As reported earlier this spring by MercerMe, the Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) is feeling the pinch of inflation, maybe even more than many of the Valley’s residents individually do.
The 2023/24 budget, approved April 24, reflects that the District administration and Board of Education (BOE) have had to make difficult decisions in planning for the coming year. Skyrocketing costs in transportation and healthcare added up to a budget shortfall of $1.8 million, which was addressed through property tax increases, reliance on savings, and government aid, while meeting the Board’s admonition that no programs should be cut.
Superintendent Dr. Rosetta Treece explained at both the April 24 budget meeting and the May 15 regular BOE meeting that the administrative staff and the Board deeply feel their fiscal responsibility to taxpayers in planning for the future and getting “the best bang for taxpayers’ buck.” At the same time, she said, it has become clear that there are curriculum gaps for some elementary students that need to be addressed. Because the budget is so tight, they cannot hire more staff, so they have decided to temporarily rearrange some positions instead.
At the May 15 meeting, Treece got into the specifics about the staff shuffle. Administrators began to notice falling scores in math and reading at the elementary level a few years ago, Treece explained, and that fall off was exacerbated by the pandemic. With no room in the budget to spend more to address this concern, a decision was made to “pause” the positions of four Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) facilitators and move them to “teacher leaders,” instead.
A change in staff positions should not be conflated with the continuation of the STEM program, Treece, cautioned, because, when the STEM program was initiated ten years ago, when she first came to the District, it was integrated into the curriculum holistically rather than as a standalone program. Thus, there is STEM curriculum in every aspect of students’ day, from art to language arts to arithmetic; every teacher has been trained in STEM. The facilitators give teacher support at the secondary level, but the program can continue without that extra support for a year.
Treece noted that 22% of the student population in the HVRSD is classified as special ed, which she said is very high compared to other districts. She said the administration has identified gaps in early elementary education that they believe has led to more kids needing special help. Moveover, she said, the role of STEM facilitators has an uneven benefit to kids across the District. Pausing the STEM facilitator role for a year will give the administration time to review and revamp it to better serve the whole District with consistency.
In the meantime, those positions will become teacher leaders, which are intended to provide needed support to elementary classroom teachers. The teacher leaders will be coaches, not supervisors, Treece explained, who will help teachers help kids who are struggling, especially to make sure needed literacy intervention occurs before third grade and to help with math and science throughout the elementary program.
The Board said goodbye to Student Representative Angela Choi, and thanked her for her excellent work during the year.
The Board then was treated to energetic presentations from the cast of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and from students who carried out the recent Green Week environmental activities. Administration members and BOE members expressed delight with both groups.
The May 15 meeting was bittersweet for many in the administration as they said a grateful goodbye to 21 staff members who are retiring. They are:
Jane Von Jaglinsky
Also changing in the coming year will be several administrative positions. See Dr. Treece’s letter to the HVRSD community here.
The next HVRSD BOE meeting is scheduled for June 20, 2023
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