By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
The sign on the door proclaiming Saint Rose of Lima Academy a Blue Ribbon School doesn’t surprise Principal Diane Pollak. She says this pre-K through eighth grade school is special for many reasons.
“We have a wonderful student body, phenomenal teachers and supportive parents,” Pollak said.
This 145-year-old school in affluent Short Hills is one of five New Jersey Catholic schools honored with the national Blue Ribbon Award. The award is given based on either progress in improving academic achievement or overall academic excellence. The latter applies to this school. Pollak attributes this success to an emphasis on science and technology.
“We do have a very new state-of-the-art computer lab for 26 students. Money was raised by the parents,” she said. “We have two portable iPad labs that can be taken out, class sets. We have mini lab in our library for study time during recess and students can sign up for that. There’s a smart board in every room, PCs in every room.”
Another success story is in Harrison, a working class community in Hudson County. The high school, where many of the students come from low income families, received the national honor for showing significant improvement.
“This school has seen growth in test scores and across the board achievement,” said Dr. James Doran.
Case in point — in 2007, 63 percent of students scored proficient or advanced proficient on state assessments. In 2012, it increased to 88 percent. In math, scores jumped from 50 percent to 75 percent.
“It’s been the efforts of the principal, running their schools and aligning curriculum to new standards,” Doran said. “We have a grade a day program, where there is an on going assessments of kids and the teachers use that data to analyze where kids are weak, and intervene with education strategies.”
Also named Blue Ribbon Schools was a yeshiva and six county vocational technical schools. Among them, two in Scotch Plains — the Academy of Information Technology and Union County Magnet High School. The principals from those schools tell me size does matter because each school has less than 300 students. And many of them are motivated because they focus on specific careers.
There are common themes at each school — motivated teachers and supportive parents.