August 28, 2019

PPS is Ready for the New School Year

By Donald Gilpin

It’s back to school next Wednesday, September 4 for Princeton Public Schools’ (PPS) 3,865 students, who will be greeted by staff members including 15 new teachers, 17 new support staff employees, and four new-to-the-district administrators.

“Knowing Every Child — Supporting Them Together” is the theme for the year, according to PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane, and at the top of his list of goals for 2019-20 is “advancing equity in the service of student achievement.”

Cochrane cited a renewed focus on “collaboration in support of our children,” emphasizing the implementation of “restorative practices, strategies that students and staff can use together to foster a strong sense of community and connection. They create the environments that lead to the highest levels of learning and engagement.”

In her welcome back letter to Princeton High School (PHS) students and parents, new PHS Principal Jessica Baxter wrote, “This is an exciting time as we use last year’s momentum of a later start time and schedule revamp to focus on student wellness, engagement, and enjoyment of learning opportunities.”

Other district priorities, according to the superintendent’s list of goals for 2019-20, are facilities stewardship, including implementation of projects associated with the $26.9 million facilities referendum; financial stewardship and sustainability “in an increasingly resource-constrained environment”; transforming child nutrition; and a new, improved communications structure.

New staff members this year include a new special education supervisor, a new business administrator, a new math supervisor, and a new facilities director. At PHS, former assistant principal Baxter begins her tenure as principal, and veteran teacher Rashone Johnson will take over as assistant principal.

New District Facilities Director Dave Harding has already been overseeing multiple referendum projects this summer, including air conditioning at Riverside Elementary and the PHS gym, as well as electrical upgrades at all six schools.
During the coming year, security vestibules will be installed at all schools, space will be expanded at John Witherspoon Middle School and PHS, and the guidance and some athletic spaces at PHS will be renovated.

Enrollment at PPS continues to climb, from 3,823 at the start of school last year to 3,865 at last count on Tuesday, August 27. The district is working with demographic experts and community members to plan for school and community needs and to find funding options to mitigate costs over the next 10 years. 

Among the curriculum changes on tap for the new year are the ReadyClassroom math program in the elementary schools and a schoolwide enrichment program called FOCUS (Fostering Our Children’s Unique Strengths), starting at the elementary level and providing enrichment in science, technology, reading, engineering, art, and mathematics.

The district has applied for state aid to expand its preschool program, and, if approved, it will be able to offer, free of charge, a new dual language immersion preschool class at Community Park Elementary School, as well as a new class in partnership with the YWCA. The district will continue to offer preschool classes at Johnson Park and Riverside Elementary Schools.

In the food department, Cochrane promised that students, staff, and parents would notice exciting changes in the coming months, with K. Lee Dixon as new food service director and Chef Coby Farrow, former Eno Terra executive chef, helping to oversee food services. “We view our cafeterias as an extension of our classrooms — and of our values,” Cochrane said. “Our goal this year is to enhance the wellness of our students, and our planet, by providing globally adventurous, locally-sourced, wholesome, and delicious meals.”

Looking forward to next week’s opening, Cochrane wrote in an email, ”Our kids are coming! They are coming with their backpacks and binders. They are coming with their hopes and dreams. They are coming with their unique experiences, perspectives, and potential. And we will be here to welcome them.”

He added, “It is only through our collective efforts that we can fulfill our remarkable mission of ensuring that every one of our students is prepared with the knowledge, creativity, and compassion to truly lead a life of joy and purpose.”

He also pointed out that PPS was recently rated as the No. 1 school district in New Jersey and 17th in the nation by Niche, an independent organization that ranks and reviews schools, colleges, places to live, and places to work throughout the country.

“The rating is certainly a reflection of the care and commitment of our staff and students,” he said. “It is a reflection as well, however, of our desire as a district to continually improve. It is that desire, that sense of mission, that will motivate us in the year ahead.”