedback back to our district,” said Chief School Administrator and Principal Dr. Susan Genco.
The first survey question was about curriculum quality.
“I believe that the curriculum we use in Cranbury School District is strong,” said Dr. Genco. “If you look at the parents and the staff and the community, they also believe our curriculum is of a strong quality.”
The next survey question dealt with critical thinking and asked if the students to do more than just memorize or recite facts, is it challenging and does it ask the students to think across the spectrum?
“It prompts the questions, what is your idea of critical thinking, how does that work for you in the classroom, how does that look to parents who are outside the classroom, and what are they expecting from that piece of the curriculum?” said Dr. Genco. “I found that really interesting and that is something that we can explore.”
In the area of extracurricular activities, the responses were mostly positive, but 16 percent of the respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed that the extracurricular activities were strong.
“Keeping in mind that we are a small school, both electives and extracurricular activities are something that we are going to look into,” said Dr. Genco. “We know in a K-8 school district that providing as many things as we can within that frame can be difficult at times so we are looking at the types of extracurricular offerings.”
With electives, staff and parents believe that there are opportunities for the district to expand. Dr. Genco said that is something she would also like to pursue.
The relevance of the curriculum was also addressed on the survey.
“Our staff is responding to the changes in the expectations for students as well as we are looking for them to be college and career ready,” said Dr. Genco. “There is a whole transition phase, so we are looking at our curriculum to make sure it is aligned with the areas that it needs to be in terms of college and career readiness.”
In the areas of media and technology, Dr. Genco said the survey showed that 82 percent felt as prepared or better prepared when they entered high school.
The survey asked revealed that the district should look at how it assesses students, the amount of homework given and is that homework meaningful and useful, the use of technology and how often is it used, professional development, class size and maintenance of facilities.
“We wanted all of our stakeholders to rate how well kept our facilities,” said Dr. Genco.
She said that the restrooms have been on the docket and the district has been doing some maintaining of those restrooms, but that might be a long-range planning goal.
Dr. Genco also talked about guidance and health services, transportation and food service.
“There are opportunities for growth here with our food services program and I think that this is an area that we can definitely share with our food service provider,” she said.
She said she wants survey the students just on the food itself, something that hasn’t been done in a while.
“Right now, we just really combed through this and then use this as the beginning and then we will denote the themes for each area,” she said. “These are our next steps. Then, we will have our themes and then we will create our mission and our beliefs.”
Board member Dominique Jones said the survey does help clarify certain things for her.
“I can’t read the mind of the community who filled this out, but I would hope they appreciated the opportunity to put out their voice and felt like they were heard,” said board member Lindsay McDowell.