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How to Improve Our High School - Part 2


Guest IFC Harrison NJ
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Guest IFC Harrison NJ

Part 2

Both Dominick Rodrigues and Joanne O’Brien, two of the Independents for Change candidates, have had children graduate from High Tech High School in North Bergen. This is important because it changed their perspectives on what is possible in public school education.

As a teacher at Harrison High School, Joanne regularly writes a “Best Practices” memo on how to improve student performance. One suggestion she has made for years is based on the LEAP classes available after school and during the summer at High Tech High School. These classes, taught by highly qualified teachers and for full high school credit, serve several functions:

  • They introduce students to disciplines usually taught in college – like “Western Philosophy” for instance.
  • They can serve as a “double dose” of a class a student may be having trouble in, say Algebra 2 or Physics.
  • Last but not least, they introduce students to disciplines for which teachers may have a passion and expertise like an additional language such as Arabic or Latin

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Why is this important to bring up in relation to Harrison High School?

While we have instituted after-school and summer classes, students do not earn high school credit for taking them as they do in High Tech. The after-school classes are enrichment only and cannot be used to bolster poor skills in a core subject. The summer program is almost exclusively test-prep based, it is also voluntary in enrollment and does not provide high school credit. In contrast, if a student were performing poorly in a class at High Tech, a LEAP class would be mandatory. And while summer classes are elective and students at High Tech would be offered lunch, they are never paid cash to attend them.

Joanne O’Brien has consistently called for the High Tech version of LEAP classes at Harrison High School. She has also suggested staffing them with teachers fresh out of teaching programs, not necessarily with teachers already teaching a full load of classes. Her reasons were that it brings fresh ideas and teaching methods into the system, can provide a steady stream of tested teachers when positions open up, and it is extremely cost effective as there are no benefits to pay.

This year, a program as Joanne suggested would have prevented six (6) class periods of Math students from having a wasted 1st Marking Period. One of our Math teachers was taken ill just as we were heading back to school. The substitute had no Math experience; as a result, “Incompletes” will be given until a new teacher can be hired. A look at the district website lists no posting for the job; we can find no newspaper listing for the job either, pointing out the need for a professional Human Resources Manager for the town and school system.

Were there other stopgap measures that would have been effective?

  • Existing Math teachers might have taken on an addition block period for a pro-rated percentage of pay.
  • Parents might have been informed so that they could make alternative tutoring arrangements.
  • The Board of Education might have adopted the plan proposed by Mrs. O’Brien’s Career Education class as their final Assessment - “How to Improve Our Schools Proposal – After School Tutoring.”

It is an issue that should be raised at the conclusion of the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday October 27.

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