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MTPS Restructuring the Elementary Experience to Align with State Mandates

Recent mandates delivered by the New Jersey Department of Education and the State Board of Education aim to prepare students for future learning and employment in a globally-connected and technologically savvy community. These pieces of legislation require the Middletown Township Public School District to adjust the design of its educational programming accordingly.

On Jan. 14, 2020, the state adopted the “Strengthening Gifted and Talented Education” legislation (S3258), which codifies a provision in existing regulations ensuring appropriate instruction for K-12 gifted and talented students. In compliance with the provisions of this bill, the district’s K-12 offering is designed to inspire students to pursue personalized learning opportunities that apply foundational skills to their innovative, creative, and critical thinking practices. The program’s structure promotes collaboration between students and their teachers, and encourages the showcase of their learning journey at district Innovation Fairs, SPARK Tanks, and Gifted and Talented Share Fairs.

The legislation stated that each school district will adhere to the reporting schedule connected to its New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continue Review, and will include in that report “the number of staff employed by the school district whose job responsibilities include identification of and providing services to gifted and talented students.” As such, the district will now staff two elementary Personalized Learning Teachers who will implement our G&T program. 

Aligning with the precedent set by this legislation, the State Department of Education revised its 2020 Student Learning Standards, the educational constructs by which all New Jersey school district curriculum is governed. Featured in this update were new standards for K-5 computer science and design thinking elements, as well as career readiness, life literacies and key skills.

These new standards and curriculum frameworks will be the foundation of the new elementary technology course taught by our Digital Literacy and Design Teachers. Our educators will design and implement grade-level appropriate lessons that help our students develop and build upon the necessary technology skills throughout their elementary education. Typing skills are a cornerstone of this foundational plan, which also addresses some of the feedback the district received during our Strategic Planning Public Forums, regarding consistent technology and typing instruction at the elementary level. 

Additionally, in August 2018, the state legislature adopted the “Recess Law,” a mandate that barred public school districts from counting daily recess minutes toward the required 150 minutes of weekly Health and Physical Education instruction. The 20-minute sessions of daily recess previously accounted for about half of our students’ weekly PE/Health requirement. This law requires the district to nearly double the amount of Health and Physical Education classes students are required to have each week, which impacts the delivery of other other special subject classes, including art, Spanish, and music. 

The district administrative team approached the implementation of these state mandates with practicality and fiscal responsibility in mind. Considering our decrease in state funding, the 2020-21 budget could not absorb the cost of adding eight physical education teachers in addition to the existing staff and elementary schedule structure without the restructure of special subject classes. The current elementary daily schedule has to be restructured in order for the district to be in compliance with the Recess Law, the requirement for 150 minutes of Health and Physical Education instruction with a certified teacher, implementation of the new K-5 Computer Science and Design Thinking standards, as well as dedicated periods of time during the day for district initiatives such as Social-Emotional Learning/Responsive Classroom and personalized learning opportunities.  

The challenge the district faces is to continue to offer our elementary community the educational and extracurricular experience it has come to expect within the current length of the school day, while meeting the requirements set by the State of New Jersey. With the reality of our financial challenges imposed by state aid cuts, the objective of the new elementary schedule is to reallocate our personnel resources in a way that would provide a comprehensive six day schedule rotation for special subject classes, including Health/PE, art, Spanish, music, and Digital Literacy/Design in order to maximize instruction in these areas for our students while complying with the New Jersey Department of Education mandates and NJ Student Learning Standards frameworks.