By Chris Concannon
Gloucester City News
As the 2012-13 school year is now underway, Bellmawr School Superintendent Annette Castiglione took a few moments to sit down with the Gloucester City News recently.
During her term as head of the public school system, she noted that she is most proud of the entire Bellmawr learning community.
She praised the way everyone comes together for one another, from the students to their parents, and so forth.
Castiglione thanked the Board of Education for their recent additions of staff, pointing out that staff spent this past summer writing and developing new student curriculums.
The Superintendent was delighted about improved test scores, adding that Bellmawr students are either at pace, or exceeding, other area students in nearby districts.
The most notable improvement was in math, she said.
In terms of a statewide comparison of scores, Castiglione said that results are mixed, but that students in general education curriculums have surpassed state levels.
She also said there has been marked growth in both benchmarking, as well as NWEA testing areas.
As students move through grade levels, they are well-prepared for their transition to the next major level, Castiglione said.
There is a very comprehensive transition program in place, which works to prepare fourth graders for the jump to middle school, along with getting graduating eighth graders ready for their high school years.
This, she said, is achieved through student/parent relationships, coupled with constant meetings with both the Black Horse Pike Regional School District as well as Triton High School itself.
The majority of Bellmawr graduates attend Triton, with the balance attending other Catholic or trade-based high schools.
The student’s continual progress is also tracked on a regular basis.
When asked what new measures are currently underway in the district, the Superintendent noted the implementation of math, writing and reading coaches as an added benefit to and for the student body.
“This has made a huge impact on their performance.”
She went on to say that staff increases have also been made in the Basic Skills and Music areas, the latter of which will work to resurrect the school band. There is now a district-wide reading teacher on staff as well.
These recent staff additions are a marked turnaround from the 2009-10 school year, when the district was forced to eliminate personnel, in order to stay within budget numbers.
Other programs continue to progress within the District, such as school choice (see past article with the Gloucester City BOE weighing the option), as well as a continued strong anti-bullying policy.
Castiglione hopes to see more streamlined school choice rules, so that there are better deadlines in terms of arranging inbound or outbound student transfers.
Cosmetically, two of the three district schools underwent noticeable outdoor improvements over the summer break.
New hardscaping and landscaping arrangements now line areas around the Bell Oaks buildings, and, according to Business Administrator Chris Rodia, Bellmawr Park School is now able to enjoy their brand-new interactive wildlife park, along with a new entrance area.
Improvements to the flooring inside Park School are continuing, and will be monitored throughout the year, Rodia said.
They both added that improvements to Ethel M. Burke School have been hampered by ongoing highway and PSE&G projects.
The State is currently widening the Black Horse Pike at Benigno Boulevard, which has made for a dicey at best transit in and out of the school area.
As the interview wound down, the Superintendent stressed emphatically, that the roofing at all three schools is in desperate need of replacement.
Burke School would be the oldest, with the original structure dating back to 1899, followed by Bell-mawr Park in the 1940s, and lastly Bell Oaks being built in the late 60s.
They have been patched to the point where they can be patched no more, Cas-tiglione said, and several areas of age and decay are evidenced in aerial and rooftop photos.
A $3.1 million bond referendum is on the slate for the November 6 General Election, as there is no room in the district budget for an outlay of that size.
Once the new roofing is installed at all three schools, information provided to the Gloucester City News shows that a potential solar panel energy system may be put in, thereby creating savings to both the district and its taxpayers.