By Barry Warner
“I have good news for your story from last year to this year. I came to the East Ramapo Central School District on November 2, 2015. The direction was to come to the district and to improve or to work with the staff, the community and school board to improve student achievement and the finances to make sure we were fiscally sound and academically strong and that is what my charge has been. To put systems in place so that our students, all 35,000 of them are prepared for college and careers. At that time the district had 8 of the 14 schools were in School Improvement. Now let us fast forward to this year. In January of 2019, all 12 of the elementary and middle schools were identified by the State Education Department as being in Good Standing. That is the tremendous celebration of the hard work of our staff, our students, our community and our Board. The celebration to be able to give the banner to our principals, our leadership teams to say that this school is a school in Good Standing and rated by the State Education Department is a tremendous blessing. We know and we’ve said since 2015, we’re demonstrating growth and now we must demonstrate proficiency or a score of 4 with a ‘growth mindset’. The two high schools that have not been rated in Good Standing yet, but we believe the graduation rate this year will demonstrate the fact that or students are definitely growing and developing and that they are college and career ready. In one high school we have 186 seniors, in that cohort, to receive college acceptance letters. That’s just in one high school and that is significant because we launched a process that all of our seniors must take the SAT or the ACT, have an acceptable grade point average, pass the regents exams, apply to a college and they have to have acceptable attendance and behavior in order to walk the stage at graduation. We believe that operating the 5 of 5 in this manner, our students have definitely put forth the effort to demonstrate growth, so our graduation rate overall for each high school will see an increase again this year. We won’t be satisfied until our graduation rate is 100 percent and that’s our goal” Dr. Deborah Wortham told the Rockland County Times.
Dr. Wortham continued, “The other thing I want to recognize are the students who have been successful in athletics and the arts. Our students were very successful in scoring and ranking at the highest in the nation. We have Anthony Harrison who ranked on a national level for shot put and numerous students who received national recognition and broke records on a state level and county-wide level as well. With the arts we have numerous students who have gone and performed on the state level and received awards we have not seen in many years. So our goal was to be a ‘triple A’ district in academics, athletics and the arts and we are demonstrating growth in those areas. If I sound excited this is a story that we planned when we went from 14 schools doing 14 different things in 2015, to working collaboratively with our staff, our administrators and working seamlessly between our buildings with a single mission and vision. We started our ‘Rise Up’ theme and it was a way to encourage and to build confidence in our students, in our staff that we could be rated as ‘good standing’. We believe in and embrace the ‘growth mindset’ as put forth by Carol Dweck, a noted Psychologist. A ‘growth mindset’ exists when you believe that you have the capacity to grow and develop and be willing to put forth the effort to achieve your goal. From Kindergarten through grade 12 with our staff we have conducted professional development to the understanding that our students have what it takes to ‘Rise Up’. In year 2, when we saw the growth, we said we are ‘Going All the Way Up’. In year 3, we said we are ‘Going All The Way Up and Beyond’. Our motivational mantra has come to fruition. We believe in the philosophy of efficacy, that we can develop, we can grow and we can achieve. On the other hand, a ‘fixed mindset’ is the indication that I can’t do it no matter how hard I try, I cannot be successful, so why try? The research says that students can develop with a ‘fixed mindset’ they attribute to a low IQ and we believe the contrary that all of our students ‘have what it takes’ to be successful and all of our teachers have the capacity together to come up with a strategy to help our students to succeed not only in the classroom, but the decisions that we make about the materials, the resources that we can use are based on our theory of action. The decisions that we make about how we saved our money, the courses that we select and put before our students are based on a ‘growth mindset’. In 2016, the community voted for the 58 million dollar 3-year bond for new windows, new boilers and new athletic fields for both high schools. Our budget passed this year on the first vote. We are grateful and we owe a debt of gratitude to the community for believing in us that we would use those funds with fidelity and spend accordingly and we have done just that. We shall work with our community members, discussing every aspect of the bond and we gave updates to the community on a monthly basis so everyone could see how we were moving forward. The Kakiat STEAM Academy that was a vision in 2015, now is a reality. The Academy consisted of grades 4, 5 and 6 and each year we added a grade, so now the Academy involves grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, so that school is in Good Standing.”
“We changed the culture to a ‘get smart culture’. We changed the atmosphere so that our students believe that through hard work they will develop and grow. That’s the significant piece. The beginning of our mission statement speaks to the community that is committed to teaching the whole child through a challenging learning environment. We have to get the graduation rate all the way up. One of the things we introduced this year is our app. In unifying the community we want to make sure that we are able to communicate in many different ways. We want our community to have access and exchange to the information, so the community members could download our free app (eastramapocsd) on their cell-phones and hear the latest school closings regarding inclement weather and not have to stay home to receive a ‘robocall’ and this is major. This has been a year in the making with the help of our staff and the staff at BOCES. We are talking about unifying the community in resources that we use so we can continue to get better, stronger and smarter. One of the major events that happened this year on May 31st when our band and Little Miracles show choir were asked to perform at the ‘My Brothers Keepers’ Summit in Albany, New York. Grace VanderWaal, winner of America’s Got Talent, donated thousands of dollars in support of the little Miracles Show Choir and donated 50 Ukuleles to the students. We took over 100 students to Albany and we received multiple standing ovations. This year we have 150 students registered for the marching band. To see the Commissioner and The Board of Regents stand and give our youngsters a standing ovation with over 1,000 people in the audience as the drum corps performed, it was outstanding. The amount of scholarship money for the 2019 graduates of Ramapo High School is over 9.5 million dollars. Over 200 college acceptance letters were provided to the guidance department for Ramapo High School from 133 different colleges. The salutatorian Gisele D. was accepted to 8 Ivy League colleges. 181 students graduated from Ramapo High School graduated with college credits. Ninety-five percent of students from Ramapo High School will be attending college, three percent will be working for one year and two percent will be entering the military. From our scholar athletes, Jordan Innison was named Rockland County wrestler of the year and Anthony Harrison placed thirteenth for shot put and third in the nation for Discus throwing. At least 10 students at Ramapo High School are playing collegiate sports. Marlena Pierre won the 2019 Metro Award for Stage Manager. That’s a first for the District and that is huge! The chorus and orchestra won a bronze medal in the NYSSMA competition for orchestra. Eleven seniors graduated from the Police Youth Academy. Spring Valley High School class of 2019 had over 5 million dollars in scholarships. 115 students have been accepted to 83 colleges for the Fall of 2019. From Spring Valley High School 70 students took college courses and 4 students will be entering the military. We have the Superintendent’s Student circle and we meet with select students every week during their lunchtime to give the student a voice. Those students have access to our Board members, can meet with members of our cabinet and explain the situations. Our community has voice and I am excited that through the years we have grown in the way we communicate. We have the Superintendent’s Community Circle made up of the leaders of all of the organizations in the community and one representative parent for each of the 14 schools, so the outreach makes sure that the information is delivered accurately and the parents and community has input so the system makes that happen. We also have a Teacher’s Circle and once a month I meet with one teacher from each school to make sure there is clear level of communication. That is important to me. We are coming together as a united front. Now, because we have evidence of growth, working hand in hand and moving forward, this year’s theme is: This is How We Do It.”