• The Spark

Leading Model Schools: One District’s Pillars for Improvement—Rebuild, Retool, Restore

Author:  Dr. Lamont Repollet, Superintendent, Asbury Park School District, New Jersey  | 01/31/2017

Wondering what makes successful schools and districts tick? In this series, “Leading Model Schools,” we ask principals and superintendents from across the country to share the secrets behind the recent gains and successes in their schools and districts. Find out what’s happening in Asbury Park School District in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Dr. Lamont Repollet with Hard Hat Nation
Dr. Lamont Repollet with Hard Hat Nation

I faced formidable challenges when I joined the Asbury Park School District (APSD) as Superintendent of Schools in 2014. Nine in 10 students in the district come from economically disadvantaged households and APSD had some of the lowest literacy rates in NJ—rates that were dropping each year.  In the 2013–14 school year, the district had a 49 percent graduation rate and 54 percent of students entering middle school were reading at a first-grade level.

I mention this backdrop because it makes our turnaround efforts to achieve a district-wide transformation that much more extraordinary. As a community, we have rebranded the entire school district and put into place a physical and visual identity that is guiding and reinforcing Asbury Park’s broader turnaround effort. These relentless branding efforts have helped the community believe that change is possible.

The educational renaissance happening throughout APSD is a result of dedicated and committed members of Hard Hat Nation. Hard hats represent hard work, renovation and reconstruction, and serve as a symbol of the real work going on in the district. The hard hat is a constant reminder of our guiding principles and action pillars: Rebuild, Retool, Restore. Everything we do comes back to this idea of reconstruction and hard hats are visible throughout the APSD, appearing on teacher lapels, student t-shirts, classroom bulletin boards and cafeterias. In fact, I wear a hard hat pin on the lapel of my suit each day to remind the community of the changes taking place. I give the pin to students and staff members I encounter who are doing extraordinary things and induct them into hard hat nation to recognize the role they are playing in “Building a Brighter Future.”

That mission – “Building a Brighter Future” – has become more than just words on a page to the people of Asbury Park. It is a motto representing the belief shared by students, families, teachers, faculty and staff that is proudly displayed in offices, school walls, online—everywhere APSD has a presence.  Our schools have been repainted in bright, APSD colors and our district shield now appears prominently on our walls, serving as a reminder to the community that the district is present in their lives and is a safe haven where their students can thrive.

These branding efforts have been key in helping to build this sense of community, while our academic programs have both grounded and solidified our mission.

APSD’s concrete academic programs have brought Hard Hat Nation to life:

  • The recent grand opening of the Dorothy L. McNish Parent Center encourages parents and family participation in the educational decision-making process through seminars, training programs and information to foster the parent/school partnership.
  • Maker Space lounges fill our schools, serving as creation labs and a reward for students who demonstrate positive behavior or make the honor roll.
  • “The Power of 10” program identifies and provides targeted support to the 10 percent most at-risk students in each grade, ensuring that they have the help and courses they need to graduate.
  • The creation of the College and Career Readiness Institute (CCRI) provides college and career experiential learning opportunities that expose students to different career paths as well as field study, internships and community service activities. The College Promise Program, Dream Academy Early College, and Career Technical Academies:  Allied Health, Law & Public Safety, and Engineering programs gives students a solid foundation and essential tools necessary to make informed decisions about post-secondary educational opportunities and or career options.   
  • The district-wide implementation of reading intervention programs has boosted literacy rates; 44 percent of students in grades 3–12 exceeded one year’s reading growth and 23 percent exceeded two years’ growth in a single semester.

Hard Hat PinOur approach is yielding dividends. The percentage of students failing three or more courses has fallen from 30 percent to 3 percent. The graduation rate has increased from 49 percent in 2014 to 73 percent in 2016 while the drop-out rate has decreased by 50 percent.

One thing we’re most proud of is the overall mindset shift that has taken place within APSD. Teachers, students, and families now believe that success is possible. They believe that the effort of being part of Hard Hat Nation is worth it. I see it every day; teachers pushing their students to achieve more, tackle harder books, try more challenging math -- all because they believe their kids are capable.

Together, we have found a symbol to unify all of the hard work, sweat and tears that go into accelerating change in the Asbury Park schools, and building a brighter future for our kids.

- Dr. Lamont Repollet, Superintendent, Asbury Park School District

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The Asbury Park School District has been named a 2017 Innovation District by the International Center for Leadership in Education. Dr. Lamont Repollet will be presenting at the 25th Annual Model Schools Conference in Nashville, TN, June 25–28.

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