The Future of Cherry Hill

by Kathy Haughwout | Mar 11, 2002
The Future of Cherry Hill It’s been quite a while since the Connection interviewed Dr. Sherman, and now since he has made a commitment to stay in Cherry Hill by signing a new contract, the time seemed right to visit. We asked Sherman what his focus for the future will be since we still have the racial imbalance issue hanging over us, over-crowding at some of our elementary schools, our middle schools, and our high schools. We obviously have the possibility of very limited funding from the state, and Standards and Benchmarks are really be set in place...so where are we going?

Dr. Sherman said that he really wasn’t sure… "and that was okay, he doesn’t really have a particular scheme in mind, because these are public schools and working with the public will help define a lot of those answers…"

Instead he would like to divide the issues (categories) into two sections: Educational issues, which he could talk at length on... and Community issues...such as over-crowding, budget issues, facilities all of those which affect how we do education, but he can’t tell us what the exact plan should be. Sherman feels that the future of the district...possible redistricting, programs, etc...must be part of a community decision.

Dr. Sherman referred to the new ‘Blueprint for Cherry Hill’ that he had recently written, and he was very excited about a great many of the possibilities, even though some people thought he was crazy to stay and tackle them. He feels that Cherry Hill is a great place to live and that it has had a great school district for 40 years or more, filled with great traditions and no matter where he would go the issues would be the same...aging facilities, turnover in personnel, budget issues, etc. He feels that Cherry Hill has worked for so long to become the good district it is and he wants to be part of the future. Sherman says he believes that Cherry Hill is poised to be one of the ‘great districts’ in the nation.

Sherman likes living in Cherry Hill, and he again said it was not a money issue which kept him here. Of course the fact that his daughter is a junior played a big part. Sherman has come to the conclusion after living here for four and one-half years that a lot of people knock their community but he thinks it is a great place to live...there is such easy access to Washington, New York, and Philadelphia and the people who live here are good, caring people who care about their kids and their schools.

Sherman feels Cherry Hill is a prime example of what all America is wrestling with...good expectations for kids and schools, being good to each other, caring for others, and so on. Sometimes he feels like he should be a cheerleader for Cherry Hill. He said he is looking forward to resolving some of the issues as his time here continues.

One of the things he wants to see expand is community communication...similar to Cherry Hill 2000 a few years ago. He feels that this communication is very important and the numbers of people who have come out recently for the elementary, middle and high school meetings has been very encouraging. He wants to see more and more community members engaged in conversation about the district so they will feel ‘ownership in the schools and understand the complexity of the situation...because then everyone is better off…" Therefore open communication, out-reach programs for people will be one of his main commitments for the future.

Sherman says it is important that he keeps the ‘future of Cherry Hill and the big picture of Cherry Hill’ always in his focus and that was made much clearer to him during a recent visit to Thomas Paine Elementary school.

He visited a third grade classroom with 20 students in it and 11 of them were born in other countries...Israel, Korea, Domican Republic, China, Japan, Mexico, etc...and he said it was wonderful to talk to the kids and to see their diversity all working together. He believes that families from around the world are seeing that Cherry Hill is a great place to send their kids to school and a great place to live and they are coming here. He sees the same thing when he goes to Kilmer and a lot of other schools. He is seeing a change in who the kids are in a very positive, exciting way.

The projections for Cherry Hill in terms of demographics is to go from 78% white to around 67-68% white by the end of this decade with an increase in Asian population, in particular and a slight increase in the Hispanic and African-American families. (Sherman noted that families from Afghanistan have also recently moved into Cherry Hill and it is exciting to see our diversity grow and the richness it brings to our community.)

In speaking about this diversity the racial imbalance issue and minority achievement issue were brought back into the discussion, and Sherman said that Cherry Hill can fix the achievement gap...but that the state formula for racial imbalance is wrong...and instead of looking at race, they should be looking at all kids achieving at high levels.

We then went on to the issue of over-crowding and Sherman says he thinks the district’s projects are low. Elementary schools, except for Barton, are in pretty good shape, but if the Racetrack comes in and the Cherry Hill Apartments and Colwick estates are built, we will again have an issue in other schools, which by what he has heard so far from the community, could be resolved through some redistricting. He said Barton’s problem arose because of the faster turnover of houses by senior citizens to younger families and younger families are staying longer or expanding their homes in Barton, instead of moving to larger homes elsewhere in Cherry Hill. He feels in the future we may see the same type of thing happening in the Cooper and Sharp schools areas.

We then spoke of transportation and the fact that we don’t really have ‘neighborhood schools’ but rather K-5 schools that are a hodgepodge of neighborhoods mixed together and Sherman acknowledged redistricting and transportation spending must be addressed in the near future. (When studying the current map which shows which kids go where there are some schools and neighborhoods that are split right up the middle with kids from other school sending areas attending a different school than the one they should. An example would be Kilmer with a corridor up the middle where Paine kids enter into the picture and Old Orchard sends its kids to four different elementary schools. Johnson also has kids passing other schools to get there, and there is always the option of whether or not Malberg should become a thirteenth elementary school.)

We then went on to our five secondary schools. Sherman is worried because the growth, especially at the high schools, is escalating in the next few years. The project is that high school enrollment will grow from 3,700 kids to over 4,000 kids in the next couple of years, and there isn’t any room for them. (CHC note: years ago, many of the rooms available to house kids at the high school level are not available anymore since they have been converted to computer and science labs. Also class size was higher then (sometimes over 35 students per class), and for a time East was on split sessions to house their enrollment.)

Sherman says this is not an East/West issue but a high school issue that must be addressed. There is a great potential for over-crowding at the high school level and just talking about creating ‘smaller learning environments within each school will not fix that.’ Of course, another option could be that instead of Malberg potentially becoming another elementary school, should it become a third high school program.

Dr. Sherman believes that Cherry Hill needs a "release valve for kids to overcome the potential overcrowding." These options could be: a third high school program, adding on to both high schools, or building a new high school, which he does not see as feasible because the community would not want to pay for it and there is no place to build it.

He believes that other things they could look at are:

‘On-line learning’ which many schools are using. He just came back from a national conference in California where he learned more about "Virtual Learning High Schools," and the companies who ran them. In those, kids don’t go to high school but take their courses online and get college credit for them. He believes this is a trend we should watch.

Cherry Hill is actively pursuing offering college credit for high school courses and the district is discussing this with Rutgers and possibly Rowan and Penn. He feels Cherry Hill should be looking at alternate ways of presenting the high school experience. (The Connection and Dr. Sherman had discussed this possibility in the past, such as offering nursing credits, etc. with Penn, etc.). He feels there are many questions to ask and may avenues to check.

We then discussed how any room could be a classroom, such as his office, with kids learning at wireless labs, which could provide ‘smaller seminar settings’ instead of traditional high school settings for kids of seeing how many kids you can shove into a classroom.

This would also encourage independent and research-based learning on the part of students. Teachers could guide them and the students could explore different ways of learning. He feels this will definitely take 3 or 4 years of discussion, and that when he thinks about Malberg as a third high school, this might be the type of setting he envisions. He acknowledged that you would give up somethings, but you could gain many others. He feels strongly that Cherry Hill cannot and should not just continue down the same path of doing the same old thing, but expand into further technological learning opportunities.

We then discussed how some schools are incorporating

‘Senior year personal projects with independent research’ as a graduation requirement. It doesn’t matter if the students are AP, A, or R students or IB students, they must do it. There projects must then be presented to the faculty for graduation. One of the reasons for this is to gauge how students will apply what they have learned in the every day world, not just what they learned to pass a test. The best part of many of this is that it would not require more funding...but rather an allocation of current funding.

We then talked about how every four years there is a different generation in school districts and how school districts must evolve to meet the needs of those students much as parents must evolve to meet the needs of younger children, which are sometimes different than older children.

Dr. Sherman then went on to talk about the possibility of year-round schooling, which might not be an option for all kids, but some kids might want to take advantage of this type of setup. Maybe some kids would want to take a third semester during the 10 weeks of summer who couldn’t take a particular course at any other time. Or maybe they would want to take something new out of their normal course selections. There are many options that schools could do to turn their entire buildings into learning centers and get out of the box that learning just takes place in classrooms.

He said the main thing is that everyone must understand the complexity of education and nothing should be done overnight. People need time to absorb new ideas and accept them.

Other subjects we touched on were Standardized testing, early decisions for college applications and how these topics are changing the way kids look at applying to college.

Competition to get into college has never been higher or more rigorous. There are 7 million school age children in America. By the end of this decade there will be somewhere around 16 million children and there are no additional colleges or college seats being added across the country. Funding for colleges is decreasing and higher education for everyone is the norm – not the exception anymore. In the 50’s 40% of kids expected to go to college now that percentage is 90%.

What is happening now with colleges is that more colleges are accepting students through ‘early decision’ than every before so kids are getting locked out of colleges if they don’t apply and make that choice. Now students have to pick a college, apply and decide if they are going there (if they get offered early decision) or they don’t get in. The top schools are just getting more and more competitive than ever.

Cherry Hill is planning a meeting on April 24 with college admissions people from some top universities to discuss this problem and how it will affect kids.

Colleges today are looking for ‘strength of transcript’ in order to get in. They want to know that if your high school offered AP/IB courses, did you take them? That is the main criteria for acceptance. In Cherry Hill we now have 22 AP courses in our high schools in addition to IB offerings at West. Sherman said that presently there are 45% of kids taking AP courses at East and almost 40% at West taking AP courses, which is adding tremendous stress to our kids. Parents are now getting concerned about the amount of homework and stress being placed on kids in order for the kids to get into good schools.

Sherman believes that Cherry Hill must learn to balance the workload and the mental well-being of kids in order for them to balance out their lives. This is being reflected nationally and it must be addressed. This same thing is now happening at middle school level also. Colleges are pushing harder and harder.

We discussed that while sometimes the kids can handle this stress in high school, they sometimes fall apart in college where the level of stress just gets higher and tougher.

Sherman’s belief is that we must find a way to help all kids learn to how to handle stress and life in and out of school. He feels that all kids must learn that they have options in life and in school – that the balance is very important.

We then went on to Testing and IB.

Sherman feels that Bush is correct when he talks about ‘testing for accountability,’ but that message also sends out the message ‘that we don’t trust public schools to do the job unless we hold their feet to the fire.’

Sherman believes that public education is at a cross-road and public schools can do a better job, and if they don’t step up to the plate and accept this challenge they will be looking at a whole different scenario since the Supreme Court is now hearing arguments for using public spending for parochial schools. The future of public education could be drastically changed in the future.

As far as IB, he doesn’t think to offer IB or not offer IB is the issue, nor is AP the issue, but the issue is whatever comes up in the next five years in education, for example having seniors doing personal projects no matter what type of course they take.

Sherman feels that there will be an increase in the number of students coming out of Rosa, Carusi or Beck who will move into IB 9th and 10th and then onto the diploma program in 11th and 12th. But the issue is where we migrate in education to combine the best of the best...no matter what it is called as long as it is good education. He does believe that parents should have options as to what type of program their children take, and districts have to offer options in this competitive market of the world.

He believes that any conversation that focuses on the issue of what is better is healthy because it forces people to want the best education they can get for their children. As far as IB or AP, all parents have to do is pick up a college catalogue and they will see IB listings on the one side of a page and AP listings on the other. They are saying either are acceptable for entrance into college. What is important is that we have rigorous course offerings for all kids. IB and AP are both really good course offerings.

(CHC Note: This year in Cherry Hill there are over 2,000 students involved in one strand or another of IB either at elementary, middle or high school.

As far as the four levels of IB at CH West High School, while there are some 30 additional students who matriculate in and out of IB classes due to AP classes which may not fit into their schedules, the actual class counts of IB at West is:

9th grade – 33 students;

10th grade 31 students,

11th grade – 13 students and

12th grade – 9 students.

11th and 12th grades are the IB diploma programs. While all 22 students could take the IB diploma test this year, only the actual 9 students would officially graduate this year with the IB diploma in addition to their traditional West diploma.

The IB diploma program is expected to grow as the 9th and 10th graders move up and the district is hopeful that more 8th graders graduating from our middle schools this year will matriculate into the IB programs at West, rather than the more traditional programs at both West and East. )

The Cherry Hill Connection plans to continue this type of conversation with Dr. Sherman over the course of this year, and we thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule.

Content courtesy of the Cherry Hill Connection.

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Author: Kathy Haughwout

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