What’s new with school?

As Sept. 7 approaches, Princeton Public Schools are bustling with activity. Superintendent Steve Cochrane is looking forward to the many innovations that come with a progressive district. To kick off with positive change, Cochrane announced that in addition to new students throughout PPS, there will be 60 new staff members who will be introduced at building meetings on the first day of school.

Last year, the student-led priority of “Homework Free Weekends” was met for the sake of the strategic planning goal, “wellness and balance.” This year, another priority has been achieved – headed by the Princeton High School administration and athletic department. Option II for physical education will be provided for junior varsity and varsity athletes in 11th and 12th grades to have the option of fulfilling their physical education requirement through extracurricular sports.

Cochrane aims to support the student community and focus on the theme of “differentiation and diversity.” He hopes to share resources and explore new strategies while remaining attune to students’ differing interests, learning profiles and readiness levels.

To read more about the year ahead, check out the Q&A below.

The Sun: What are you most looking forward to about the start of school?

Cochrane: After more than 30 years as a school administrator, I still love the energy and excitement of students and staff on the first days of school. There is a sense of wonder and possibility. The youngest children and the most seasoned staff look forward to new learning and new friendships. My hope would be that the joy and sense of adventure with which we begin September continue to carry us throughout the year.


The Sun: Which aspects of the strategic plan do you foresee being tackled in the early months of the new school year? What are some new things students and parents can expect to see in the 2016-2017 school year?

Cochrane: Some new ideas and initiatives are outlined below. All are tied to our five strategic planning goals: Wellness and Balance, Every Child Known, Closing the Achievement Gap, Innovation in Teaching and Learning, and Communication and Connectedness. I look forward to sharing the complete strategic plan with the entire community later in the fall.

• New social studies approaches and materials as a result of last year’s program review, including a pilot of a new textbook and resources in grades three to five, the integration of new culturally diverse materials throughout the grade levels, an increased focus on Holocaust education, the migration from AP social studies courses at the high school to a richer more rigorous “advanced topics” model, and the development of new high school electives.

• A K-12 program review of science with a particular focus on the integration of the new, “Next Generation” science standards.

• A K-12 program review of health and physical education with a focus on the integration of social emotional learning as well as a developmentally sound approach to “physical literacy” that will help to mesh PE with athletics.

• District and school-based Green Teams, with a particular focus in the coming year on consistent, K-12 recycling and composting.

• A survey of parents regarding their use of tutoring and other outside supports to assist their children with academics, athletics and the arts.

• The implementation of a Family Literacy Center to support parents with activities and ideas to promote the verbal and mathematical literacy of their preschool-aged children.

• A review of community service, K-12, with the goal of building curricular connections and promoting long-term commitment on the part of students.

• A review of the high school schedule with the goal of optimizing wellness, balance and high-level learning.

The Sun: How are registration numbers coming along at the elementary levels? Have the large section sizes for kindergarten, first and third grades been remedied at CP and Riverside?

Cochrane: We added a third section of grade three at Riverside in response to relatively higher class sizes there. We also revised our zoning of the university’s Merwick-Stanworth development based on recent projections that the development would be sending us between 75 and 100 students as opposed to 25-30. Originally, the entire development was zoned for CP. Based upon our revision, families in the first phase of the development, the Merwick section, will continue to attend CP.  Families in the second phase of the development, the Stanworth section, will now be welcomed at JP.  Typically in Princeton, enrollments are fairly stable throughout the year, but this year we will be expecting more students to join us during the year from Merwick-Stanworth and certainly from Avalon Bay. We are still unsure how many students, so we will be looking closely at our enrollments and working closely with officials from the university and from Avalon Bay.

The Sun: For some time, there’s been talk of a new website for Princeton Public Schools. Are there any updates in regard to progress?

Cochrane: We will be building a new, much faster and easier-to-navigate site for district content. That will take several months as will our migration to a Learning Management System through which teachers can communicate more easily with students and parents.

The Sun: Everyone gets ready for school in their own way. What’s your back to school morning routine?

Cochrane: If my wife allows me to do some back-to-school shopping, I may have a new tie for the first day of school! Otherwise, I look forward to visiting all of our buildings on Sept. 7 and welcoming our students, staff and families!


About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida