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Milltown schools focus on climate and culture

MILLTOWN – With the help of Rutgers University, school officials in Milltown are focusing on school climate and culture.

Schools Superintendent Stephanie Brown said one of the district goals this year, set by the Board of Education, focuses on establishing a learning environment for all students to achieve academic excellence.

“Working with Rutgers in developing an action plan to develop a positive culture and climate is one strategy that we are using to meet that goal,” she said. “We are thankful for the partnership and grant with Rutgers that provides us with many resources to build upon our existing programs to support the social and emotional well-being of our students.”

Jackie Citro, assistant principal of Joyce Kilmer School, collaborated with Lori Guerriero, project manager for the Rutgers University’s School Climate Transformation Project. The three-year project focuses on building a positive school culture inclusive of all students, their varying backgrounds and their varying needs.

Joyce Kilmer School Principal William Veit said after collecting data through surveys of students, staff and parents, school officials learned about areas they needed to address in order to better promote core values related to climate and culture.

“Some areas we found a need to address were relationships among all stakeholders in the [school] building, communication between novice and veteran staff, and student perceptions related to their teachers expectations,” he said.

Veit said school officials looked at existing programs in the district including the “Wingman” program, which is designed to provide positive role models throughout the school, and the “CARES Postcard Program” where school staff send postcards to students’ homes unannounced when they see students displaying “Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy and/or Self Control.”

“After reviewing the data in relation to these programs, we made alterations to them that would better fit what the data we received showed us,” he said.

In addition, Veit said a $2,000 grant from the Rutgers University School Climate Transformation Project allowed school officials to bring in motivational speaker Brandon Lee White, who shared his “Own It!” program on Jan. 4 with students in grades 4-8.

“The program was a huge success as our students learned about empathy, inclusion, and understanding that there is more to all of us if we can get past the hurdles we create in our minds,” he said.

Moving forward, Veit said, “In an effort to make the school climate at Joyce Kilmer one that will translate to the production of honest, empathetic, and conscientious school and community citizens,” they will look to build on the recent experiences, and the current programs they have, and the partnership with the Rutgers University School Climate Transformation Project.

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