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Vol. LXV, No. 22
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
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PEF Gives District $25K for Computers; Principal Burr Reviews First Year at JWMS

Ellen Gilbert

The receipt of a $25,000 check from the Princeton Education Foundation (PEF) and a presentation about his first year on the job by John Witherspoon Middle School (JW) Principal Jason Burr were highlights of last week’s Board of Education meeting. The Board, in turn, expressed their appreciation to the PEF, and to Mr. Burr.

While reporting that JW has seen “many achievements” — including a number of academic successes — in the past year, Mr. Burr said that he was proudest of the accomplishments “that we make that highlight the human spirit.”

“Our teachers work in teams,” said the former social studies teacher who came to Princeton after a stint as assistant principal at the Montgomery Upper Middle School. “Each ‘house’ carefully works together to support students; but it is the high quality interdisciplinary units that are often the most meaningful, and the most memorable, for students.”

Achievements in sports at JW this year included the creation of the school’s first swim team and a 14-game winning streak by the girl’s field hockey team. “While I do not expect that they will play their entire careers without losing a game,” observed Mr. Burr, “I do know that the closeness of the team, and the camaraderie that was generated by coaches Kelly Riely and Melanie Miller will last for a long, long time.”

A visit to JW from local amateur astronaut Greg Olsen was a particularly “big hit with middle school kids,” who asked him “the typical ‘how do you eat in space, how do you drink,’” and “a horde of other questions about being in space.” Beyond the logistics of being in space, Mr. Burr said, Mr. Olsen conveyed “the message that there are no limits to what a person can accomplish. Mr. Olsen suffered several disappointments in his journey and his trip was at risk on several occasions. But he underscored the message that perseverance is a mighty quality.”

Emphasizing his belief that good middle schools have a “a special responsibility” to be attentive to the “social and emotional needs of learners,” Mr. Burr reported on a two-week effort initiated by “two special teachers,” Ms. Riely and Amy Wargo, focussing on “improving the emotional health of our students with a set of cross-curricular health and technology-based lessons” aimed at discouraging bullying and promoting kindness. In addition, “PRS Girls,” a newly created “girls’ empowerment club,” was made possible by funding from PEF.

PEF’s end-of-year gift at last week’s meeting is designated to replace computers in the Princeton High School and JW Media Centers. Funds for the gift were the result of tax-deductible contributions from PEF’s “generous donors.”

The Board also used last week’s meeting as an opportunity to pay tribute to retiring Director of Student Services Agnes Golding. Prior to her six-year term as Director of Student Services, Ms. Golding was, for 16 years, a school psychologist.

Other actions at last week’s meeting included approval of a renewed contract with Chartwell’s School Dining Services.

The next meeting of the Board of Education is on Tuesday, June 14, at 8 p.m. at JW.

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