Friday, January 9, 2009

An Open Letter Concerning Hoboken High School

Recently the Board of Education, the Superintendent and I received numerous letters from concerned parents lobbying for more district attention being paid to Hoboken High School. The letters have been variations on a form letter the text of which I will include in italics. What follows is a constructed response that was sent to all of the concerned letter writers and I present it here both for the public's information as well as it's direct relevance to curriculum and instructional efforts underway at Hoboken High School.

Original Form Letter

Dear ------ ,

I am writing to add my voice to those in the community urging a greater focus on Hoboken High School.

I understand that there are many great programs available at Hoboken High School, however there is need and demand for additional improvements for current and future students.

Hoboken is fortunate to have so many great public and private choices for elementary school. Many strong middle school choices are available as well. What is missing in the District is a top rated, high performing community based high school. No matter what high school I eventually choose for my child, having a strong and academically competitive local high school would be a true asset to the community.

I have been in town for “x” years and have witnessed the improvements in the elementary schools while seeing the situation at the high school worsen over the same time. What amazes me most is that in “x” years of living here, the Hoboken BOE has spent money on many of the lower grade programs while nothing has been done at the high school outside of supporting the well-known, outstanding sports programs it provides.

I urge you and the Board of Education to apply the funding available for new curriculum initiatives to Hoboken High in support of providing this strong and academically competitive local high school

It is the right course of action for the current students, future students and the community at large!


Dear Parent and/or Concerned Citizen and the Hoboken Board of Education,

I am writing this note on behalf of Superintendent Raslowsky and myself in response to a number of recent letters centering on concern about the District’s commitment to Hoboken High School. Ideally, I would prefer to address each letter on an individual basis but since it appears from the text of the letters that some sort of “form letter” was utilized, I will reply in kind for sake of efficiency. Also, in order to make some attempt at respecting privacy, I have placed all e-mail addresses in the “blind copy” of this e-mail.

To begin, thank you for your concern and interest. I believe we are both in agreement that a top rated, high performing secondary school is in the best interest of our entire community. Getting to such a level takes a deliberate and systemic effort and the defining of such is also something I believe is often open to some interpretation.

Let me begin by articulating some programs currently underway at Hoboken High School. First, there is the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IB-MYP). This covers *all* students in Grades 9 and 10 and is the culmination for the entire IB MYP district initiative which includes Grades 5-10. In addition to the Middle Years Program, Hoboken High School also houses the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program for some students in Grades 11 and 12. For more detail, please see A fairly new aspect of the IB Diploma program has been the incorporation of the community project which has been receiving good feedback as an effective way of delivering interdisciplinary, project orientated academic work through community minded civic involvement (10th Grade). The district has dedicated funds for an IB coordinator with a national reputation (Ms. Kate Dominique) and has invested in both in-house and out of district professional development. For instance, during academic year 2007-2008 we had 4 professional development days within the district for school principals and during the summer sent principals and teachers to Princeton University for formal IB training. Additionally, a vast amount of the revised curriculum is being constructed in “MYP Format” to facilitate adoption and implementation.

A new program we’re especially excited about is the Student Press Initiative at Teachers College, Columbia University (SPI). Begun in the Fall of 2008, this program is designed to develop, foster, and promote writing across the curriculum through student publication. SPI is built upon the premise that writing for publication provides young people with authentic audiences. When students realize the power and potential of an audience of their peers and the community at large, writing becomes purposeful thereby inspiring them to produce their best work. We believe that when a young writer finds an audience, she will find her voice. This program inherits a long tradition and focus on writing from Teachers College with such innovations as the TC Writing Project. Please see for more details.

During academic year 2008-2009, Hoboken High School has initiated the Interdisciplinary Teaching Program. This program has been specifically designed to assist in the transition from 8th to 9th grade (in our district it is associated with a change of a physical school building). There is an emphasis on the 9th grade curriculum and in incorporating teaching across the disciplinary domains. In conjunction with this program which has included resources for professional development, planning time, and some supplies, there has been teaching reading groups which focus on the latest in curriculum design and theory (i.e. Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe).

Another new program begun in the Fall of 2008 is the Hoboken High School Media Arts program under the direction of Mr. Doug MacAulay. This program incorporates digital technologies (both video and audio) in assisting students with the formulation, creations, production, and reflection in utilizing multimedia to as an effective way of delivering interdisciplinary, project orientated academic work through community minded civic involvement. Many of the student productions (interviews with WWII veterans, film interpretation, animation) are incorporated into classes across the disciplines. One unexpected outcome—initially planned as primarily an extra-curricular or after school program, student interest has been so high we have added a third class to the existing course schedule in this inaugural year. Funds have been dedicated to this program in terms of hardware, software, and a dedicated teacher position.

At a time when the arts are being decimated across the country in public and private secondary schools, Hoboken High School has expanded it’s offerings. Beginning with this academic year (2008-09), we have added a Theater Arts program under the direction of Mr. Jared Ramos. Mr. Ramos is a Hoboken High School graduate as well as a Princeton University alum. Under Mr. Ramos’ leadership, Hoboken High School is now offering 5 electives in the area of Theater Arts responding to a solid demand from our students and families. In addition Hoboken High School has expanded the music program under the direction of Ms. Stephanie Safko. Classes are now offered in Music History and Music Appreciation as well as performance classes. We value academics very much but as a comprehensive non-selective public school we take seriously the notion of educating the full child in the arts, sciences and humanities.

In keeping with a similar pedagogical perspective, the Hoboken High School Emergency Response Team (ERT) is another example of an effective way of delivering interdisciplinary, project orientated academic work through community minded civic involvement. In this program, students take ERT as an elective course during "zero hour" (before the normal start time of school for most of the school) and earn credits toward graduation. The program incorporates health science education in a very real world and applied context. Ms. Melanie Kolmer is the faculty advisor to the group and has been doing an outstanding job. Recently this program received some recognition and will be part of a featured segment on WABC-TV. Please see for more details.

This year saw the creation of the District’s first Macintosh Lab (15 new desktop computers) with plans to expand the number of terminals to 30 by the end of 2009. This lab is well equipped for desktop publishing, digital editing, internet access, and a full component of productive software. In addition, we have and will be adding a number of peripherals (printers, cameras, scanners). We have provided funding for professional development and training and see this as a long term systemic commitment to raising the technological fluency for our students.

Within the past 6 months Hoboken High School was recognized by New Jersey Monthly as the second most improved high school in the State of New Jersey and by US News and World Report as a Bronze Award winner

To be clear, this recognition was unsolicited and we did not apply and did not make any modifications to appeal to any judging criteria. We are cautious of placing too much value on such awards and designations. Nonetheless, such independent, objective, and unsolicited recognition hopefully gives the community some comfort that the district is on a solid and well founded trajectory and that the future of Hoboken High School is on a positive path and not the “worsening” condition some have tried to insinuate.

Clearly, there are areas we would like to improve upon. Our standardized test scores would benefit from some improvement. But, I will point out to you that it would be difficult to find school where the percentage of students on free or reduced lunch (77%) who plan to go to college (over 80%). Also, the number of minority students taking the SAT’s at Hoboken High School is at least double the national average. We are making real progress at getting our students an education to prepare them for the next stage in their life. I can suggest readings to you published by the College Board which talk very frankly about the correlation of family income with SAT scores. It is for this reason that many colleges around the nation are reducing their focus on such standardized test scores. Nonetheless, it is an area I recognize in need of improvement.

Finally, the district administration has complete faith and trust in the vision of Dr. Loraine Cella as Principal of Hoboken High School and in her very competent staff. We have and will support her in her initiatives and will do whatever we are capable of doing in providing the resources (economic or otherwise) in leading Hoboken High School on what we believe is a very positive and exciting trajectory.

In conclusion, I have attempted to delineate initiatives underway at Hoboken High School and reasons why I am optimistic about its trajectory. We welcome you or anyone from the community to take part in a discourse that is both informed and responsible. But to begin that dialogue from a perspective that the district is not providing Hoboken High School with resources or has not in the recent past or that such resources have not been allocated well or attention has not been given is simply not accurate and I’m afraid may not be productive either in the short term and over the long run.

The Superintendent and I do not expect 100% agreement or lock step alignment with every initiative we propose or support—and we embrace sincerely the desire to contact our elected officials and to assemble to coordinate efforts people think are important. On behalf of the Superintendent, we welcome your comments and will continue with efforts we believe are in the best interests of the children and citizens of Hoboken. We appreciate your concern and your support in valuing public education.

Sincerely, -Dr. Petrosino

Ps Please periodically check in to for tracking the latest developments in Curriculum and Instruction within the Hoboken School District. I make every effort to document and be transparent in the projects, programs, and meetings taking place within the District that attempt to improve the educational experience of the children in our public schools. Many of the items I have referenced in this e-mail were posted on this blog weeks and sometimes months ago.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hoboken would be wise to eliminate the costly, elitist IB program and focus instead on offering a wide range of AP courses at the HS level.