Test scores show challenges for Morris School District; board also facing insurance hikes, new pool for high school

Board President Melissa Spiotta and new Superintendent Anne Mucci, at her first regular Morris School District board meeting, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The Morris School District has challenging work ahead to narrow performance gaps between well off white students and the less affluent, minorities and, particularly, pupils who don’t speak English as their primary language.

That’s according to test results presented at Monday’s board meeting.

Board finance Chairperson Linda Murphy also disclosed that the regional K-12 district may be facing a $500,000 increase in health insurance costs. And the board is weighing a report that recommends replacing the 41-year-old Morristown High School swimming pool–at an anticipated cost of more than $8 million–within the next five years.

Murphy also said a GPS system soon will enable parents to track the arrival of their kids’ school buses.


The test results were from Start Strong, one of three benchmark tests used by district educators to measure students’ academic progress.

Administered statewide over the last two falls, Start Strong tested pupils in grades 4-10 in language, math and (for higher grades) science, to assess what they had learned in the years immediately preceding the 2020-21 and 2021-2022 academic years.

New board Vice President Katie Cole and new member Cary Lloyd, at Morris School District Board meeting, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Scores were categorized three ways: Groups that may need strong support, some support, or less support.

The most striking disparity was among English learners at Morristown High. More than 90 percent may need strong support in ELA, math and science, according to the Start Strong findings.

And the percentage of Latino/Hispanic students, Black students, and those from economically disadvantaged households who may need strong help is significantly greater than for white students, acknowledged Assistant Superintendent Kelly Harte.

“We really have to crack into our economically disadvantaged subgroup, and also our bi-lingual population programs, to make sure they’re addressing the needs of our kids,” Harte said.



Established by a landmark 1971 court order to ensure diversity, the Morris School District now serves about 5,700 students from Morristown, Morris Township and (for high school) Morris Plains.

When the district began, Blacks comprised nearly one-third of Morristown High’s population. By 2021, that figure had dipped to less than 8 percent. Latinos and Hispanics, meanwhile, now approximately match the number of white students. An influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants–some 354 in 2019 alone– has prompted the district to recruit more bilingual teachers.

Harte said the district is addressing the Start Strong findings in several ways.

Morristown High junior Abigail Osorio Euceda, left, shares a light moment with Morris School District board members Linda K. Murphy and Beth Wall (seated), and District Assistant Supt. Kelly Harte and Curriculum Director Brian Young, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

A “Ready Classroom Math” program has been launched for grades K-5. A three-tiered remediation system aims to avert needless extra help for high-achieving students, while making sure “nobody is slipping off the radar,” Harte said.

The district also is redoubling efforts to engage parents of students who need the most help. Such “parent trainings” strive to support study habits in the home, Harte said.

And the district is focusing on programs for students in transition years–from grade 5 to the Frelinghuysen Middle School, and from grade 8 to the high school, said Brian Young, director of curriculum.

Start Strong showed encouraging progress among this year’s 5th graders, Harte said.

“The big takeaway is, our schools are doing a really good job of narrowing in on kids who need extra support, narrowing on kids who need enrichment,” she said.


New Superintendent Anne Mucci will continue her predecessors’ talks with local officials about ceasing to use district schools as election polling places. The move is meant to avoid disrupting the school calendar, said board member Beth Wall.

New Supt. Anne Mucci at her first regular meeting of the Morris School District board, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

An “athletics consultant” is being hired, at a cost not to exceed $15,000, to suggest areas of improvement and “to keep our athletes in the district,” said the board’s new vice president, Katie Cole. Top local athletes are coveted by area prep schools.

At the Alexander Hamilton School, the second phase of a playground remediation will start this spring, Murphy said.

Board members talk with Sussex Avenue School 5th graders at Morris School District board meeting, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Mucci praised Sussex Avenue School pupils from teacher Anthony Lewis-Lahey’s 5th grade class, after they gave reports about a November trip to the Morris Museum.

The lone parent to address the board, Ellen Stoloff, asked members to implement hybrid meetings, so more residents can participate.

Melissa Spiotta, re-elected by her peers as board president earlier this month, told Stoloff members are having “an ongoing dialog about the possibility” of live-streaming meetings, as they did in the depths of the pandemic.

Sussex Avenue School 5th graders at Morris School District board meting, Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

If you’ve read this far… you clearly value your local news. Now we need your help to keep producing the local coverage you depend on! More people are reading Morristown Green than ever. But costs keep rising. Reporting the news takes time, money and hard work. We do it because we, like you, believe an informed citizenry is vital to a healthy community.

So please, CONTRIBUTE to MG or become a monthly SUBSCRIBER. ADVERTISE on Morristown Green. LIKE us on Facebook, FOLLOW us on Twitter, and SIGN UP for our newsletter.