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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Visits West Caldwell Tech Campus

Carolyne Volpe Curley

Friday, November 29, 2013 • 2:26pm

WEST CALDWELL, NJ - U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited the Essex County West Caldwell Tech school, which has received a School Improvement Grant (SIG) for the last three years and a National Blue Ribbon Award in 2012. Duncan was welcomed on Nov. 21 by Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., the county's Vocational Technical School District Interim Superintendent Joseph Zarra, the school's Principal Chetram Singh, NJ State Senator Teresa Ruiz and members of the board of education who participated in a roundtable talk with students, teachers and parents. During the visit, the secretary discussed the school's considerably improved student performance on the math and language arts portions of the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA).

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US Secretary of Educatiom Arne Duncan Visits ECVTS West Caldwell Tech
Credit: Lauren Shears

West Caldwell Tech Test Scores Improve Significantly After School Improvement Grant (SIG)
The Federal Government awards the SIG to help under performing schools significantly raise student achievement. West Caldwell Tech has been noted for its improvement since 2003, when only 3 percent of the students passed the math portion of the HSPA and 9.1 percent passed the language arts portion. In 2004, zero percent of its students passed either section. Because the outcomes were so poor, West Caldwell Tech applied for and began receiving the SIG from the US Department of Education during the 2010-2011 school year. 

Over the last three years, West Caldwell Tech has received approximately 
$2.7 million in SIG funds. Because of the SIG, the following changes were incorporated at the school:

  • Extending the school day to 4 p.m., rather than the customary 3 p.m.
     
  • Creating a five-week summer school program to prepare freshmen entering the school
     
  • Providing laptop computers for every student in the school
     
  • Hiring educational consultants to provide training to veteran and novice teachers

In addition, the superintendent, principal and district administrative staff all meet weekly at West Caldwell Tech with members of the teaching staff to review school goals and review individual student's progress which allows for early intervention and specialized help to students.   

While zero percent of the students in 2004 passed the HSPA math and language exams, by 2010, scores improved significantly after the implementation of the SIG funded improvements. HSPA math scores rose from 63.1 percent passing in 2010 to 83.3 percent passing in 2013 and language arts scores rose from 69.5 percent passing in 2010 to 94.4 percent passing in 2013. In 2013, 75 percent of special education students passed the math HSPA and 90 percent passed the language arts HSPA as well.

"The example you are setting here is important to share with other educators," Duncan commented. "The SIG program has been criticized, but the results achieved at West Caldwell Tech show that the program is working and progress is being made. This has been an investment of talent, time and technology and it's remarkable to see what is happening." 

During the West Caldwell Tech visit, NJ Senator Teresa Ruiz visited Dr. Andrew's History class. 

Credit: Glen Frieson

Roundtable Discussion
Participating in the roundtable conversation with the secretary and county and school personnel were West Essex Tech students Nathania Hector and Hasan Sha, English teacher Jennifer Doss, science teacher Salvatore Lima, parents Joann Rodriguez and Diane Scz Panick and Supervisor of Program Accountability Bickram Singh. The discussion included the positive aspects of the school and the encouraging result of the SIG grant. 

"The improvement in our students' test scores has been tremendous, and would not have been achieved without our students, parents, teachers and staff committing themselves to this program and working their hardest. We thank Secretary Duncan for making time in his schedule to peek into our classrooms and meet with our stakeholders at West Caldwell Tech," commented Superintendent Zarra.

Essex County Vocational Technical School District  
West Caldwell Tech is the second school in the county's Vocational Technical School District to be named a Blue Ribbon School in the last four years; Essex County Bloomfield Tech was named a Blue Ribbon school in 2009. The school district was created in 1914 and is the state's oldest vocational school system and one of New Jersey's largest. The district has four high schools - Bloomfield Tech, Newark Tech, North 13th Street Tech and West Caldwell Tech - which all provide academic and technical instruction to 2,200 of the county's high school and adult students. Each school provide high level, state-of-the-art career and technical skill development and academic opportunities in over 29 career areas. 

"We are honored to welcome Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Essex County West Caldwell Tech," DiVincenzo said. "His visit places West Caldwell Tech back into the national spotlight and provides us with an opportunity to share our story of student achievement so that it can be used as an example to help other school districts." 

Further Information
Essex County's Vocational Technical Schools
School District Interim Superintendent Joseph Zarra
973-412-2069
Website  

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