By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON — Compared to where things stood just a few short years ago, Trenton Public Schools Supt. Rodney Wakeham said the 2014-2015 academic year should be one of continued progress.
“If you look at the history of the district, the board and administration made some difficult decisions that weren’t very popular,” Wakeham said.
Buildings were closed, bus service was cancelled before being outsourced, and teachers were laid off during years that forced similar – or worse – choices by many school districts.
Having done so, Wakeham said, allowed the focus to remain on education, with positive results across the board.
“Those past decisions should be complemented,” Wakeham said. “Last year we did very well as far as our initiatives to support student learning.”
Among other achievements, Wakeham said that ACT scores for 2013-14 showed improvements across all grade levels, which each met the state’s required percentages on proficiency tests.
Some challenges remain, most notably with student population that determines state funding. Wakeham said 226 students graduated in June from Trenton High School, yet the five-year average for incoming students has been about 150 per year.
There has been, he said, a slight increase in new admissions, although official “count day” remains a month away before final numbers can be tallied.
Wakeham attributed the increase of incoming students to the district’s continued efforts to provide quality education as well as extracurricular activities. Last month the board approved he addition of crew among its sports programs – something Wakeham said is offered in nearby districts – in an effort to provide the same opportunities for students to compete.
Academically, the 2014-15 year will see a new math series at the elementary level as the district implements a University of Chicago program, Everyday Mathematics. Wakeham said math had been an area where students hadn’t made “the progress we were expecting, so we looked for an alternative.”
Just as new math techniques are needed in the classroom, Wakeham said today’s educators struggle with the balance of technology in the classroom, weighing the positive aspects against the intrusion of social media in the lives of students.
“Our technology committee has done an excellent job of putting the necessary pieces of technology in front of students and staff to enhance learning,” Wakeham said. “We look at social media and personal technology as something that’s here to stay, and there are negative impacts.”
Wakeham said that rather than resisting what is inevitable the district instead looks for learning opportunities for both teachers and students.
“We have efforts to teach media responsibility and using technology responsibly,” Wakeham said. “If students make a poor choice, it’s not the same as it was five years ago with calling someone a name or putting a note on a locker. We cover that with Black-Out-Bullying week.”
Wakeham said the school year ahead should be one of continued growth, academic progress and new opportunities for students and staff alike.
“We hope this is our trend into the future,” Wakeham said.
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])