Asbury Park: From Low-Performing to Proud, Thriving District
Despite having the highest per pupil spending rate in the state, the Asbury Park School District was one of New Jersey’s lowest-performing districts and experienced a revolving door of six superintendents in five years. Then Dr. Lamont Repollet arrived on the scene as Superintendent in 2014 with his guiding action pillars: Rebuild, Retool, Restore.
Using these pillars to fulfill his mission of “Building a Brighter Future,” Dr. Repollet set to work with Assistant Superintendent Sancha Gray to rebuild trust and pride in the district in the eyes of students, families, teachers, faculty, and the entire community. Inspiring change with his construction metaphor, Dr. Repollet created the Hard Hat Nation—a rebranding that was symbolic of the hard work going on in every part of the district.
Central to their blueprint for change was, of course, student achievement. Dr. Repollet sent a group of faculty to the International Center for Leadership in Education’s Model Schools Conference where, inspired by the success of other districts, they engaged in team building. According to Dr. Repollet, “the change in culture is what drove academic change.” With a new level of trust, collaboration, and shared decision making, the team returned to the district and developed a community-wide action plan.
Rapid Results: Concrete Academic and Literacy Gains
The initial focus of the rebuilding was on literacy improvement, and the team began by implementing a district-wide reading intervention program. First, according to Assistant Superintendent Sancha Gray, they followed an ACE approach: Assess, Create, Execute. She led the charge in conducting an assessment of every program in use in the district—what was working, and what wasn’t being implemented with fidelity. Their analysis and resulting implementation of intervention programs boosted literacy rates tremendously and drew the attention of the New Jersey Department of Education:
- 68 percent of students exceeded one-year growth targets through literacy intervention programs, and 41 percent exceeded two-year growth expectations!
- The district’s graduation rate has increased from 49 percent in 2014 to 73 percent in 2016.
- The dropout rate has decreased by 50 percent.
- 100% of Kindergartners are ready for grade-level work.
The team then expanded their focus to develop a Pre-K–adult literacy program and lived up to the “Innovative District” title awarded to them by ICLE when they created a summer literacy program that integrated in-class instruction with day camp and swimming lessons. This unique summer formula helped educators foster a love of learning in their young students. More recently, intervention efforts have expanded to math and writing programs.
Next Steps: Instructional and Leadership Coaching
With the success of the literacy programs, the district saw an unprecedented number of students moving out of intervention in the first year. It was critical to plan for next steps, and thus began the thoughtful planning for regular leadership and instructional coaching, which has resulted in:
- The establishment of a common language around partnership and procedures
- Increased content-area knowledge and understanding of how to teach
- Improved student achievement
Building On a Good Thing: Ongoing Innovation
With these achievements in place, Asbury Park continues to build and innovate. Their new College and Career Readiness Institute offers students the skills they need to be productive citizens. “This comprehensive program enables us to fulfill our mission of offering an education where everyone possesses the skills and character to succeed in a diverse, evolving global society,” says Dr. Repollet with pride. The Institute helps students with finding relevant jobs, mentoring and internship opportunities, and college transition support.
The Power of 10 Dropout Prevention Plan provides intensive support to the 10 percent most at-risk students at each grade level, including academic, social-emotional, and college and career readiness support. This type of support has helped increase the district’s graduation rates by 24 percent between 2014 and 2016.
Finally, Dr. Repollet described how Asbury Park’s strategic partnership with HMH and ICLE enabled a recent exchange program with schools in Ghana, where district students have served as global ambassadors and teachers have provided professional learning support to Ghanaian educators.
Asbury Park was named an Innovative District by ICLE for 2016–2017, and will be presenting at the 25th annual Model Schools Conference, June 25–28.