September, 2016 Superintendent of Schools Rui Dionisio sits down with Verona Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Tom Malanga and Doreen Arminio, for the first interview of the year on Verona TV. Mr. Dionisio provided an update on facility improvements through the referendum, peer mediation and conflict resolution programs at the elementary schools, social and emotional learning, crisis management, the middle school house model structure, rigorous academic opportunities for students at Verona High School, and much more.
December 8, 2016 The Star Ledger recently published an investigative article on Field Turf regarding a product called Duraspine used to construct athletic turf field fibers. Field Turf has advised the Verona Public Schools that the new athletic fields being installed in our community are not made with this material. Attached are two letters from Field Turf providing detail on the matter and confirming that the Verona Public Schools is not impacted by this situation. Please click the Field Turf tab above this text to view the correspondence.
Important Information on Netflix Series 13 Reasons Why-Superintendent Corner Column April 2017by
Superintendent Corner Column
Important Information on Netflix Series 13 Reasons Why
“In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.” Marianne Williamson
Over the past week, I have had the opportunity to watch several episodes of a newly released Netflix miniseries called 13 Reasons Why. This new show, executive produced by former Disney star Selena Gomez, is based on the 2007 fictional book by Jay Asher. 13 Reasons Why tells the story of a teen who commits suicide. This series depicts strong and graphic themes of suicide, sexual assault, drug use, bullying, and other social issues that may affect teens. This series has attracted the interest of many young people, specifically students in middle and high school, with discussions about the show becoming prominent and trending on social media. Although this show is fictional, the nature of the storyline raises serious concerns as to the emotional safety of adolescents who may be watching, especially children who have had experience with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24 (2014). Suicide is a very real issue that leaves behind long lasting and negative effects on families, friends, and entire communities. Verona has tragically experienced such loss firsthand. Talking about suicide, although difficult, is a critical first step and healthy way to process what people are feeling. But mental health experts have repeatedly cautioned on the manner in which suicide deaths are portrayed in the media, which may contribute to the glorification of suicide and potentially causing a contagion effect.
The Verona Public Schools has been engaged in extremely significant efforts over the past several months. Last fall our district, with the support of our Board of Education and engagement of numerous community stakeholders, mobilized a committee to discuss the issues of mental health and suicide prevention. This committee has established overarching goals that will allow us to meet the needs of our youth while exploring a multitude of resources and approaches that supports the emotional safety of our students.
As a parent and educator, I have serious concerns about the nature of 13 Reasons Why and the message it sends our children, especially since this show does not always provide appropriate responses to suicide prevention. I do, however, see that there exists an incredible opportunity to have an important and constructive conversation about suicide prevention to protect the emotional health of our students.
We understand that many students have been watching 13 Reasons Why but we do not recommend that children view this series. We recognize that conversations on this topic can be difficult and may be uncomfortable. If your child is already watching, I encourage you to consider the following recommendations from the National Association of School Psychologists. This guidance for families may assist you in navigating dialogue with your child and help shape his or her experience and perspective on this important issue.
- Ask your child if they have heard or seen the series 13 Reasons Why. While we don’t recommend that they be encouraged to view the series, do tell them you want to watch it, with them or to catch up, and discuss their thoughts.
- If they exhibit any of the warning signs, don’t be afraid to ask if they have thought about suicide or if someone is hurting them. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk or plant the idea. On the contrary, it creates the opportunity to offer help.
- Ask your child if they think any of their friends or classmates exhibit warning signs. Talk with them about how to seek help for their friend or classmate. Guide them on how to respond when they see or hear any of the warning signs.
- Listen to your children’s comments without judgment. Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside.
- Get help from a school-employed or community-based mental health professional if you are concerned for your child’s safety or the safety of one of their peers.
Additionally, JED and the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) collaboratively developed a guide for parents, which we believe you may find helpful as you discuss this topic with your family. You may click the following link to access the 13 Reasons Why Talking Points as you discuss this series with your child.
Please feel free to review the following information you may find helpful such as Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents and Educators and Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide.
The following resources may also be helpful to families in our community.
Mental Health Resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
NJ Hopeline 1-855-NJ-HOPELINE (654-6735)
2nd Floor Youth Helpline 1-888-222-2228 (call or text)
Training and Education Resources:
Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth 1-732-235-2810 (http://ubhc.rutgers.edu/tlc/)
District mental health professionals are available to discuss these issues with you and your child. Our staff can also provide additional recommendations for counseling support outside of school. Please contact your child’s school counseling department or your principal should you need any assistance.
As adults, our conversations and interactions can have an incredibly profound influence on our children. Please join us in actively listening to our students and helping them navigate adversity in life in a positive and constructive manner.
All my best,
Rui Dionisio, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Inquiry in Actionby
Focus. Explore. Reflect. Apply. Repeat.
The Verona Public Schools district is dedicated to cultivating learning environments that nurture the curiosity that exists naturally in children. It was clear from teacher feedback that last year’s inquiry-based science pilot program fostered a high level of student engagement. The new science program, developed with support from the Smithsonian Institute and National Academies of Science, is being implemented this year in our elementary and middle schools with the goal of increasing student engagement and improving student knowledge of scientific processes.
“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” Albert Einstein
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) defines scientific inquiry as “the formulation of a question that can be answered through investigation, while engineering design involves the formulation of a problem that can be solved through design.” Research has shown that an inquiry-based teaching approach fosters deeper critical thinking. Our new science program provides a commitment to active, hands-on learning in grades 1-8 focused on research-based standards that highlight what students should be able to do to at each grade level. Implementing inquiry-based science is one approach to address the needs of all learners, personalize instruction for students by addressing the preconceptions that they bring with them to the classroom, and develop critical thinking in order to raise student engagement and achievement in science.
As educators, we have a responsibility to help students develop a deep understanding of science concepts, knowledge, skills, and attitudes in order to grow up into responsible global citizens. Our schools must prepare students to compete in the future by focusing on critical thinking and problem solving which will prepare students for careers that do not yet exist today.
"Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn." Benjamin Franklin
Curriculum should be designed to support student learning to develop scientific and technological literacy for an educated society as essential preparation for all careers in the modern workforce. Curriculum developed with fewer topics in mind, where the teacher can devote time and energy on cultivating a greater depth of understanding, supports meaningful discussions centered around big ideas. If the curriculum has been designed with rich, engaging tasks, appropriate instructional decisions can be made to assist all students in attaining significant cognitive growth” (NRC, 1999).
Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences outlines how people learn through different modalities such as auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. He believed that students should think independently and develop their own understanding of concepts as opposed to utilizing rote memorization and acceptance of others’ ideas (Gardner, 1991). Inquiry-based instruction represents an evolution away from traditional lecture-based instructional methods of teaching science with a focus on process over memorization of a body of facts (Dewey, 1910). Many students simply memorize facts without truly grasping the idea but would better understand a concept if they were awarded opportunities to conduct hands-on experiments and engage firsthand with the scientific phenomena. That is exactly what our new science program seeks to accomplish.
“Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.” Roger Lewin
The research from the National Research Council and AAAS Project 2061 is compelling, that conveying scientific processes in a coherent manner within and across all grade levels, provides teaching and learning opportunities in a continuous, interconnected, and cumulative manner with the greatest potential for maximizing student learning. The Verona Public Schools is committed to the success of all students by advocating, nurturing, and sustaining a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and staff professional growth. We look forward to our progress from the collective efforts of our faculty and support of the Verona community for years to come as we enhance science as we know it.
Dewey, J. (1910). Science as subject matter and as method. Science, 31(787) 121-127.
Gardner, H. (1991) The unschooled mind: how children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books Inc.
National Research Council. Designing Mathematics or Science Curriculum Programs: A Guide for Using Mathematics and Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1999.Inquiry in Action.pdf 30.49 MB (Last Modified on December 20, 2016)
Leaving a Legacy-In Memory of Arthur Acquavivaby
November 29, 2016
Mr. Arthur Acquaviva, known as “Mr. A” to staff and students, was a valued and trusted member of the VHS family. A graduate of VHS, he later served as a substitute teacher, teacher of science and mathematics prior to being named as Director of Library and Media Services. Art was named Library Media Specialist in 2000. During his tenure, he was responsible for leading the effort to transform our library into a 21st Century learning facility. He belonged to several professional library organizations, as well as the advisor of our Mu Alpha Theta Math Honor Society. Arthur Acquaviva passed away on May 18, 2014.
Mr. Acquaviva led a number of initiatives to modernize the Verona High School library. Some of the enhancements included increasing our educational databases, creating a system for accessing online reference materials and various novels, and creating and leading the 9th Grade Orientation to our Library and Media Center.
While Art certainly had a positive impact on the overall structure of our library, his greatest impact was felt when one observed him assisting our students in the library on a daily basis. His calm, pleasant, and positive demeanor made our library a welcoming place for all students, staff, and community members. His love and adoration for VHS was clearly evident, both in word and deed. He was greatly respected by his students, our staff, and the community of Verona.
Earlier this year, we received news that Mr. Acquaviva made a significant donation to Verona High School in the amount of $266,042. In accepting this generous contribution, we will be renaming our library the Arthur Acquaviva Learning Commons. The donation provides funds to continue Art’s desire to enhance VHS with a 21st Century space. The Verona Public Schools partnered with Dancker, Sellew & Douglas (DS&D) in order to infuse the learning space with new and flexible furnishings to meet our student and faculty needs. Additional funds provided by Mr. Acquaviva will be allocated for a scholarship fund for Verona High School graduates.
The Verona Public School District is honored to be the recipient of Mr. Acquaviva’s kindness and generosity that will benefit students for years to come. A formal dedication of the Arthur Acquaviva Learning Commons is being planned for a future date. Additional information regarding that special event will be provided as it becomes available.
Please click the following attachment for the official press release.Leaving a Legacy-Arthur Acquaviva.pdf 34.21 MB (Last Modified on November 29, 2016)
The State of Our Schoolsby
November 25, 2016
Welcome to the Verona Public School district. The past several years have been ripe with opportunities and collaboration, building on the successes of the past, and sustaining incredible momentum with our faculty and students. Our growth is the result of our focused commitment to the vision defined in our Strategic Plan, the support of our Board of Education and invested leadership team, a deeply committed and talented staff, the support of our parents and community, and highly engaged students motivated to achieve their maximum potential. The genesis of this inaugural publication began two years ago and our endeavor is a tribute to the dedication and efforts of our entire teaching and learning community.
The Verona Public Schools is a high academic performing school district with lofty expectations for all of our students. First and foremost, we are deeply committed to maintaining the best interests of our students, keeping this focus central to every decision we make as we work to cultivate learning environments that enable us to support the individual potential in every child. Verona is a supportive community with highly motivated and intellectually curious students. Our district provides a full range of opportunities for our students, from academics to the fine and performing arts to athletics and extracurriculars, where there is something for everyone.
Teaching and learning is a multifaceted and dynamic process which requires intent, process, perseverance, and heart. As you review our magazine, we hope you have an opportunity to learn what makes Verona so very special. Our goal is to present what we are proud of to our community in a way that is relevant and authentic. We are certain you will appreciate our efforts in literacy through the Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project which has been successful at the elementary level and recently expanded to grade 5. In our elementary schools, you will also notice an investment in character education programs such as conflict resolution and peer mediation while we continue to sustain a positive, supportive, and nurturing environment for children.
Verona teachers are implementing our new inquiry-based science program as they strive to engage students in hands-on, active learning at the elementary and middle school levels. Communication, collaboration, and strategic intervention in our middle school has been enhanced with the introduction of our house model as our teachers work closely in teams to support the success of all students. Our district has also made a significant commitment to infusing instructional technology through our Google Teacher Academy and professional development for faculty to identify methods that enhance the quality teaching our community has come to expect.
Verona High School ranks as one of the best. We have been recognized as a top performing school district by The Washington Post America’s Most Challenging High Schools in the nation and #54 in New Jersey. VHS has also been recognized by Newsweek as America’s Top High Schools and NJ Monthly Top 100 High Schools, among numerous other publications. Our high school course guide provides diverse opportunities for students engaged in honors and dual enrollment coursework in preparation for post secondary education. We are especially proud of our commitment to increasing academic engagement by removing barriers to rigorous coursework in Advanced Placement courses, evidenced by our continuous and significant growth, dedication of our faculty, and success of our students.
VHS has added five new Advanced Placement (AP) courses since 2015, increasing whole school AP participation over the past two years by 16%, and demonstrating 7% growth in student performance on College Board exams. The academic environment in our school is possible because of the willingness of our students to rise to the level of expectation set for them and the knowledgeable and nurturing staff who support our students in achieving their goals.
Our performing arts program continues to flourish. 69% of VHS students participate in the fine and performing arts, choir enrollment has nearly doubled in just one year, and a thriving band program has been regionally recognized and continues to engage in authentic learning experiences. Verona offers 26 interscholastic athletic teams that produced three championships last year. Even more impressive, the VHS athletic program and coaches help our athletes develop skills, provide a sense of belonging, promote collaboration, cultivate the ability to overcome adversity, and foster critically important non-cognitive skills.
Last year was also an opportunity for us to assemble new members of our esteemed staff and leadership team who will further support the growth and development of our teachers as lifelong learners. We have charted a course of continuous improvement for our students. Curriculum and instruction continue to move on an upward trajectory. Thank you to those who have joined us in our ventures and have been supportive along the way.
Our publication pays homage to several Verona educators who have made special contributions to our schools. As you flip through the publication, you will get also an inside look at the enhancements to our facilities that helped bring the district up to the 21st century. Finally, we are eternally grateful and appreciative of our education foundation, VFEE, and organizations such as the SCA, VMPA, VMAC, and athletic boosters, who help make much of our success possible.
Verona is a special place, surrounded by an amazing faculty and supportive community. As the saying goes that iron sharpens iron, it is as we work together to create schools where our students are challenged and inspired so they may reap the fruits of our labor. We are the result of our collective efforts with each of us who are highly invested in the success of our future. I encourage you to explore our Fall 2016 publication and learn about the robust, vibrant learning opportunities that exist in our schools each and every day.
Please click the following link Verona Public Schools Magazine Fall 2016 Edition to learn more about our district.
Best wishes for 2016-17.
All my best,
Superintendent of SchoolsThe State of Our Schools.pdf 1.88 MB (Last Modified on December 20, 2016)
Verona Public Schools Magazine Fall 2016 Editionby
November 18, 2016
It is with great enthusiasm that we share with you the inaugural publication of the Verona Public Schools Magazine Fall 2016 Edition. The genesis of this project began nearly two years ago as a focused endeavor to convey the progress of our collective efforts in our strategic plan. The goal of this publication is to showcase where and how the district is moving forward and recognize the efforts of all involved; to reset ourselves to the next level of a standard so we constantly see the logical next steps to pursue; and to keep us grounded in the commitment to our community through our strategic plan. We hope you enjoy reading what makes the Verona Public Schools so very special.
This digital publication is distributed to the Verona community through our website, email, and social media to celebrate our progress and momentum. Please click here to read the Verona Public Schools Magazine Fall 2016 Edition.
There exists incredible purpose and passion in the work we do with our students. I marvel at the devotion of our staff who are dedicated to a cause greater than themselves. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.
All my best,
Superintendent of Schools