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Dr. Brian Repici
HOME OF THREE (3) NATIONAL GREEN RIBBON SCHOOLS
and a New Jersey Department of Education Lighthouse District
SUPERINTENDENT OF THE Black Horse Pike Regional School District
Dr. Brian Repici
As an alumnus of Highland Regional High School, I take great pride in our students, staff, and facilities and am always seeking ways to improve school culture and student outcomes. Our staff is rich in compassion and deeply cares for the success of the students; they take it personally when students have not yet grown or succeeded. Since becoming Superintendent in 2013, it has been my mission to fulfill these promises:
- Provide students with a voice in the educational process and school programs. I meet with groups of students to hear from them directly about their experiences in our schools. Their opinions and ideas are valuable to our overall success.
- Improve school culture and climate, through designing supports, interventions, and outlets for individual and collective social-emotional development.
- Deliver high-quality learning environments, evidence-based curricular and instructional practices, and a continuum of support and interventions.
- Embrace our role as stewards of the environment and show our care for the planet. When we reduce our carbon footprint, we mitigate costs and redirect those savings towards other organizational needs.
- Ensure that our facilities are absolutely clean, safe, and of the highest quality so that the school environment contributes to the opportunity to learn.
- Build curricula and programs that meet the needs of ALL students, those going to universities and those seeking careers.
I consider my role as Superintendent a humbling experience and an honor to lead our diverse and wonderfully curious students and staff to greater heights. Thank you for being part of our community of learners.
Educating for Tomorrow:
The Black Horse Pike Regional School District recognizes that a more skilled labor force is required regionally and nationally. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development shared that 1,019,000 jobs are available in the trade, transportation, and utilities sector and 315,000 jobs will open in manufacturing. Furthermore, that same reference reported that 81% of dropouts stated relevant, real-world learning opportunities would have kept them in high school. The Black Horse Pike Regional School District educates over 3600 students in three comprehensive, regional high schools, serving a diverse student population where two (2) of every five (5) students receive free and reduced lunch. Over the past five years, we have introduced engineering labs and curricula, established a S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) Academy, expanded our College Now partnership with Camden County College for students interested in career-related certification programs, and have partnered with the Finishing Trades Institute (Union IUPAT) where students enter into a pre-apprenticeship trades program prior to graduating high school. We developed these opportunities for our students because we recognize the reality and importance of the aforementioned statistics.
The Finishing Trades Institute program is innovative and helps support the growth of a skilled labor force. The Black Horse Pike Regional School District has partnered with the Finishing Trades Institute in Philadelphia, PA, to enroll students in an opportunity to gain job skills and safety training over the course of a once-a-week, 18-week course. While there, the District provided students with resources, like safety glasses, shirts, book bags, and provided work-ready counseling. Students completed 10 (ten) hours of OSHA training, 8 (eight) hours of CPR training, and then completed 11 weeks of apprenticeship training in glazing, paper-hanging, commercial painting, and dry-walling techniques. Students learn all the facets of an apprenticeship program so that they will have an advantage in applying for an apprenticeship in the trades right out of High School. 2022-2023 marks the first school year where 11th grade (junior level) students will be permitted to participate, in addition to 12th grade (senior level) students.
In 2021-2022, we have started a program housed at Camden County College called the Center for Alternative & Restorative Education. It provides students with a safe, supported, and alternative learning environment in a shortened school day focused on two pillars of learning: social-emotional and academic. The mission of the C.A.R.E. program places an emphasis on educating learners above and beyond their academic needs, ensuring we are providing the building blocks for social, emotional, and behavioral success. Specifically, the C.A.R.E. program is designed as a therapeutic program for students who have those social-emotional needs. Individualized and small group counseling is embedded in daily and weekly practice.
Additionally, we have built 5 (five) engineering labs over the past several years that rival university engineering and robotics classrooms. The rooms are equipped with laser engravers, CNC router machines, 3D equipped, computer-aided design (CAD) software paired with 3D printers in all three high schools. Students render designs and then test those designs as an engineer field testing work, where they cycle through phases of reflection, revision and review. Students apply mathematical, art, science, engineering, technology, and language arts literacy by participating in a design challenge every year, whereby students compete for the best design and best solution to an engineering problem. This was recognized by New Jersey Classroom Close-Up several years ago. Since we have increased the number of students enrolled in our engineering programs, more students are concentrating focus on careers related to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, so we created a S.T.E.A.M. Academy, where students compete to innovate solutions to problems. Students present these capstone projects at Camden County College every year with the inspection and scoring performed by College professors. Parents, students, college personnel, and school district employees attend the evening where students present their S.T.E.A.M. projects in hopes of creating the best original design and engineering solution. We have had students design tracheostomy procedures and tubes, solar-powered cell phones, and desalination tanks.
Lastly, in a partnership with Camden County College, we expanded the number of certificate programs that students can enroll while in high school. Students can now take courses on the College campus in 39 different certificated areas, which are identified in our Program of Studies. Students can also enter the workforce and earn credits in our work-study program while enrolled in high school as well. For example, we have graduated students from high school who now have their license in cosmetology or certification in heating and ventilation. All of these students are appointed an additional District career counselor to assist, support, and provide guidance for students who do not go towards college, but rather enter the workforce following high school.
In New Jersey, public schools are limited to increasing the school budget due to a 2% cap on the local tax levy, with few exceptions, even when insurance, transportation, and employment costs exceed that 2% amount. As a result, it is incumbent upon school superintendents to be creative. First, working with the Board of Education and a School Improvement Task Force made up of parents, students, school administrators, and supervisors, we identified short-term and long-term facility improvements. Over the past six years, we dedicated funding to improve a High School roof, an athletic stadium, new HVAC systems, new exterior doors in two high schools, updated an alarm system, created organic gardens in two schools, installed a military honorarium and patios at all schools, created six new computer labs in the media centers (2 in each school), replaced and updated over 210 security cameras, paved and re-sealed two parking lots, installed new lockers in two high schools, replaced physical education lockers, created an outdoor restroom facility at the newest high school, and replaced a high school's main gym floor and bleachers. We identified smaller facility improvements like replacing weight room equipment, refurbishing space for a dance program in all three schools, and renovating a cooking lab with state-of-the-art equipment.
We were able to save money in other ways with the assistance of our Task Force and Board of Education, along with all of the wonderful employees we have in the Black Horse Pike Regional School District. So, first, we started to hire very talented and licensed maintenance employees to perform paving, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC work, which reduced our costs to outside contractors. We estimate that we have saved over a million dollars in the past three years. Secondly, we conserve electricity, water, and gas by practicing conservation, like scheduling our irrigation and lighting. We also saved on utilities through an Energy Savings Improvement Plan that included the installation of 2.2 megawatts of renewable energy in the form of solar arrays, the changing of over 24,000 inefficient light sources, and the installation of new boilers that reduced heating costs by 18%. Those environmental practices not only reduce our carbon footprint locally and regionally, but they also mitigated costs and helped us re-purpose those funds for other educational needs.
Thirdly, we expanded our Shared Services arrangements. For example, we partnered with the local municipality's public works departments to perform minor parking lot repairs or the borrowing of large equipment.
Costs associated with educating children with special needs can be exorbitant, yet we believe that if we have the strongest possible programs with the best support, we should be able to retain students coming to us from the three sending districts, and, thereby, avoid costs with those students otherwise going out of district. We invest in ways to make our programs for special needs children and their parents attractive. For example, all three high schools have two classes for classified students, including a robust 18-21-year-old job transition program at Camden County College, and each high school has one class of BD classified students. Moreover, we also avoid costs associated with sending regular education or classified students out of district by creating the Center for Alternative and Restorative Education Program located at Camden County College. We do take tuition-based students from other school districts into all of our special education programs. Perhaps what speaks volumes about our trust in our special education department and the faith we have in our community of learners is the fact that we hire graduates from our 18-21-year-old job transition program full or part-time employment in our cafeterias and custodial departments.
Lastly, we made it a goal to reduce class size, which required additional staff. We had to analyze our current class offerings, where students wanted to go post-high school, and whether or not our programming was meeting students' needs. We found that we serve a community where between 10%-18% were not going to college, and yet, we did not have concrete, organizational assisted pathways for those students to opt into starting in high school. We developed articulation agreements with Camden County College and identified over 10 certification programs where students can go during high school hours in order to be ready once they graduate high school for the workforce. Additionally, we established Option II programs for internships and work-study so that our students can fulfill school and family obligations, which released those students earlier in the school day to go to work. Finally, we also established a partnership with the Finishing Trades Institute, whereby the school district sends students to the Finishing Trades Institute for glazing, dry-walling, commercial painting, and other union trade fields in an 18-week pre-apprenticeship program, where once a week students learned OSHA guidelines, CPR training, and trades' skills so that when they graduated high school they had their foot in the door to an apprenticeship with a union hall. Since students were participating in pathways outside of the school walls, this migration, in effect, lowered class size. Congressman Norcross recognized our Finishing Trades Institute Program as innovative and a way for future generations to be armed with the knowledge and skills to be active and productive citizens. In short, it enabled students who did not foresee a future through college, a pathway towards pride.
When I began as Superintendent of Schools in July 2013, the District did not have the infrastructure, staffing, or budgetary focus to improve efforts to communicate to our employees, students, or the community. I took the necessary organizational steps to strategically improve our physical technology infrastructure and communications capacity by installing new wi-fi in all three high schools, building a new website platform to showcase the District, and making more information accessible to employees and community members, streamlining all of our paper forms into electronic forms, marrying existing applications with outdated forms for greater efficiency, and implementing practices that offered more timely information to the community.
We have improved the way we communicate with families by having an attractive District and School website and through the use of other technology applications. Each school has a Twitter feed for general information and co-curricular accomplishments. The District also utilizes Facebook to communicate with families and students, where we celebrate the accomplishments of students and staff. We also built our own App, where students and parents have user-friendly access to grades, schedules, email addresses, and a directory of employees, along with important student handbook policies. Our Curricular Program of Studies is digital and interactive with videos, pictures, and hyperlinks.
We installed new wi-fi apparatuses that supported the integration, distribution, and use of a 1:1 Chromebook initiative. We also migrated to using an all-Google platform, which enables us to communicate freely between students and teachers, and whereby every teacher has a Google classroom that enhances the learning experience for students.
We are firm believers in the way we talk is the way we work. So through some professional development, we have coached our staff to be mindful of how we talk and interact with students and parents. Since 2003, the population of students that we serve continue to be enrolled with challenging and complex home lives. We had to re-educate ourselves to say, for example, "what is wrong with you?" to "what happened to you?" We understood that social-emotional needs were foundational to improving academic outcomes and future success. Therefore, we invested in more school counselors, Child Study Team members, a career counselor, a mental health counselor, school mentors, stronger professional development for all staff, and incorporated wellness efforts for staff and students, like the use of yoga and mindfulness in the classroom. We understood that simply communicating expectations and standards was not enough, we had to re-train ourselves on how to approach students who come from homes where there is acute or long-standing abuse, financial struggles, illiteracy, homelessness, substance abuse, and physical and emotional harm. Roughly, through using our student information management system, we determined that 13 students in a class of 30 have experienced hardships in the home and, therefore, struggle to manage emotional regulation so that they can focus on academic school work. As a result, our physical education classes teach yoga and mindfulness meditation periodically, our freshman seminar classes teach the BREATHE curriculum, a mindfulness curriculum, and our wellness professional development day incorporates mindfulness meditation for teachers every year.
Lastly, we also understood that punitive student code of conduct dispositions did not work for all students and it contributed to greater inequities among students. More students enter our doors coming from adverse childhood experiences with little coping skills to regulate emotionality, which inhibits emotional and cognitive development. Punitive measures, at times, only exacerbate students’ inability to learn from their mistakes and often do not address the underlying reasons for the behavioral mismanagement. So, we continue to train our staff to practice compassion first and implement restorative practices. We re-emphasized to our entire faculty that we needed to seek to understand the underlying causes of the behavior and the emotion. Our professional development has included strategies to develop, foster, and maintain positive relationships with students in order to have a greater impact academically.
Several years ago, we involved the teachers and school administrators in selecting an evaluation model that met our specific needs and one where all parties were comfortable in providing and receiving feedback. We chose the Stronge model and spent a year piloting and fine-tuning the process, training school administrators and teachers, and talking within the School Improvement Committees about where the process was strong and where it needed revision. Through our work with the School Improvement Committee and after two years of using the model, we developed tools for counselors, administrators, support staff, and teachers that made sense based on their work responsibilities with input from all of those stakeholders. Since we took great care in seeking input and the involvement of those that the system was designed to evaluate, it has yielded productive results. We measure that productivity in the following ways: First, to what degree are our teachers innovating and taking risks in the classroom? Secondly, with those educators that are not fulfilling their professional obligations, what support do we provide and how do we raise their level of performance? Thirdly, what are the proactive ways to improve instructional craft? Lastly, how well do we take care of staff?
The School District has designed and offers in-house professional development, created by our own administrators and teachers, for administrators and teachers. Over the course of the school year, we offer over 50, home-grown, professional development workshops, which improve staff morale, work towards raising professionalism in the District, and boost the confidence of our own staff to be master practitioners. Many of the topics offered have been vetted by Principals, Board Office administrators and school improvement panels made up of teachers. For their work in planning and delivering these workshops, employees are compensated financially for their time. This establishes a mindset that we value our expertise in District before we bring in "experts" from outside the District. Teachers are also provided the opportunity to go out of District for professional development and we increased the budget to support those opportunities annually. Supervisors and administrators provide feedback to staff in pre-conference and post-conference meetings on workshops that they may or should attend in order to strengthen their instruction or to support trying a new learning/teaching approach.
School administrators and department supervisors conduct walk-throughs frequently, in addition to formal classroom observations. For instance, supervisors and administrators have conducted informal walk-through observations in 20% of all classroom lessons taught in a month. This informal observational data validate some instructional practices and provides both narrow and broad views of instructional quality. The supervisors and administrators have discussions about instructional quality based on those informal and formal classroom observations so that they can communicate effectively to staff individually and at large. We are cautious not to be critical of educators who are taking instructional risks in the classroom. Instead, we take the approach of a good coach, where we allow the freedom to innovate, so long as the intended result does not interfere with the integrity of the standards put into place. When teachers take risks and are innovative in their approach, it provides an appropriate model for our high school students to be inventive and creative.
We understand that all educators are not created equally, so we have to provide the appropriate and necessary feedback to support, assist, mentor, and coach so that they can grow. Informal and formal observations are perfect opportunities to coach and support, but they alone are not enough. Professional development is robust enough to provide opportunities for educators to grow and the language and approach is communicated in a nurturing fashion. If the educator does not feel the appraiser in trustworthy, then the feedback will be fruitless. Establishing relationships with colleagues is so critical to a successful evaluative system; if there is no rapport or trust, there will be no growth. Moreover, the feedback that is provided should be specific, constructive, and honest. Every year, we review and analyze our evaluation scores and find ways to add new professional development opportunities or to set a focus for classroom observation. This is then communicated to educators at the start of every school year.
Lastly, I believe it is critically important to take care of one's staff. We celebrate and emphasize wellness efforts throughout the school year, but especially dedicate professional development days to decompressing and managing stress. We also have a District Wellness newsletter that is delivered monthly, which includes recipes and tips for healthier living. Lastly, we have a partnership with Cooper Health Systems to offer an 8-week counseling session to all employees, free of charge, so that they can address their social-emotional needs and be in good health while educating our students.
I want to wish everyone a peaceful and productive school year.Yours in education,
Dr. Brian RepiciSecretary: Mariellen Habina
Phone: 856-227-4106 Extension 8025