N.J.’s Freehold Township School District Rethinks Professional Development, Improves Student Engagement

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A K-12 school district singled out as one of the country’s 20 most innovative, and guided by a leader named New Jersey’s top superintendent, revealed this week it is transforming learning with a personalized professional development and student engagement solution that is helping teachers meet learners' needs in unparalleled ways.

Freehold Township School District administrators said the introduction of  Verso – a cloud-based platform that supports educators with high-impact teaching strategies to promote deeper learning  – is one of the key reasons their teachers are newly focused and working differently, while students are noticeably more engaged learners. Additionally, the district reports those teachers using Verso are more routinely transitioning their students from surface to deep learning during lessons and through their homework.

“The professional development we’re seeing with Verso encompasses the entire student-teacher experience,” said Superintendent Dr. Ross Kasun, who was selected 2017 New Jersey Superintendent of the Year. “Verso is helping our teachers improve student engagement, provide visibility on student thinking, and transition students into a noticeably deeper stage of learning.

“We are on a path toward personalizing learning for all students with much more explicit awareness of their needs. Verso is the answer to many of the challenges we were facing.”

Freehold Township School District  – named one of the country’s 20 most innovative school districts by Washington, D.C.-based Digital Promise  – originally implemented Verso to help improve outdated homework practices. Verso offers questions and teaching strategies to:

  • help students solve problems;
  • allow them to own the opportunity to generate discussion; and
  • help gather more data on student thinking and behavior than they were otherwise receiving.

“By design, Verso facilitates conversation through effective questioning,” said Dr. Jeff Huguenin, principal of Freehold Township’s Joseph J. Catena Elementary School. “Given that, we use Verso to foster healthy dialogue that empowers the voices of teachers so our professional development and learning grows exponentially.”

Kasun said his teachers aren’t afraid to try new strategies in the classroom and further believes the district is on a strong path toward personalizing learning for all students with greater awareness of their needs.

“We find our students are asking better questions now; they’re collaborating and providing feedback by commenting on other students’ posts,” Kasun said. “Students who were previously reluctant to share have now found their voice, and many are now excited to obtain peer feedback.”

Huguenin reports his students have enthusiastically embraced the feedback element. “Participation is high, and the kids love it,” he said. “It’s a safe place to engage and kids want to collaborate. No one is afraid to raise their hand anymore.”

Another Freehold Township principal said Verso, “provides us with an opportunity to review highly effective pedagogy with our teachers so they can improve their practice on demand. Our teachers are working differently now; they have the data and teaching strategies (through the Verso support guides) to adjust lessons and move all students forward,” said West Freehold Elementary School’s Eddie Aldarelli. “Teachers are now focusing more on the ability to ask questions, the process of asking questions, how powerful those questions can be, and the art of instructional practices. It’s such a powerful tool.”

All district teachers were initially offered the opportunity to use Verso in class and as a homework tool. Administrators shared how teachers responded quickly as they discovered Verso’s powerful professional development, feedback and teacher-collaboration features.

“Our district continues to explore the capability of Verso as a teacher and student learning tool and we have been extremely impressed with how the platform provides an excellent balance between the two,” Huguenin said.

Freehold Township School District, based in Monmouth County, serves K-12 students, includes eight schools, 300 teachers and 3,950 students.

In use by more than 12,000 K-12 schools in over 100 countries, Verso is in its second year of marketing to K-12 districts in the U.S. with enterprise district-wide partnerships in half-dozen states. Moreover, it recently opened its first-ever U.S. headquarters, based in California. The key to Verso’s early success, according to its CEO/Founder Colin Wood, is recognizing the importance of reliable, easy-to-read data on how students are engaging and helping teachers with the best, research-based instructional strategies to deliver quality personalized learning.

For more information about Freehold Township School District, visit www.freeholdtwp.k12.nj.us. For more information about Verso, visit its website at www.versolearning.com.

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Charles Sosnik, Learning Counsel Editor