Bloomfield principals speak about the new programs ahead

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — With Bloomfield schools now open, faculty and students are about to embrace new ways of teaching and learning. According to Superintendent Salvatore Goncalves, a key element in the curriculum will be the student’s social and emotional development. Each elementary school principal was interviewed in their office last week about programs new to their school and the district, but also on continuing special programs. Their responses were not meant to be comprehensive and student populations for the coming year were estimated.

John Baltz is starting his ninth year as principal at Carteret Elementary. He said the school had about 380 students.
“The biggest initiative we have is ‘Breakfast Before the Bell,’” he said. “All students will receive breakfast after they enter the school at 8:30.”

The breakfast will consist of a nutrition bar, fruit and milk.
There is also a social/emotional learning program, or SEL, at the school for sixth-graders.
“It teaches students to take responsibility for their own learning and own actions,” Baltz said. “When students have ownership of what they learn, they retain more and learn better. This is definitely a shift in the mindset for our teachers. It gives students ownership of what they’ll learn and how.”

Baltz said his teachers were given professional development at the end of last year to learn the program. They will implement it at their own pace.

“The SEL program is being initiated districtwide in the sixth grade,” he said. “The teacher has to set the groundwork. Critical skills to be learned include positive interaction with others, positive relationships and students taking responsibility for their actions and learning.”
New staff members at the school are special-education teachers Monica Evangelista and Alyssa Wenstrom.
Baltz said he hopes “Breakfast After the Bell” translates into increased achievement in the classroom.

At Berkeley, Principal Natashia Baxter said that during this coming December, March and June, there would be an “infusion of writing celebrations” for first- to sixth-graders. Various forms of writing will be explored, such as narrative and interpretive, and students will read their compositions for an audience of parents.

The entire school will also have a playdate. Last year kindergarteners had two of these opportunities to engage with classmates. But this year, one of the playdates will be schoolwide.
“This year we’re all about building relationships and making new friends,” she said. “We decided there was a need for another playdate to target the new students.

The kindergarten-only playdate was Thursday, Aug. 29. On Saturday, Sept. 7, the entire school will have a playdate during the kickoff for “Breakfast After the Bell,” the nutrition program.

Baxter also said security cameras will be placed inside and outside the school. In a previous statement, Goncalves said the cameras would transmit a live feed to the Bloomfield Police Department and will not be placed inside classrooms.

Planning has already begun for another Disney-supported musical at Berkeley. This is the second year the school will be staging a production funded by the entertainment giant. Casting is open to third- to fifth-graders and sixth-graders may participate as stagehands. The show, scheduled for the spring, will be directed by fifth-grade teacher Marialisa Montgomery. Professional instructors from NJPAC will assist.

New teachers at Berkeley this year are Natalie Covello, first grade; Rachel Estrada, second grade; Daria Georgatos, fourth grade; Laura Wiesner, fourth grade; Shannon Kirsch, sixth grade; Moquiez Headley, guidance; and Kayla Drust, special education.
“My biggest challenge will be working toward a mission and moving the instruction forward with the new teachers,” Baxter said, who is in her fifth year at the school.

Berkeley has approximately 440 students at this time.
At Demarest, Marie Hardenberg is the new principal. She mentioned the districtwide initiative to provide all sixth-graders with a Chromebook. Hardenberg expects the students to be able to take them home by midyear.

Another districtwide initiative, Hardenberg said, is the Wigman Program, named for a child killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Sixteen students will be trained to run friendship activities. The grade level of the students has not been determined yet.

“They will facilitate activities with the teachers,” she said.
Teachers will be trained for the program this month and students in October. Three Demarest teachers are responsible for the training: Jen Beesley, guidance; Melissa Manzueta, kindergarten; and Dana LaBattaglia, fourth grade.

Teachers new to the school are Shannon Pericone, third grade; Johanna Castellanos, fifth grade; Michael Vernotica, kindergarten, from Fairview; and Alexandra Juzwiak, third grade special education, to be shared with Berkeley.
“I’m new,” Hardenberg said. “That’s a big adjustment for everybody.”

Hardenberg said she grew up in Belleville and went to East Orange Catholic High School. She attended Villanova University for accounting and later Montclair State University for her teaching certification and her master’s in teaching and early childhood inclusion. She has taught in Verona, Totowa, Little Falls and Roseland. For three years she was the principal at Woodland Elementary School in Morristown. The school had about 300 students. Hardenberg has four children of her own and explained why she quit accounting.

“When I was home with my children, I fell in love with school,” she said. “I was a very active parent. I firmly believe the early years are the foundation for all learning. So I gave up accounting and went back to school to become a teacher.
“I love being in a classroom,” she continued. “But as a principal you work with teachers. I felt I was ready to be challenged working with other teachers to help more children. I really enjoy when I can sit around a table with teachers and discuss how we can reach kids and what other styles of teaching can we use.

“Being a principal also gives me an opportunity to work with more parents and the community to help the children.”
Hardenberg said there were just under 500 students at Demarest.

“The challenge is to get to know all of them,” she said. “It’s important to get to know who they are. My goal is that they know my face and that they can come to me as an adult to share things, in addition to their teachers, and that I also hold them accountable for their good behavior and learning. They’re my kids. It’s a big challenge and a big step. In a short time, I’ve learned that Demarest is a big family.”

At Watsessing, “Breakfast After the Bell” will be initiated.
“Research shows eating breakfast enhances performance,” Principal Gina Rosamilia said. “I hope it improves attendance. Every kid when they come through the door will have breakfast.”

She said breakfast will be a protein bar, fruit and milk.
Watsessing will also be one of four Bloomfield schools in a five-year program addressing student behavior. The program is known as Positive Behavior Support in Schools, or PBSIS. It is sponsored by the NJ Department of Education and funded and facilitated by Rutgers University.

“A consultant from Rutge
rs will come to the school and with the PBSIS team address behaviors that may interfere with learning,” Rosamilia said. “A lot of children have concerns with social and emotional development. The program will promote positive social behavior. It’s a five-year commitment with much professional development.”

The Watsessing PBSIS team consists of Rosamilia, Athena Giordano, Elena Kazoun, Pam Catalono, Monika Martin and Amanda Eineker. The program includes documentation and intervention. Franklin, Fairview and Brookdale elementary schools are also in the program.
Three special-education teachers will join the Watsessing staff: Melissa Khan, Kimberly Ryan and Brittany Campbell, who transferred from Oak View.

District guidance counselors will be implementing a new K-3 curriculum for social and emotional development, Rosamilia said. Students having a more active role in how they are taught is in the forefront of teaching, according to a number of the principals interviewed. A question for district teachers, Rosamilia said, was how a student-driven classroom supports emotional and social learning.

At Watsessing, there will also be a pilot program for K-1 phonics. The school has approximately 330 students. Rosamilia has been the principal since 2011. Prior to that she was the Carteret Elementary School principal for 11 years.

Brookdale Principal Lauren Barton said her PBSIS team consists of herself, Ellen Luca, Katie Wax, Lauren Kelly, Suzanne Gaccione, Lisa Gallagher and Amanda Peco.

“The premise of PBSIS is to help schools build systems of support,” Barton said. “I think it will help put continuous support in place for the entire student population. Our kids continually grow and change. In this society, they bring things that continually change. We want the supports in place for them to be successful.”

She also mentioned the Wigman program.
“It’s a student-centered approach with different student leaders,” she said. “The students do the teaching of awareness, empathy, leadership and team building. I hope to have it implemented by November with students working with one particular grade level to support social and emotional learning skills. It’s been around for years, but the way the world is, that’s the buzz — social and emotional learning.”

New teachers at Brookdale are Madeline Farrey, fifth grade, and Gerand Benati, second grade; neither is fully new to the school though, each having substituted last year.

“Both did maternity leaves last year,” Barton said.
Also, Jessica Dwyer, a special education teacher who was hired in March, and Elisa Meranchik, who will teach Krista Diorio’s kindergarten for seven weeks.

This is Barton’s third year as Brookdale principal. The school has about 350 students.

Mary DiTrani will be starting her ninth year as Oak View Elementary principal after having been Watsessing principal for two years.
She said there will be a new, districtwide social studies curriculum for grades K-3 called “Young Citizens” and a new, districtwide science program for sixth-graders. Sixth-graders will also be given Chromebooks.

“Everyone from sixth to 12th grade will have a Chromebook,” DiTrani said. “That’s an amazing accomplishment. I have to credit the superintendent. That was all him.”

She said the sixth-graders will begin to take their computers home in January.
At Oak View, this will be the second year of #choosekindness.

“Throughout the year, we recognize children for excellent character traits,” DiTrani said. “Through our guidance department, students learn about the program. At Oak View, during the year, children who are ‘caught’ demonstrating those traits are rewarded at a bagel breakfast every month.”

Two children from each of the school’s 19 classes are invited to the special breakfast. The students’ exemplary qualities are noted by their teachers and read by DiTrani.

There are also two buddy programs at the school. One has a kindergartener paired with a sixth-grader and twice a month they spend time together. The other program has fifth-graders paired with applied behavioral analysis students to improve their social skills.
New staff members at Oak View are Theresa Santinelli and Vanessa Ilardi. Both are special education teachers.

“I have to give credit to the teachers who came in on their own time to prepare classrooms and the custodians who helped out,” DiTrani said. “We’re all looking forward to a great year.”

Marianne Abbasso has been the Franklin Elementary School principal for 10 years. She counted 356 registered students last week. An initiative at the school, which had a trial run last year, is called “Flash Program” and involves K- through sixth-grade students. It will continue this year.

“Each teacher picks four students that require academic support,” Abbasso said. “After school, three days a week, the teacher does extra work with them. It involves every teacher and about 40 minutes of work each day. Parents don’t pay for it; it’s free.”
Her school was also approved for PBSIS.

“This is to address behavioral issues with students, take data and have interventions with parents,” she said. “The hope is that the disciplinary problems in your school become less and you have more positive involvement.”

Behavioral problems would include bullying, being disrespectful to classmates or teachers and being disruptive. Abbasso’s PBSIS team will include herself, guidance counselor Stephen Untisz and about four teachers.
The principal is also excited about her sixth-graders having Chromebooks.
“It will be a great tool to enhance the curriculum,” she said.

There will be one new staff member at Franklin: Alyssa Stango, a fifth-grade, special education teacher.
“We’re very thankful to the board of education and the facilities department,” Abbasso said. “We got new fencing and they did a lot of work inside.”

Ginamarie Mignone is starting her third year as Fairview principal. The school has about 520 students. She spoke about PBSIS.
“It’s a tiered intervention centered on being proactive instead of reactive,” she said. “It’s focused on positive behavior, so that problems don’t happen to begin with.”

Mignone will be meeting with the coach from Rutgers this month. She spoke about SEL.
“It’s about children taking ownership of what they learn and being given choices of what they’re learning,” she said. “It could be as simple as sitting where they want to sit or choosing your learning partner.”

Mignone is continuing an initiative at Fairview: a “book club” among her teachers.
“We’ll be reading ‘Mindset,’ by Carol Dweck,” she said.

Mignone said Bloomfield Middle School Principal Alla Vayda-Manzo presented the book at a meeting.
“I thought it was pretty good,” she said. “The thought behind the book is that there is a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe your basic abilities can be developed.”

Mignone said a teacher with a growth mindset will compliment a child for the effort they make rather than the results from that effort.
“I try to do a book every year,” she said. “We haven’t met about this book yet. I don’t think this is a one-shot deal. I think we can roll it over to next year.”

There is also a principal’s “Book of the Month” at Fairview. Each book has a character-based theme and the entire school reads the same book. The theme is to be explored by the class during the month.

“The first theme is about goal setting based on the book ‘There,’” she said. “The students will create vision boards, a visual of what their goals are. The children started them over the summer and they’ll be hung in the classrooms and can be revised. It ties into a growth mindset.”

New staff members will be Grace Salvatoriello, office clerk; Kyle Cottrell, music teacher; Karen Magliacano, language arts, from Demarest; and Jillian Savastano, special needs, from Watsessing.