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The Latest EMS News · 03 March 2023

2023 State of the School

EMS logo and text: State of the School Feb. 15, 2023

During The Elisabeth Morrow School’s sixth annual State of the School address on Feb. 15, 2023, Head of School Marek Beck shared our recent successes and spoke about his vision and goals for the future of EMS. To supplement the presentation, community members received advanced access to division and department highlights.

Also in advance of the event, the school invited community members to submit questions through a web form, which remained open through Feb. 17. Within the presentation, Dr. Beck addressed as many questions as possible. Below are responses to the questions that he did not have time to address during the event and those submitted after the event.

State of the School Q&A

Q: Is there a plan to bring back the school library and incorporate an art class into the weekly curriculum in Chilton House?

A: In Chilton House, our classrooms are literature-rich environments that will continue to have classroom libraries with rotating book selections that include a diverse range of literature, including fiction, non-fiction, picture, multicultural, and multiple languages, to name a few examples. In addition, family members are routinely invited to read with their child’s classroom.

Art instruction and experiences are a natural part of daily learning in our early-learning division. We introduced a new weekly specials class earlier this semester called El Estudio. It’s an innovative program embedding Spanish language into visual arts. Our students (2s and 3s/4s) learn Spanish organically through conversational language as they engage in thought-provoking arts experiences. In addition, the Little School art teacher, Sam Smithline, will provide instruction to our kindergarten students next year.

Q: Lexia sounds like an amazingly useful tool for reading support. Is there a way that parents can access this program at home to allow for more literacy practice outside of the classroom? If not, are there similar programs that you’d recommend that parents use at home to support reading learning, especially for children who may need extra support?

A: We sincerely appreciate this question and value the school-family partnership it demonstrates. Our teachers would love to partner with families to discuss their children’s particular needs and ensure that families have the most appropriate resources for extra support at home. Regarding specific online platforms, Lexia relies on a combination of in-person and online instruction and is therefore most effective when implemented in school.

To support your child’s reading development at home, data show that the simple act of reading with your child is most effective. Reading together supports cognitive development. When your child reads aloud with you, this helps them to practice the decoding skills they learn at school. When you read aloud to your child, this supports their development of language comprehension skills. Together, these simple but effective reading activities address both strands of Scarborough’s Reading Rope.

In addition, here are a few simple, everyday strategies that parents and caregivers can use:

  • Rather than focusing on the number of minutes read, parents are encouraged to focus on making it quality time. Engaging in dialogue before, during, and after reading helps build language comprehension skills. Adult readers can ask questions such as, What do you think the character will do next? What would you do if you were in this situation? Can you connect to the story in any way? Does it remind you of another book we’ve read together?
  • Little School students often work on sight words. Sight words are high-frequency words that are recognized instantly without sounding them out. Recognizing words by sight helps readers become faster, more fluent readers. Many sight words are tricky to read and spell since they are not spelled the way they sound. As a strategy, have your child point them out at the end of each page.
  • To support decoding skills, reinforce the skill that your child is working on at school. For example, students can identify all words with a short u or all words with a -tion ending.
  • Responding to reading in writing also helps with skill building. Younger readers can create mini-books using words from a story they read while older students can keep a reader’s journal at home.

Q: I learned that some higher-grade EMS students attended AMC [American Mathematics Competition] 8. Does EMS have any special interest group for math-inclined kids that helped to prepare for the math contest?

A: The American Mathematics Competitions (AMC) are the first of a series of competitions in secondary school mathematics that determine the United States team for the International Mathematical Olympiad. Through these competitions, students apply classroom learning to unique problem-solving challenges in a low-stress and friendly environment. There are three levels:

  • AMC 8 (students under age 14.5 in grades 8 and below)
  • AMC 10 (students under age 17.5 in grades 10 and below)
  • AMC 12 (students under age 19.5 in grades 12 and below)

All EMS students can opt into the AMC 8 and AMC 10, and they have historically performed well. Last year, our students’ hard work resulted in two national rankings on the AMC 8, with one in the top 5% and one in the top 1%.

In addition to the AMC, all students in Morrow House participate in the Continental Math League, a national problem-solving competition requiring each student to complete timed written tests. It takes place once a month for five months, starting in November. There are six challenging word problems on each test. Mathematical and reading skills are improved for students participating.

While we don’t offer test prep for the exams during class, we do have a student-led math club. Morrow House students can also pursue interests like mathematics during their personalized learning time.

Prior to entering Morrow House, Little School students follow the rigorous Math in Focus curriculum, which has a built-in enrichment program that teachers incorporate when they see opportunities to provide extra challenges. In addition, the fourth-grade teachers use a program called Beast Academy, helping advanced math students become skilled problem solvers as they engage in work well above their grade level.

Q: What capital projects does EMS need to do, and wish to do, at the present time? Are funds available for either, or both, of the necessary and discretionary projects?

A: The Administration and Buildings and Grounds Committee is currently engaged in a review of the Campus Master Plan. Projects within this plan support both existing EMS programs and anticipated campus needs. While we are continually evaluating current projects, planning for this summer includes the following:

  • We are developing plans to create a state-of-the-art innovation lab, the Morrow House STEAM center, which will be equipped with the hardware, software, and physical space to support the growth of STEAM programming in Morrow House.
  • We will begin Phase 3 of our network upgrades. This includes a core equipment replacement in Little School, where we will install modern, high-speed devices to take better advantage of the new fiber optic cabling installed during Phase 1, which quadrupled our internet communications bandwidth.
  • We are evaluating potential upgrades and opportunities to optimize space allocations across the campus. This process will identify immediate-term projects and frame larger-scale transformative projects that will position EMS for the future.

Funding for projects comes from several sources. Annual funding in the plant renewal budget addresses deferred and modernization needs. At times, project-specific fundraising is used to implement improvements.

Q: Can EMS coordinate logistics for parents to drop off and pick up kids in one location instead of multiple car lines?

A: Families who have children in both Little School and Morrow House have been invited to participate in an EMS sibling carline pilot program that began on Feb. 22. We are additionally planning to pilot a Little School and Chilton House sibling carline and are reviewing the logistics and workflows required for launch.

Q: What progress has been made on the school’s green initiatives (particularly solar roof panels, composting, the school’s gardening efforts, etc.)?

A: Sustainability is an important part of EMS operations. In the past year, EMS reviewed opportunities to install solar panels on campus. Unfortunately, our campus and buildings have significant shading and structural limitations that prevent us from supporting extensive systems. We are finding entry points into our curriculum so our green initiatives can become hands-on learning opportunities for our students. Our students will build their skills gained through our STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, mathematics) curriculum while becoming stewards of our community.

Reducing carbon emissions is also in focus. We recently completed a Morrow House heating replacement project, removing seven steam and hot water boilers and replacing them with a centralized high-efficiency hot water system. We have been able to reduce our carbon footprint by lowering operating temperatures and decreasing natural gas consumption.

With our food service committee, comprised of faculty, staff, administrators, and parents/caregivers — and with ad hoc representation from students — we are working to eliminate disposable plastic use on campus. Our lunch vendor, Yay Lunch, provides food in 100% compostable containers with PET lids. Paper bags and adhesive labels are also 100% compostable, and we have backup bamboo utensils on hand for students who forget to pack their own. We are also working with Waste Management to implement a compost service this year. EMS has also applied for and received a $1,000 grant from Bergen County Utility Authority for funding a campus garden composter.

Our green initiatives extend to our curriculum, as well. From Chilton House to Morrow House, the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals play an important role in education at EMS as we equip students with the knowledge, skills, attributes, and values necessary to help address our interconnected global challenges. Importantly, these values are not only taught but lived daily across our community.

Q: Can you please tell us about each of the different Board of Trustee committees and what success looks like for each committee in 5 to 10 years? What are their main long-term planning goals?

The Elisabeth Morrow School is governed by a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees who plans, develops, and establishes policy, and assesses the performance of the school in regard to its mission and philosophy. The Board also oversees the school’s financial health and physical plant, setting tuition and initiating capital campaigns. The Board is additionally responsible for the selection of the head of school, who is charged with the implementation of policy and the day-to-day operations of the school.

There are eight board committees: the Executive Committee, Finance Committee, Buildings and Grounds Committee, Development Committee, Momentum Projects Committee, Enrollment and Marketing Committee, Committee on Trustees, and Mission Effectiveness Committee.

Each committee’s goals and success are tied to the outcomes of the strategic plan. This spring, the head of school will work with the board of trustees to outline the process for developing the school’s next strategic plan. They will evaluate our progress toward the 2017–2023 Strategic Plan goals and then begin identifying our highest priorities for the coming years in alignment with our vision for the future of EMS. They will also take into account the unpredictable challenges around COVID-19, inflation, a possible recession, supply chain concerns, etc.

Q: Would EMS be open to setting up setting security infrastructure (metal detectors/scanners, etc.) to prevent gun violence in our community? Or, if this is not logistically possible, what could EMS do to potentially mitigate this risk?

A:  Wondering about the effectiveness of metal detectors/scanners, Abigail Hankin, M.D., M.P.H., Marci Hertz, M.S., and Thomas Simon, Ph.D. reviewed 15 years of research and wrote in the Journal of School Health that “there is insufficient data to say whether the presence of metal detectors in schools reduces the risk of violent behavior among students,” and some research additionally suggests that “the presence of metal detectors may detrimentally impact student perceptions of safety.” Although metal detectors and scanners may not be appropriate for EMS, the safety and security of our campus community are paramount, and we have numerous procedures in place to prevent violence in school.

Our dedicated facilities and operations personnel oversee our campus safety and security and maintain a relationship with local law enforcement, often visible on campus while on routine area patrols. We evaluate our campus safety protocols continuously with professional consultants and in partnership with local law enforcement.

The campus has a surveillance camera network that monitors key exterior areas, entry spaces, and heavily trafficked and less visible areas. Facilities staff and key administrators with system access regularly monitor camera activity during the day.

A new ID Badging/Access Card system was implemented in January 2023, requiring all faculty, staff, and administrators to wear visible EMS ID badges at all times when on campus. Visitor badging is provided and required to be worn by scheduled and authorized visitors. This system ensures all EMS community members can quickly and easily identify adults authorized to be on campus. Besides being a visible signal, faculty and staff badges allow movement between campus buildings through locked entryways. Badges are scanned daily into the SchoolPass system, so we always have up-to-date information for accountability during any on-campus emergency.

Visitor Management systems deployed during the pandemic remain in place for all visitors to the campus for screening visitors against a national sex offender database. All visitors to campus are scheduled in advance, and in most cases, unplanned visits, including food deliveries, are not permitted during school hours.

Planning for building upgrades and renovations includes consideration of entry area security, intrusion-resistant systems, and access control.

Q: How is EMS working to retain teachers?

A: Teacher retention is a national issue. Stress, increased demands on their time and energy, salary, and safety are all considerations. At The Elisabeth Morrow School, our goal is to create a joyous, positive, and inspiring work environment where every teacher feels valued and is part of a high-performing, collaborative team of professional educators. Our top priority is to retain faculty who are mission-aligned and demonstrate the 4 C’s in how they engage with every member of the community.

At EMS, teacher compensation falls between 75–90% of all teachers in NJAIS (the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools). The faculty as a whole is offered ongoing high-quality professional development opportunities on campus, as well as off-site opportunities on an individual basis, personalized to their needs. EMS teachers are empowered to create curriculum and are provided with leadership opportunities to facilitate workshops on campus and be featured presenters at larger conferences across the state and country.

Additional Questions

Dr. Beck welcomes and encourages community members to contact him if they are interested in meeting one-on-one.

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