The Pascack Valley Regional High School District is working with the local K-8 districts from its four towns to better coordinate curriculum and staff development through a new Regional Curriculum Office which opened this past summer.
The first big project the office is undergoing is the development of a new K-12 social studies curriculum to be used at schools in all four towns, according to Regional Curriculum Office Director Dr. Barry Bachenheimer. The goal of the project is to ensure all students finish at the same point each year, while stil giving the districts leeway in how they operate.
"We didn't want a high school operating separately, nor the four districts operating separately," Bachenheimer said. "The purpose is not to make everybody walk in lockstep. We don't want to take away individual districts' creativity with the way they teach."
School officials decided to look at the social studies curriculum first because of a change to the state's common core standards. The subject is not currently on standardized tests, but will be in the future, according to Bachenheimer.
"We're not under the gun so much, so we can really spend some time developing a curriculum that's valuable for our students," Bachenheimer said.
The new social studies curriculum is being written by a committee of teachers from all five districts, according to Bachenheimer. It is expected to be in place for next September.
Bachenheimer told Patch that the districts have been discussing ways to better coordinate their curriculum and staff development for several years.
There have been some differences in student performance on standardized tests in each town, according to data from the New Jersey Department of Education.
Woodcliff Lake and Montvale had greater percentages of eighth grade students score as "advanced proficient" on the NJASK test in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years than Hillsdale and River Vale. In math and science, Woodcliff Lake also had greater percentages of advanced proficient eighth grade students and fewer "proficient" and partial proficient" students than the three other towns in both years.
Pascack Valley Superintendent P. Erik Gundersen told Patch he hopes the regional office will "develop, implement and ultimately expose all students to a similar curriculum that will prepare them equally for their experience in high school."
As the regional office moves forward, they will also be working on a new curriculum for math and language arts, among other subjects.
While the curriculum changes will take some time before the effects show, the regional office is also affecting local classrooms in a more direct way, Bachenheimer said. Melissa Signore, the new regional instruction and curriculum coach, has been observing teachers in all four towns and providing feedback to help improve reading and writing programs. Teachers from all the districts have also been participating in professional development together.
"Because she's not an adminsitrator, I think the pressure is off teachers a little bit," Bachenheimer said. "They're not being evaluated, she's simply there to help get them better at their craft."