New initiatives for Plainfield students

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Plainfield - posted Mon., Aug. 19, 2013

Plainfield is one step closer to preparing its students for whatever they want to do once they graduate from high school, according to Superintendent of Schools Kenneth DiPietro. This year, Plainfield will see the addition of a universal pre-school program, technology requirements for students in grades three, five and eight, opportunities to take PSAT, SAT and practice exams for students in grades nine through 12, a new website and a new school messaging system.

“In what community would you expect to see PUPS and HIPPYs going to school at the start of September?” DiPietro asked. “Plainfield. Where else?”

PUPS is the acronym for the Plainfield Universal Pre-School program. HIPPY stands for Home Instruction Packets for Pre-school Youngsters. Together they'll provide 120 preschool students with the opportunity for an extra year of learning.

Feedback from public forums over the years have indicated a desire for full-day kindergarten. “In Plainfield, we don't have the money to offer all-day kindergarten,” DiPietro said. The five additional teachers that initiative would require, along with the classrooms, tiny chairs and toilets, would amount to close to half a million dollars, he said. But by taking advantage of a flat enrollment, reassigning staff, and creating half-day programs and instructional packets to go along with it, DiPietro said the town could accommodate 60 more children than are already enrolled in a regular half-day program. The instructional packets would encourage parent involvement, and it would let school officials identify any student who might need more support when they reach kindergarten. 

“We want to make it a partnership,” DiPietro said. The packets were designed by pre-school teachers. They are gallon-size plastic bags with information on the units covered in school, games, suggestions for library materials and activities. “We wanted to allow parents to do things with their children that revolved around the themes covered in school,” he said. “HIPPYs go home. PUPS go to school.”

DiPietro said parents will feel they are getting something special. “We struggle every year when we don't have this resource called pre-school. You try to identify any child who might need more support when they come to kindergarten. Now we have this avenue. Parents are getting a quality, regulated, public school pre-school for at least two half-days.”

This year students in third, fifth and eighth grades will be able to learn and demonstrate their technological prowess by giving Powerpoint presentations. Students will be required to do research, use the Internet, smart boards and touch screens. “We're in a new age of technology, so you need to be able to use that technology,” DiPietro said. “And you need to be able to show that you can use it.”

High school students will be able to take the SAT, PSAT or practice exams at the school's expense. They will be able to take the tests during the school year, not on Saturdays. “This district has made a commitment. They want every child to have the right to go to college,” DiPietro said. Not that all students will want to go. Some will join the military or head into jobs. But only 50 percent of students took the college boards last year. DiPietro said the board would like to see that number climb to 85 percent. The plan will offer college boards to seniors, the PSAT to juniors and sophomores, and practice exams to freshmen.

During a Board of Education meeting last week, DiPietro shared the results of state student test scores in English and math. “They were phenomenal. They were through the roof,” he said. “The results went up 23 points in reading. From 30 percent of kids being on goal, it rose to 55 percent, above the state average. And this happened in one year.”

He attributes the success to changes made two years ago to English and math requirements for freshmen and sophomores. Freshmen take math every day and English for one semester. Sophomores take English every day and one semester of math. “They took the tests and they were ready,” DiPietro said. “They went up 12 to 23 points in math, science, writing and English. What it proves is that our teachers have been teaching math well, but students weren't taking enough of it.”

“We're making systematic changes all over the place,” he said. “This is the year of change for me. Three years ago I told the board I would be thoughtful and conscientious about targeting changes. We're seeing the results.”

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