RED BANK — Last Monday morning’s visit by the state’s Acting Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf to the district’s Primary School was seen by the local superintendent of schools as an opportunity to show off how the district has been meeting the challenges the district faces. But the visit ended with Cerf offering his own challenge.
Cerf’s Oct. 17 appearance at the school, 222 River Street, arranged by area state legislators Senator Jennifer Beck and Assembly members Caroline Casagrande and Declan O’Scanlon (all R-12) allowed the acting commissioner to tour the school, learn about the various programs underway in the district, to hear from students—some of whom performed, singing and playing musical instruments as part of the district’s music program—and to gain an understanding of how the district has been faring.
“I really, passionately believe the story we have here in the borough of Red Bank is worth telling,” Beck said.
That story is of a district with a large English as a second language population and a majority of its enrollment eligible for free and reduced lunch programs, a traditional measure of low-income families, and a district that has seen state educational aid cut. Those cuts had led district officials to eliminate after-school sports programs and school sponsored day trips.
“It’s amazing the results they’ve had,” Beck added, obviously alluding to the modest gains made in standardized testing and other achievements. “But,” added Beck, “that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been challenges.”
“You can see in the faces of children,” the good things that are happening here, Cerf told the educators after his tour of the facility.
Cerf also offered his nod of thanks toward teachers, acknowledging, “sometimes there is a sense of under-appreciation,” for the profession.
“The hardest I ever worked was as a teacher,” he said.
“I want to acknowledge the greatness that is here,” he told the educators. But Cerf tempered that praise with, “there’s a long way to go in this school.”
And one of the improvements the commissioner would like to see is in the reading scores. By the time a student reaches the third grade, “he or she needs to be a proficient reader,” he stressed. And if the students don’t meet that mark, “you’re playing catch-up for the rest of our academic career.”
And the challenge he put forth was to make those advances in reading scores and he would return next fall to see how far they’ve come.
“We need to get better, better and better,” he said before leaving with Beck and Casagrande to visit the Freehold district, another district with similar issues in the legislators’ district.
Cerf’s visit “allowed us to share our story of progress over time,” Dr. Laura Morana, Red Bank Schools superintendent, said afterwards. And as for the commissioner’s challenge, “that is a challenge that we certainly set for ourselves on a daily basis,” she countered.