Priority SchoolsThirteen schools in nine districts make up the first cohort of NJEA Priority Schools. The Priority Schools Initiative was developed over the course of more than a year.

NJEA sent invitations to participate in the program to local association presidents in districts that had multiple schools identified under No Child Left Behind as “in need of improvement.” Schools are labeled as in need of improvement if they fail to meet state proficiency targets in two consecutive years.

Schools that opted to apply for the NJEA Priority Schools Initiative had to demonstrate a commitment to include all stakeholders in the school improvement process: teachers, parents, ESP, administrators, the local association, the school board, and the broader community. NJEA UniServ Field Reps also could recommend a school to participate in the application process.

Leadership teams from each of these schools attended a three-day training and planning program this summer. The sessions were led by Steve Barkley, Executive Vice-President of Performance Learning Systems and the author of Instructional Coaching With the End in Mind.

With Barkley’s guidance, the teams began the process of developing long-term goals and benchmarks for the year ahead. Teams analyzed the skills, knowledge, student behaviors, staff behaviors, leadership behaviors, and tools necessary to equip students to succeed in the 21st century.

NJEA staff, consultants to provide guidance and support

Pamela Garwood, formerly an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division, has been designated as the coordinator of NJEA Priority Schools Intervention and Support. She leads a team of seven NJEA Priority Schools consultants who spend a minimum of one full day per week in their assigned schools to provide guidance and support to the Priority Schools teams.

The Priority Schools Initiative is a collaborative process that asks for substantial commitment from all participants. Garwood identified the essential elements of the initiative:

  • Dedication of an NJEA staff member assigned to develop the pro­gram and coordinate training and resource allocation for schools accepted to participate.
  • Development of comprehensive assessments to identify the school-level factors that affect school operations.
  • Templates and protocols to support goal setting and planning.
  • Tools and materials to support reforms that are grounded in research.
  • Comprehensive training programs and on-site support to help staff, leaders, members, and members of the respective school communities implement their identified reform plans.
  • Data collection and analysis protocols to identify the specific causes of school “failure,” documenta­tion of successful changes, and attribution of the improvements in schools to specific actions.
  • Development of a community-organizing strategy to build sustained support for implemented changes that show promise.

Learn more about Priority Schools.