Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 39
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
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Classifying Students and Healthy Food Highlight School Board Discussions

Ellen Gilbert

The fall 2009 opening of the Princeton Regional Schools (PRS) “went very smoothly,” according to President Alan Hegedus, speaking at last week’s monthly meeting of the Board of Education. “We are in the process of educating 3,400 students.” 

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, Public Information, and Community Relations Lew Goldstein stood in for Superintendent Judy Wilson who was ill (“nothing to be concerned about,” according to Mr. Hegedus), at a meeting highlighted by reports on “disproportionality” and school lunches.

Early in the meeting board member Walter Bliss asked about PRS’s response to President Obama’s recently broadcast message to students. With neither positive nor negative reactions to this year’s speech reported, Mr. Bliss suggested preparing in advance to “make creative use of the speech” should it occur again next fall. “We would be serving the mission we’re supposed to be serving,” he observed, describing the event as “a teachable moment. I hope next year we’ll be better prepared.” Obama’s speech aside, he went on to ask “what are our teachers doing to inspire students,” and to help close the “achievement gap.”

Although probably unintended, the question of the achievement gap was the perfect segue to Director of Student Services Agnes Golding’s report on “disproportionality,” and the classification of special education students. Ms. Golding defined disproportionality as a societal problem and a major problem in many school districts; “we’re not alone in this,” she observed. The goal, she noted, is to eliminate race as a predictor of a child being labeled and placed in special education. Current efforts in the district to deal with disproportionality include adding a full-day preschool program, and enriching reading and language arts programs. Statistical evidence was presented to show the positive influence these efforts are having. Ms. Golding noted that the program traditionally referred to as “basic skills” is now called “academic intervention services” (AIS), to reflect the goal of “accelerating achievement” rather than just providing remediation.

Chartwells food service representative Cindy Hill spoke about her company’s efforts to promote healthy food choices among district schoolchildren. “Working hard with the state,” she reported, they “have menus investigated and measured ‘to the t’ so that they are nutritionally balanced.” She noted that the milk served in all the Princeton public schools is hormone-free, that “fish is from healthy ocean policies, chickens are antibiotic-free, and eggs are cage-free.” Efforts are being made, she noted to get fruits and vegetables from local vendors.

“We haven’t used white bread for our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the three years that I’ve been here,” Ms. Hill noted. Although whole grain pasta “didn’t go over well the first time,” they are continuing to use it. Chartwells is “slowly but surely introducing things like potato chips that are baked, not fried, and low-fat ice cream.” Ms. Hill noted that she is available to talk with parents who have concerns about their children’s allergies and need to know the ingredients of menu items. “There are lots of vegetarians in the district,” she commented, “and we’re trying to be more sensitive to that.” Upcoming tasting events with students include the preparation of fresh salsa, and sampling different kinds of apples.

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