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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
NEW JERSEY SCHOOLS TO WATCH®

  1. What is the New Jersey Schools to Watch® program?
  2. New Jersey Schools to Watch® (NJSTW) is a middle grades school improvement program.  New Jersey is one of 18 states participating in this program sponsored by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform.  New Jersey’s participation is a partnership between the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and the Garden State Partnership for Teacher Quality, which includes Kean, Rowan and William Paterson Universities.

  3. What research supports the NJSTW criteria?
  4. The NJSTW is based on the work of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform.  For more information on this work and the national program, please go to http://www.schoolstowatch.org/StateProgram/tabid/119/Default.aspx and http://www.mgforum.org/.

  5. Must a school be a “middle” school in order to participate in NJSTW?
  6. Any school containing grades 6, 7, and/or 8 may participate in the NJSTW program as long as the programs for students in grades 6, 7, and/or 8 are aligned to the NJSTW criteria.

  7. What is the focus of the program?
  8. NJSTW seeks to identify schools that are academically excellent, responsive to student needs, and socially equitable.  NJSTW challenges all students to continuously strive to improve student performance, and provides all students with opportunities to learn at the highest levels.  Since the purpose of the program is to establish a network of schools that serve as models for others, the program aims to identify schools that are continuously striving to improve student achievement without sacrificing other aspects of student growth. 

  9. What are the benefits of becoming a NJSTW?
  10. The NJSTW program was designed to create a network of schools with promising and exemplary practices that can be shared and replicated by other schools.  Designated schools are asked to present at state and national conferences and become part of a state and national network of innovative schools.  For principals, becoming a NJSTW allows you to share and learn from other school leaders.  Schools in the program communicate with each other, host site visits, and even visit each other’s schools to share and support innovative practices.  Schools that are not designated as NJSTW are invited to participate in the New Jersey Schools to Watch Professional Development Program (NJSTW-PDP) which focuses on the research-based elements of effective middle level practice.  The PDP is supported by the department and the NJSTW partners. 

  11. How can my school become a NJSTW?
  12. Schools must apply for NJSTW status.  The process requires the involvement and commitment of the entire staff.  Schools must provide evidence of student achievement and growth and must participate in a self-study assessment of the school’s current programs and services.  This year’s application is due October 15, 2010.

  13. What process is used to select NJSTW?
  14. A principal interested in pursuing NJSTW consideration should first review the Principal’s Checklist (http://www.nj.gov/education/dsis/stw/hpmgs.htm). Next, the principal and his/her staff must complete the Self-Study and Rating Rubric.  Once this is completed, the principal should assemble a smaller coordinating committee to develop the application which consists of a narrative that describes the school and its students. Application narratives cannot be written by an outside consultant. The application, rating rubric and other materials are submitted to NJDOE and reviewed by a screening committee.  Finally, some schools are selected for a preliminary and/or full site visit.

  15. What is the process for submitting an application? 
  16. All applications must be submitted online to the New Jersey Department of Education, Division of District and School Improvement. Paper applications will not be accepted. The application is available on DOE Homeroom at http://homeroom.state.nj.us/.  Applicants must establish a school-level account from their district’s Web User Administrator to access the application. The online submission will include the application, narrative and Self-Study and Rating Rubric.  Part G: Conditions and Agreements must be faxed to (609) 984-5901. 

  17. What are the reviewers looking for in the application?
  18. All states that participate in Schools to Watch® use the same application criteria.  The application narrative provides an opportunity for the staff to “sell a school” – this is a chance to tell the reviewers why the school is special, why the students are growing and achieving, and why a team should visit the school to see the wonderful things that occur there every day.  Reviewers are looking for schools that are never satisfied with the status quo.  Even if the students are already high-achievers, the school continuously strives to improve.

  19. What happens on a site visit?
  20. There are two levels for site visits: (1) preliminary and (2) full. During the preliminary site visit, a team of educators representing the New Jersey Schools to Watch partners visits the school to verify the information in the self-study and application and to actually see the exciting things happening in the school. The site team will spend 2-3 hours at your school during the preliminary site visit.  After the preliminary site visit is completed, select schools will undergo a full site visit which will include a more in-depth review of programs and practices. The team wants to see a “normal” day in the life of the school and requires free access to students, teachers, staff, and parents to validate the information submitted in the application. Team members do not want to be greeted with a brass band or attend assembly programs – they want to visit every corner of a school to see what makes it work!

  21. If a school is selected for a full site visit, does that mean that it has been selected as a NJSTW?
  22. No, site visits are used to verify the information submitted as part of the application, but this does not mean that a school has been selected as a NJSTW.  The full site visit is the final and confirming part of the evaluation process. 

  23. Our school is already a high-achieving school.  Is it eligible to become a NJSTW?
  24. Yes, but the application must explain how current levels of achievement will be sustained and how the school will focus efforts to improve the achievement of subgroup populations.  A New Jersey School to Watch® continuously strives to improve. 

  25. Our school has made great strides but is far from becoming a high-achieving school.  Is it eligible to become a NJSTW?
  26. Yes, but the school must demonstrate a three-year upward trajectory in test scores for total students.  While the New Jersey State Assessments are one way to measure improvement, schools are encouraged to provide additional assessment data to support improved student achievement.  The application must explain how the school is meeting benchmarks and how it will continue to improve and address the needs of all students who are still struggling.

  27. How many schools will be recognized?
  28. There is no quota established by the National Forum.  The NJDOE is looking for schools that represent urban, suburban, and rural communities in every area of the state.  Nine schools are currently designated as NJSTW and only about 200 schools nationwide receive this distinction. To find out more about New Jersey’s schools, please go to http://www.nj.gov/education/dsis/stw/.

  29. Is there an application fee?
  30. There is no fee to apply.

  31. Is there a financial award?
  32. At this time, schools do not receive additional funding or monetary awards if selected as a NJSTW.  Designated schools receive a plaque and banner for their school. Schools may, subject to available funding, receive courtesy registrations to attend the New Jersey Middle School Association’s annual state conference.  First-year Schools to Watch that present at the national conference in Washington also receive a courtesy registration for the presenter from the National Forum.  

  33. I’m not sure the school is ready to apply this year, but I would like to use the materials for professional development.  Is this permissible?
  34. Absolutely!  We encourage schools that are not yet ready to apply to use the materials, especially the Self-Rating Rubric, to initiate discussions with staff and the community about middle grades reform.

  35. What happens if our school is selected as a NJSTW?
  36. NJSTW will be notified by the NJDOE in March 2011.   A press release is issued by the National Forum in April 2011.  NJSTW will be honored at the New Jersey Middle School Association Conference in April 2011.  The National Forum will hold a celebration and professional development event for schools from all participating states in Washington, DC in late June 2011.  There will be numerous press/media inquiries.  NJSTW staff will work with the designated schools to plan celebrations and coordinate these efforts. 

  37. If a school is selected as a NJSTW, what is it required to do?
  38. Selected schools become model schools and, as such, must allow visits from other schools interested in middle grades reform. A visitation guide is featured on the NJDOE website at http://www.nj.gov/education/dsis/stw/0708/.  In addition, selected schools must be willing to present at New Jersey education conferences.   The school must send at least one representative to the National Forum’s celebration in June 2011.  As part of the application process, schools must submit Part G: Conditions and Agreements which requires the signature of the principal, superintendent and Board of Education president.  This document describes the responsibilities of schools selected as NJSTW, and those signatures document the district’s commitment to the tenets of the STW program.

  39. If a school is designated as a NJSTW, does it have to reapply every year?
  40. NJSTW designation is for three years.  At the end of three successful years of participation in the program, a school must reapply for designation. 

  41. Our school submitted an application in a previous year but was not selected as a NJSTW.  Are we eligible to apply again this year?           
  42. All participating schools receive feedback and recommendations regarding their application and site visit (if applicable).  Prior to submitting an application again this year, the school must address all recommendations. For some schools, full implementation of the recommendations may take more than one year.  In that case, it is advisable to wait until the recommendations are fully operational.  In those cases where the recommendations can be implemented more quickly, applicants must ensure that the application narrative explains how the school addressed each of the recommendations or the application will not be considered. 

  43. Must a school have smaller learning communities or teams in order to be eligible for the NJSTW program? 
  44. Effective middle grades programs address the needs of the whole child.  Smaller learning communities support personalization and provide opportunities for teachers to use common planning time to improve teaching and learning for the students within their learning community.  You may not call your school’s structure a smaller learning community.  Many middle schools have a school-within-a-school structure, houses, teams, looping, or some other configuration that implies that students and teachers are grouped into smaller learning units.  Schools may have interdisciplinary teams, related arts teams, or grade level teams.  There is no one way to structure middle grade teams; however, there are certain functions, characteristics, and practices that are common to successful smaller learning communities.  While structural characteristics such as size, composition and time for planning are important, the success of a smaller learning community often depends on the level of cohesion which exists among the teachers on the team and the purposeful attention paid to improving teaching and learning for all.  The NJSTW Self-Rating Rubric specifically addresses professional learning communities as well as smaller learning communities and the important role both play in supporting young adolescents.  According to Breaking Ranks in the Middle “In a highly successful middle level school, teaming structures play an important role in developing and sustaining collaborative relationships.”

  45. Where should I go for more information?
  46. For information on NJSTW, please go to http://www.nj.gov/education/dsis/stw/

Rochelle Hendricks, Assistant Commissioner
Division of District and School Improvement, NJ Department of Education, P.O. Box 500, Trenton, NJ 08625