Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shooting at University of Texas

To all those concerned-- I'm ok. I'm a few miles from campus. Let's hope for the best for everyone else. 1 gunman dead. Seems he was a student at the University. An AK-47 was recovered. -Dr. Petrosino

Tanks, helicopters, armed SWAT teams all around...

Ironically, a lecture was planned on campus today entitled More Guns, Less Crime.

The latest official news:


I am grateful to our campus community for the way it responded to the emergency that took place at Perry-CastaƱeda Library this morning. The University Police Department and the Austin Police Department responded quickly and professionally. Law enforcement teams from multiple agencies worked together to ensure that the entire campus was safe.

I want to thank our faculty, staff, and students for their cooperation and vigilance. Our emergency communications system reached thousands of members of the University community promptly and helped keep the campus informed.

I extend my sympathy to the family, friends, and classmates of the young student who took his life. In the days ahead we will attempt to understand his actions and to learn from this tragedy. We invite those who would like counseling services to contact the Counseling and Mental Health Center (for students) or the Employee Assistance Program (for staff and faculty).

I know that this has been a stressful experience for everyone on the campus. I appreciate the cooperation we received from students, faculty, staff, and their families in responding to this difficult situation.


Bill Powers

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A back-to-school welcome to all- Letter to Hoboken Reporter

The following letter was submitted and printed in the Hoboken Reporter on September 12, 2010 and can be viewed directly by clicking HERE. Ms. Mitchell was always a very active parent whose commitment to the public schools, it's students and it's teachers was greatly appreciated by all those involved in the Hoboken Public Schools. I had the pleasure of having her involved on a number of committees and she was always a thoughtful and articulate advocate for the children of the public schools. It's great to see her gain increased recognition and establish herself as a Board member with her own unique voice and perspective.
-Dr. Petrosino

Dear Editor:

…The most wonderful time of the year.” Many parents smile at this annual “Staples” TV commercial. I always loved the beginning of a school year – catching up with old friends, meeting new friends, the anticipation of new challenges. I cannot believe my son begins eighth grade, and I am elated he is going to Hoboken High School.

As a new trustee of the Hoboken Board of Education, I feel a special kind of excitement - the promise of an outstanding new year for the students of the district. There will be many friendly faces to greet them. Although there were recent retirements, many veteran and experienced teachers, staff, and administrators are returning to devote their talents to the children of Hoboken.

A special welcome to Mr. Reilly, who is taking the helm at Wallace – the district’s largest elementary school. Mr. Joy, the interim principal for Hoboken High School has returned. He has made outstanding improvements to the educational programs and facility in his short time with us. Three specialized educational consultants (Language Arts, Mathematics, and Special Education) offer direct, in-classroom support to the teaching staff. Ms. Coppola, formerly from Wallace School, is the new director of the popular Early Childhood Program.

We welcome Laurinda Pereira, the new principal at Connors, and Dr. Anzul, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Personnel. Fresh faces also include new music teachers at Connors, Calabro, and Hoboken High School, a new math teacher at the high school, a new Spanish teacher at Connors and new counselors and social workers throughout the district. We wish them all a successful year!

What is new and exciting for the students? The One-to-One Laptop Program will be starting for seventh and eighth graders, along with a professional development component for the staff. This season, the Rockin’ Redwings Band will be sporting new uniforms. Every classroom in the high school has been fitted with air conditioning units. The eighth graders have moved into the high school building. This change will provide the students access to a variety of programs, clubs, and challenging courses not accessible to them previously. For example, Algebra I for eighth grade returns, which was missing from the district for two years. The High School will be offering Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which parents were requesting for years.

Most importantly, many of the programs and improvements mentioned come at no cost to the district; instead, they utilize grants or gifts solicited by our administrative staff. We are especially grateful to Hoboken resident Eli Manning, whose generosity enabled the high school to acquire additional Smart Boards, LCD Projectors, design software, and other electronic equipment.

There will be many new friends joining the students, as enrollment has increased throughout the district. I am offering a warm welcome to the families, new and returning, and especially the students. It is going to be a great year. Study hard and have fun!

Jean Marie Mitchell

Hoboken Board of Education Trustee

Read more:
Hudson Reporter - A back to school welcome to all

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Governor Proposes to Slash Pension Benefits, Increase Health Costs for Public Workers- Teachers

Desperate to take headlines away from his $400 million error on the Race to the Top funding application, Governor Christie took to a familiar tactic this week: Attack public employees.

That included a devastating attack on the retirement benefits of current workers, unveiled Tuesday. For members in PERS, which covers most workers represented, Christie’s proposal is a 9% cut in benefit level for all future service by adjusting the benefit formula to age 65 (currently it is 55). For PERS workers with fewer than 25 years of service, Christie proposes increasing the age for retirement eligibility to 65 (currently 62), increasing eligibility for early retirement to 30 years of service (currently 25), increasing the early retirement penalty to 3% for each year (currently 1%), and calculating the benefit level using the average salary of the highest five years (currently 3). Christie also proposes to increase the employee contribution rate for all employees to 8.5% of salary (currently 5.5%) and eliminating all future annual cost of living adjustments. In addition, Christie proposed requiring all active and retired employees to pay 30% of their health costs (roughly 8% now). The proposed changes will affect more than 780,000 current employees and retired workers in the pension systems — including judges, teachers, state workers and firefighters.

New Jersey is the only state in the nation that treats its pension payments as optional, and Christie refused to put a penny into the pension fund this year and won’t commit to putting a single penny in next year. Attacking workers won’t solve the fundamental problem with the pension fund, which is the fact that the state isn’t putting any money into it..

The biggest cuts in benefits under the proposal would be to workers in the PERS system, even though benefits to PERS employees are the least generous benefits and the least expensive to the state. The cuts are illegal—workers with more than five years in the system in New Jersey have a non-forfeitable right to their pension benefits, meaning the governor and the legislature can’t legislate those benefits away. Legal action will be forthcoming.

Recall, the federal government recently found NJ guilty of not fraud and not properly funding it's pension system. In fairness, this is something Christie inherited. The "New Jersey pension bubble" has been building over the last decade and possibly longer. Stock-market losses, a growing public workforce and billions in skipped payments by the state have led to an estimated shortfall of $46 billion, which represents the difference between how much New Jersey has pledged to its public workers for retirement payments and how much it has saved in investments. The gap in health care costs is $67 billion.

picture: Cobblestone street along Willow Terrace, Hoboken, NJ.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Story on former Superintendent Raslowsky in Jersey Journal- His life is shaped by academic calendars

The following article appeared in The Jersey Journal and was written by Rev. Alexander M. Santora, the pastor of The Church of Our Lady of Grace & St. Joseph in Hoboken, NJ. You can reach Rev. Santora at: padrealex@yahoo.co. Raslowsky (middle of picture on left), a Hoboken native, raised QSAC scores in the Hoboken School district from failing to excelling in a little over 2 years. While he was Superintendent (April 2007-August 2009), Hoboken High School became the 2nd most improved high school in New Jersey according to the August 2008 NJ Monthly and was awarded Bronze Medal awards in consecutive years by US News and World Report (2008, 2009). He also initiated the nationally known research based "Tools of the Mind" preschool-Kindergarten program and facilitated the broadcasting of Board of Education meetings for the first time ever. In addition, he reduced the number of administrators in the district by 25% during his tenure. Unfortunately for the Hoboken Public Schools, Raslowsky's educational leadership, expertise, and vision often conflicted with the political agenda of the Kids First Board of Education members and many of their supporters. -Dr. Petrosino

Since 1966, when John (Jack) Raslowsly II entered kindergarten at the old Hoboken P.S. 8, he has not missed an opening day of school in September.

In fact, his life has been shaped by academic calendars.

First it was for his own schooling, and now it's as the first lay president of Xavier High School in Manhattan, a prestigious Jesuit Catholic institution founded in 1847.

He did not admit to a restless night before the opening of school as many do, but certainly he has more to worry about than what to wear.

Starting his second year in the position, Raslowsky oversees a budget of $14 million, over a 1,000 students and a staff of 100. But rather than worry about business matters, Raslowsky sees his main role very specifically, "There is an ongoing thing to make sure we are as distinctively Jesuit and Catholic as we can be."

And few laymen can say that with as rich a background as Raslowsky. Not only in his personal life, but he has had wide experiences in Catholic education since graduating from the University of Vermont.

He first taught at the legendary St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City and then moved a few blocks east to his alma mater, St. Peter's Prep, where he taught for two years and eventually returned to become the first lay principal from 1992 to 2003.

During these years, the Jesuits, with fewer priests to run and staff their schools, emphasized lay partnership and programs to educate lay staffs on fostering Jesuit ideals, especially in their vast array of schools in the U.S.

Raslowsky was in the forefront. "It was a concern of the old Society, cura personalis, care for the person," said Raslowsky, that under-girded this modern direction.When he left the Prep, he went to work in the Provincial's office of the New York Province of the Jesuits to directly oversee these efforts.

First as the assistant for lay formation and then the provincial assistant for secondary and pre-secondary education, Raslowsky was the first layman to hold this post.

This put him on the boards of schools from Buffalo to Jersey City, had him meeting with administrators, faculty and staff and advising the Provincial on high school matters.

Then he stepped outside Catholic education to take the helm of his hometown Hoboken public school system for two years. "I liked the challenge of new work," said Raslowsky, who also described the job as "complicated."

"The politics in the town are still unsettled," said Raslowsky, who left for Xavier after two years of his four-year contract because of the possibilities that attracted him. He does not regret it.

He sees his job as "to make the mission come alive" by securing the resources to do the educational, spiritual and physical that are part of any Catholic school community. He was particularly excited about the first physical expansion of Xavier in over 100 years.

They are selling air rights to a building they own in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan across from the school. The new building will give Xavier six floors of space to expand their programs.

He also has to raise $6 million at the outset, but he sees more returns for the school down the road. Annual giving from alumni and others tops $2.6 million and their tuition alone is $12,500 per student.

Raslowsky describes his job as 24/7 but he said he tries, "to keep holy the Sabbath," not only for his own mental health but also to care for his four children. Three study at St. Francis Academy in Union City, where his wife, Sarah, teaches.

The one "disappointment" is that his oldest child, John, will commute across the Hudson River for high school, but not to Xavier. He will attend the prestigious Regis High School in upper Manhattan, the only Jesuit high school in the U.S. to award scholarships to the entire student body. Now the biggest dilemma for Raslowsky is which school to root for at athletic events.

©2010 Jersey Journal

© 2010 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

From the NY Times Septmeber 7, 2009 by BENEDICT CAREY

Every September, millions of parents try a kind of psychological witchcraft, to transform their summer-glazed campers into fall students, their video-bugs into bookworms. Advice is cheap and all too familiar: Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. Do not bribe (except in emergencies).

And check out the classroom. Does Junior’s learning style match the new teacher’s approach? Or the school’s philosophy? Maybe the child isn’t “a good fit” for the school.

Such theories have developed in part because of sketchy education research that doesn’t offer clear guidance. Student traits and teaching styles surely interact; so do personalities and at-home rules. The trouble is, no one can predict how.

Yet there are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated. In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.

The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.

“We have known these principles for some time, and it’s intriguing that schools don’t pick them up, or that people don’t learn them by trial and error,” said Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Instead, we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken.”

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

Ditto for teaching styles, researchers say. Some excellent instructors caper in front of the blackboard like summer-theater Falstaffs; others are reserved to the point of shyness. “We have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere,” said Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”

But individual learning is another matter, and psychologists have discovered that some of the most hallowed advice on study habits is flat wrong. For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.

The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.

“What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting,” said Dr. Bjork, the senior author of the two-room experiment.

Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.

The advantages of this approach to studying can be striking, in some topic areas. In a study recently posted online by the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, Doug Rohrer and Kelli Taylor of the University of South Florida taught a group of fourth graders four equations, each to calculate a different dimension of a prism. Half of the children learned by studying repeated examples of one equation, say, calculating the number of prism faces when given the number of sides at the base, then moving on to the next type of calculation, studying repeated examples of that. The other half studied mixed problem sets, which included examples all four types of calculations grouped together. Both groups solved sample problems along the way, as they studied.

A day later, the researchers gave all of the students a test on the material, presenting new problems of the same type. The children who had studied mixed sets did twice as well as the others, outscoring them 77 percent to 38 percent. The researchers have found the same in experiments involving adults and younger children.

“When students see a list of problems, all of the same kind, they know the strategy to use before they even read the problem,” said Dr. Rohrer. “That’s like riding a bike with training wheels.” With mixed practice, he added, “each problem is different from the last one, which means kids must learn how to choose the appropriate procedure — just like they had to do on the test.”

These findings extend well beyond math, even to aesthetic intuitive learning. In an experiment published last month in the journal Psychology and Aging, researchers found that college students and adults of retirement age were better able to distinguish the painting styles of 12 unfamiliar artists after viewing mixed collections (assortments, including works from all 12) than after viewing a dozen works from one artist, all together, then moving on to the next painter.

The finding undermines the common assumption that intensive immersion is the best way to really master a particular genre, or type of creative work, said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College and the lead author of the study. “What seems to be happening in this case is that the brain is picking up deeper patterns when seeing assortments of paintings; it’s picking up what’s similar and what’s different about them,” often subconsciously.

Cognitive scientists do not deny that honest-to-goodness cramming can lead to a better grade on a given exam. But hurriedly jam-packing a brain is akin to speed-packing a cheap suitcase, as most students quickly learn — it holds its new load for a while, then most everything falls out.

“With many students, it’s not like they can’t remember the material” when they move to a more advanced class, said Henry L. Roediger III, a psychologist atWashington University in St. Louis. “It’s like they’ve never seen it before.”

When the neural suitcase is packed carefully and gradually, it holds its contents for far, far longer. An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found.

No one knows for sure why. It may be that the brain, when it revisits material at a later time, has to relearn some of what it has absorbed before adding new stuff — and that that process is itself self-reinforcing.

“The idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning,” said Dr. Kornell. “When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it.”

That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

Dr. Roediger uses the analogy of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, which holds that the act of measuring a property of a particle (position, for example) reduces the accuracy with which you can know another property (momentum, for example): “Testing not only measures knowledge but changes it,” he says — and, happily, in the direction of more certainty, not less.

In one of his own experiments, Dr. Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke, also of Washington University, had college students study science passages from a reading comprehension test, in short study periods. When students studied the same material twice, in back-to-back sessions, they did very well on a test given immediately afterward, then began to forget the material.

But if they studied the passage just once and did a practice test in the second session, they did very well on one test two days later, and another given a week later.

“Testing has such bad connotation; people think of standardized testing or teaching to the test,” Dr. Roediger said. “Maybe we need to call it something else, but this is one of the most powerful learning tools we have.”

Of course, one reason the thought of testing tightens people’s stomachs is that tests are so often hard. Paradoxically, it is just this difficulty that makes them such effective study tools, research suggests. The harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget. This effect, which researchers call “desirable difficulty,” is evident in daily life. The name of the actor who played Linc in “The Mod Squad”? Francie’s brother in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”? The name of the co-discoverer, with Newton, of calculus?

The more mental sweat it takes to dig it out, the more securely it will be subsequently anchored.

None of which is to suggest that these techniques — alternating study environments, mixing content, spacing study sessions, self-testing or all the above — will turn a grade-A slacker into a grade-A student. Motivation matters. So do impressing friends, making the hockey team and finding the nerve to text the cute student in social studies.

“In lab experiments, you’re able to control for all factors except the one you’re studying,” said Dr. Willingham. “Not true in the classroom, in real life. All of these things are interacting at the same time.”

But at the very least, the cognitive techniques give parents and students, young and old, something many did not have before: a study plan based on evidence, not schoolyard folk wisdom, or empty theorizing.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"We Live in Extraordinary Times"- Talking points by Zimmer and her Council for justifying needless Police layoffs are inaccurate: NY Times, economists

According to an August 30, 2010 story in the NY Times, by nearly every standard of economic health, New York City and the surrounding area's recovery (including Hoboken) from the financial crisis and the recession it started is well under way. The typical resident in the New York City metropolitan area is less likely to be unemployed or to be facing foreclosure or bankruptcy than the average American. Homes in the metropolitan area have held their value better than in most other cities across the country as more people are actually moving to the region than deserting it. Tourists continue to flock to the city, filling hotel rooms at the highest rate in the country, and at rising prices (including the "W" in Hoboken).

So, it is somewhat puzzling when words such as those spoken by Hoboken Councilman-at-Large David Mello at a recent Hoboken Council Meeting indicate otherwise. According to Mello, "we live in extraordinary times, and tough decisions need to be made, because the economy hasn't yet recovered." Mayor Zimmer echos the same words when she is quoted as saying "We are in a tax crisis." According to the NY Times and leading economists, people in the NYC/Hoboken area are NOT living in extraordinary times and it is especially difficult to say we are in a "tax crisis" when there is a $20,000,000 SURPLUS to the budget.

This use of the "extraordinary times" rhetoric is precisely the rationale the private sector has been using to whittle down their workforce, lower operating costs, raise their stock prices, and push worker productivity to the point of exhaustion and burnout. These practices are now backfiring in business as productivity has fallen by the largest amount in over 4 years. The private sector has reached the limits of squeezing more work out of fewer workers. These failed practices are not needed in the area of public safety, especially when the security and peace of mind of a city's citizens are at stake...and when there is a $20,000,000 surplus.

Nonetheless, these seem to be the "talking points" employed by the Zimmer administration in justifying substantial police layoffs. In a town with a residential population of almost 50,000 and a daily commuter traffic of twice that amount and a weekend population that swells with young people enjoying Hoboken's nightlife--- one must wonder at the rationale for these cuts.

We must ask the difficult question: Is the economy the reason for the police layoffs, or the excuse?

Please watch the video below for details:

Photo: Police Chief Anthony Falco listens to public comments during Wednesday night's meeting. Credit David Jolkovski

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

L'shanah tovah

The common greeting at this time is L'shanah tovah ("for a good year"). This is a shortening of "L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem" (or to women, "L'shanah tovah tikatevi v'taihatemi"), which means "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."

Happy New Year to All....

Sunday, September 5, 2010

2009-2010 NJ QSAC Report- Letter in the Hoboken Reporter

The following letter appeared in the Hoboken Reporter on Saturday, August 28, 2010. Please click here for an explanation of the previous 2007, 2008, and 2009 QSAC scores for the Hoboken School District. I have included the April 2010 QSAC Report referenced in the 8/28/10 letter at the end of this post. A great, objective assessment of the Hoboken School District "BC" -Dr. Petrosino

In April 2008, the Department of Education for the State of New Jersey issued an evaluation of the Hoboken City School District pursuant to the requirements of the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC), N.J.A.C. 6A:30 et seq. QSAC is an objective, apolitical assessment by the State of New Jersey concerning the quality of a school district. At that time, Hoboken was placed on a continuum in each of the following areas or district performance reviews (DPR): instruction and program (34%), fiscal management (41%), operations (83%), personnel (80%), and governance (33%). 80% is considered acceptable. Following the initial evaluation, the district developed an improvement plan, which was approved in October 2008. In April 2009 staff from the Hudson County Office of Education conducted a six-month review of the district's progress toward addressing the missed indicators. The six-month review scores for the district was again reported along a continuum in each of the DPR's, specifically: instruction and program (54%), fiscal management (70%), operations (83%), personnel (80%), and governance (66%).

Throughout the summer of 2009 work on the instruction and program DPR was conducted by the Hoboken Curriculum Committee and included the creation of district wide tests, curricula alignment with state and national standards, utilization of a nationally recognized curricula framework- "Understanding by Design" and the creation of a Curriculum Implementation Plan. This was all well documented and archived on the Hoboken Curriculum Project blog (a.k.a. Dr. Petrosino's Education Project). Finally, in April 2010, New Jersey Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler reported the second interim review placement score for the district as: instruction and program (87%), fiscal management (65%), operations (83%), personnel (80%), and governance (89%).

The advances achieved for QSAC were not easy, trivial, nor permanent. Hard work is needed in order to secure advances already realized and due diligence is needed in order to continue the upward trajectory of the district. Recognition must be given to the many central office administrators, district support staff, school principals, and classroom teachers who made the improvement of our district a reality- many of whom retired this spring. Thank you to all of you.

The 2008-2010 QSAC data shows clearly and objectively that the overwhelming majority of the quality improvement in the Hoboken public schools took place under the initiatives begun during the previous district level administration and the previous Board of Education leadership.