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NJ DOE Awards Morris School District Unprecedented $2.9 Million Grant to Expand Preschool Education

A free preschool education through the Morris School District and its partners is now accessible to hundreds of children.


The number of students receiving a free preschool education in the Morris School District will increase to 225 for academic year 2019-2020, thanks to a sizeable Preschool Education Expansion Aid grant from the State of NJ totalling $2.9 million—the largest awarded in Morris County. Over the next several years, the grant is expected to allow as many as 500 children a year to attend preschool free of charge. Those seats will be filled by three- and four-year-olds at the Lafayette Learning Center (LLC) and its partner preschools in Morristown, which have developed a close collaboration. This working “consortium” of local preschools includes the Head Start Community Program of Morris County, with classrooms at their Morristown Center as well as at the District’s own Alfred Vail School; the Cornerstone: Neighborhood House; and several YMCA-affiliated programs like the Blake Center, Children on the Green, and the Children’s Corner.

LLC Principal Karen Andre asserts that an investment in children’s learning during the preschool years pays enormous societal dividends later on, a claim supported by extensive educational and public policy research. “Preschool education boosts children’s language, cognitive and social skills, academic ability, mastery of routines, listening, concentration, following directions, as well as their self-esteem and self-confidence. It changes their trajectory.” Dr. Andre, who received her Doctorate in Special Education from Rutgers University, notes a particular advantage for students at preschools like the LLC and its partners, where a “whole child” approach involves holistic attention to language and literacy as well as to social-emotional learning and physical development. All teachers are fully certified, having been through rigorous training in early childhood education; most are dual certified in both general and special education.

Through its established partnerships, the Morris School District will coordinate and oversee the preschool expansion, ensuring that each program in the consortium delivers an “extremely high quality, standards-based preschool education that leverages shared resources in professional development, intervention, and community/family involvement,” explained Dr. Andre. All partner preschools will follow the same curriculum and receive the same curriculum training, and master teacher coaches will support preschool faculty in curriculum implementation and classroom management. A new counseling position created through the grant, the Community and Parent Involvement Specialist, will work closely with families to foster strong home and school relationships, offer parenting strategies and workshops to support student learning and well-being, and provide comprehensive outreach services.

Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast expressed his gratitude and praise for the concerted effort of LLC and MSD administrators and the partner site directors who were responsible for procuring the state grant. Said Mr. Pendergrast, “The significance of exceptional learning experiences at the earliest ages is unquestionable, and we see clear evidence of ongoing student success for those children who continue in our district. To be able to provide this kind of opportunity for so many more children is a tremendous accomplishment, and it would not have been possible without the dedication, commitment, and collaboration of Karen Andre, our community preschool partners and our central office team. The expansion of preschool education will have a far-reaching impact on the lives of district families and on our community as a whole."


MSD's Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast Awarded Morris County Superintendent of the Year

Calling his leadership post in the MSD a "dream job," Pendergrast discusses some of the achievements of, as well as his vision for, our unique school community.


The Morris School District is proud to announce that Mackey Pendergrast, Superintendent of Schools, has been awarded the Morris County Superintendent of the Year.  In late spring, Mr. Pendergrast was selected by his peer superintendents of the Morris County Association of School Administrators (MCASA) for this distinction.  Scott Moffitt, Superintendent of the Morris County Vocational School District and MCASA President, said of Mr. Pendergrast, “As a veteran superintendent, Mackey is quick to share his knowledge and expertise with his colleagues throughout the county.  In doing so he is always able to communicate effectively and confidently while also being able to lighten the mood no matter how stressful the topic may be.  Mackey will be an excellent ambassador for Morris County.”

As County Superintendent of the Year, Pendergrast is now in the running for the Northern Region Superintendent of the Year, which will be awarded by the NJ Association of School Administrators in the fall.  Of the three regional winners, one will be selected to vie for the American Association of School Adminstrator’s National Superintendent of the Year award. 

Pendergrast has served as superintendent of the Morris School District since June 1, 2015.  Prior to that, he was the superintendent of the West Morris Regional High School District (Mendham and Central High Schools) for four years. Reflecting on his 31-year career as an educator, which has also included positions as director of staff development, district social studies supervisor, guidance counselor, high school history teacher, and varsity basketball coach, Pendergrast describes his current post as a “dream job”:  “I am profoundly grateful everyday for the meaningful work I participate in as superintendent of the Morris School District.  This is a very special community--a fully engaged community, deeply committed to excellence in education, deeply committed to upholding the unique legacy of its public schools.  Our students are ascending, our community is thriving, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.” 

Under his leadership, the Morris School District has seen significant student progress, most notably in overall AP participation and performance at Morristown High School and in reading and writing achievement at Frelinghuysen Middle School.  He credits the implementation of wide-scale revisions to the FMS English Language Arts curriculum and a new schedule of daily English classes with the school’s steadily improving results on the state standardized test.  Students at FMS have outpaced the state average for the past two years in every grade level, and the number of students exceeding expectations has almost tripled.  This success story caught the attention of the NJ Department of Education (NJ DOE); Commissioner Dr. Lamont Repollet and his team visited the middle school last year to see students and teachers in action.  Says Pendergrast, “Our focus at the middle school was never about raising test scores, although that is certainly a logical outgrowth of the improvements we made.  This was about raising expectations for all students, raising the level of rigorous instruction, and really creating the right environment for students to excel in.” 

Pendergrast has also overseen a flourishing of co- and extracurricular programs at the middle and high schools, with many new offerings in STEM and in the arts, as well as a vast expansion of the Preschool, which, together with its partner preschools, has secured an unprecedented multi-million dollar grant from the NJ DOE.  Nancy Bangiola, Vice President of the Morris School District Board of Education, stated:  “When we hired Mackey, we knew we were getting an innovative educational leader who would be thoroughly invested in the success of each child in our district.  But the scope and range of his innovation and the demonstrative effect that has had on student achievement have been far greater than we ever imagined.  He has consistently raised the bar district wide, and each time, the bar has been met.”

Pendergrast notes that the district’s recent accomplishments all point back to a clearly defined strategic plan whose collaborative development he led soon after his arrival.  The Way Forward sets the direction for district actions in specific areas such as language arts and math mastery, global competence, and student and community wellness.  It also reflects the district’s enduring aspirations and commitments:  providing students continuous opportunities for achieving academic excellence, developing meaningful relationships, and becoming future ready.  The underlying premise, insists Pendergrast, is that “each student will ascend academically, socially, and emotionally.”

When asked what he expects to focus on in the coming year as superintendent of schools, Pendergrast responded:  “We are always refining, always gaining insight into what we can do better.  For that to happen in a way that’s authentic and has lasting impact, we need to continue building strong and healthy relationships, both internally and externally.  We strive to be a learning organization, and the partnership with our community is absolutely essential to our ongoing success.  I’m looking forward to enhancing that partnership through various community relations initiatives that foster two-way communication, understanding, and trust.  Ultimately, I want to ensure that our entire system is a responsive one, where people feel they have a voice and that their voice is heard.”

The Right Equation for Success: MHS Math Team Earns Top Spots in State Math Competitions

Morristown High School's math superstars placed first in Morris County this spring.


At the conclusion of the six contests that comprise the NJ Mathematics League’s annual state competition, Morristown High School emerged as the top-scoring school in Morris County, placing 10th overall in the State. Students from public and private schools across NJ were administered a series of thirty-minute exams covering a range of topics. Several MHS students earned a perfect score on the individual tests.

The MHS Math Team is an extracurricular club open to all students who enjoy mathematics and want to challenge their logical thinking and reasoning skills through advanced topics. The team meets weekly with club advisors Marina Bragina and Christiana Kemp, math teachers at the high school, to solve difficult math problems together and to share and develop new strategies. Students participate in state and national competitions throughout the year. Mrs. Bragina commended the exceptional work ethic and dedication of the members of the Math Team. “With each step we take, we grow stronger, more skilled, more self-confident and more successful,” she said.

In December, Morristown High placed second among high schools in its size category (greater than 1250 students) at the 42nd Annual Association of Mathematics Teachers of New Jersey (AMTNJ) High School Mathematics Contest. Only Millburn High School scored higher in this division. Ingrid Suazo and Duncan Wild, both seniors at MHS, received the top scores among individual students in NJ; Ingrid won second place and Duncan won third place.

The Morris School District situates mathematics within its comprehensive integrated PK-12 STEM curriculum. Students in the District study math as well as its sister STEM disciplines—science, technology, and engineering—from the earliest grades onward. The curriculum is complemented by a wide array of co- and extracurricular opportunities in STEM, particularly at the middle and high school levels. The District also boasts a STEM Academy at Morristown High School. This highly selective program offers a unique interdisciplinary experience for students in grades 9-12 who wish to pursue a rigorous sequence of STEM courses, as well as professional partnerships, field experiences, mentorships, capstone projects, community service, and other STEM enrichment activities.

District Math Supervisor David Thompson noted the recent growth in student achievement in math. Says Thompson, “We’ve seen an increase in the number of Morristown High students opting for the most advanced math courses such as AP Calculus, AP Statistics, and Linear Algebra.” Thompson added, “Certainly, the accomplishments of the MHS Math Team this year testify to the strength of the District’s math sequence—as well as to the hard work and passion of our math superstars.”

Training “Instrument Ninjas” in MSD’s Elementary School Music Program

The MSD offers students a "musical journey" that few other districts can match.


Students at Alexander Hamilton have been practicing diligently to prepare for their black belt test. No, they aren’t studying martial arts; they are students in Jean Graziano’s instrumental music program at Alexander Hamilton School, and they are working their way through the District’s “Instrument Karate” assessment—learning new skills, becoming more adept at performance, and reaching key benchmarks in their development as musicians.

In the Morris School District, students may begin instrumental music (band or orchestra) in fourth grade. For the next two years, they take small group lessons, play together as a full band or orchestra, and are exposed to multiple performance contexts such as Winter and Spring Concerts, Solo Nights, and STEAM night. By the time they graduate high school, those who remain with the program will have received nine academic years of instruction. Many opt to enroll in the Summer Music Academy as well, which offers students a chance to continue toward mastery in a dynamic, focused summer program.

It is this full trajectory of music education—a “musical journey” across a continuum of opportunities—that affords Morris School District students a particular advantage. Ariella Schwam, who teaches both instrumental and vocal music at Normandy Park School, maintains that “the Morris School District is a special place because it fosters the musical growth that allows students to take the foundation they get at the elementary level and run with it!” Indeed, when they reach Frelinghuysen Middle School, students are ready to participate in a wide range of musical forums: a regular schedule of classes and group lessons in addition to concerts, competitions, festivals, and honor bands. FMS offers Band and Orchestra as year-long electives, and students may also audition for the extracurricular Wind Symphony and Jazz Band.

As the training ground for students’ ongoing music education, the elementary programs focus on helping students develop a lifelong love of and appreciation for the craft. Deborah Carroll states that her primary goal as the orchestra teacher at Sussex Avenue, Normandy Park and Thomas Jefferson schools is “to teach and guide students towards becoming independent musicians that will always value music as an important part of their lives.” Ms. Carroll believes the MSD stands out in the area of music education because it “offers students a true musical community where they will learn, evolve, and have so much fun as they continue through the music program.”

One of the best parts of teaching beginning musicians, says Jean Graziano, Alexander Hamilton’s concert band and jazz band teacher, is witnessing the transformation students undergo over the course of their two-year elementary school experience. She and her colleagues enjoy following their students’ success once they move on to the middle and high school programs, and witnessing the impact of the foundation they have provided is an enduring source of pride: “[Students] may be working with another teacher when they make Area Band or Regional Orchestra, win best soloist at a competition, or are recognized for their outstanding musicianship. But, to me, they are always ‘my kids’ because I knew them when they made that first squeak!”