Pinelands Regional Ranked Third of 16 Ocean County High Schools by U.S. News and World Report

In Top Half of New Jersey Schools and Top Third of Country’s
By RICK MELLERUP | May 29, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Little Egg Harbor, NJ — The Pinelands Regional School District got a big injection of good news at its May 15 Board of Education meeting. Stephen Kubricki, who represents Little Egg Harbor Township on the board, announced that Pinelands had finished third out of the 16 Ocean County high schools in the 2019 rankings of public high schools in the United States by U.S. News and World Report.

“We’re number three – that goes from Point Pleasant to here,” said Kubricki. “Point Pleasant Beach is one, Point Pleasant Borough is two, and we’re number three, before the Brick schools, before the Toms River schools and all the other schools in between – a source of pride I’m not even sure people are aware of, so now you are.”

Probably many people are also unaware that U.S. News and World Report ranks the nation’s high schools, what with that publication’s college rankings stealing the thunder. But U.S. News ranks all sorts of educational institutions including graduate schools, online colleges and global universities.

This year U.S. News ranked 407 of New Jersey’s 438 high schools (some don’t report enough information to make the rankings). Point Pleasant Beach finished 71st in the state while Point Pleasant Borough was 100th. Pinelands was ranked 174 in New Jersey, meaning it was in the top half of all the state’s ranked high schools. The same cannot be said of the two geographically closest county high schools, Barnegat and Southern Regional. Barnegat finished at 218 in the rankings; Southern ended up in the 274 spot.

Pinelands did even better nationally. U.S. News ranked over 17,000 high schools nationwide in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Pinelands was 4,632. That’s in the top third in the entire country. Barnegat was ranked 6,856; Southern checked in at 8,800.

New Jersey as a whole was ranked the state with the fifth-best high schools in the country. Massachusetts finished first; Nebraska finished 50th, ahead of only South Dakota, which finished 51st because it did not supply U.S. News with its Advanced Placement numbers.

Kubricki’s announcement was welcome news, with some of the board members applauding. It had to sound good for them after previously hearing a presentation by Pinelands Junior High School Assistant Principal Thomas Denning.

During his report on the district’s Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports program, designed to improve student behavioral culture, that was implemented this past school year in seventh grade, Denning told the board the results of a survey conducted with parents, staff and students. Thirty-seven percent of the slightly over 100 parents who responded to the survey said they weren’t proud of the school.

“Ouch,” said Denning, “that hurts, that hurts, right? Because that’s a pretty high number.”

Denning went on to say that about 90 staff members responded to the survey with 33 percent saying they felt some staff and students don’t exhibit school pride. Approximately 700 students were surveyed; 55 percent of them also said they had seen a lack of school pride among staff and students.

Denning hopes the PBIS program, which employs positive incentives and which will gradually extend to all grades in the district, will help with the district’s school culture and develop more-positive attitudes.

The assistant principal suggested the high negative numbers in the survey might be partially explained because they might mirror unfortunate events in the district’s recent past.

Certainly the situation at Pinelands the past couple of years has had to be discouraging to many. There have been layoffs and changes in the administration while vandalism has been a problem at the junior high building since last fall. Some parents thought their children had been exposed to construction debris related-asbestos at the high school in the 2017-18 school year and have been wary of the district ever since. That and other building problems led to the high school being closed for a time while all the district’s students were squeezed into the junior high by way of split sessions. Trailers were added to the junior high, and the seventh grade was moved to Little Egg Harbor’s Frog Pond Elementary School for 2018-19, so split sessions were avoided this year even though the high school was closed once again.

If all goes well and high school students can return to their own building this fall, as scheduled, the school pride issue may resolve itself to some degree.

As for the opinion not only of the school family but in the community at large, Superintendent Melissa McCooley addressed that in her superintendent’s report, where she outlined the district’s strategic goals through June 30, 2022, that had been developed by a committee consisting of teachers, students, parents and members of the community. She wants the district to be proactive when it comes to public relations, so much so that two of the four goals in the district’s strategic action plan are dedicated to improving communications.

“This is something the committee felt very strongly about, that we need to start getting out there the great things that are happening at Pinelands,” said McCooley.

Goal 2 is to “Create a positive image through the consistent dissemination of academic and cultural success.” That could be achieved by positive social media in such outlets as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and student videos, plus The CAT EYE, a social media showcase of the district’s accomplishments, and WCAT, the district’s public-access cable TV station. McCooley would also like to coordinate more closely with the district’s alumni foundation and Parent-Teacher-Student Organization) to disseminate information. Finally, the action plan calls for the district to research and implement best practices in establishing local and global connections with other schools.

Creating a positive image is a district goal behind only “producing positive, productive students” and is ahead of Goal 3, which is to “Create and ensure a clean, safe and positive environment for all students, staff and community members while maintaining all fiscal responsibilities.”

Goal 4 is reminiscent of Goal 2. “Create a connected plan that uses effective communication techniques to involve and encourage all stakeholders.” Activities included in Goal 4 include creating and utilizing a district hashtag picked by the students and developing a communications plan, including actions as suggested by the National Schools Public Relations Association.

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