Dual language programs are contagious- they're catching fire all over the country, specifically in New Jersey where in Englewood Cliffs, Robert L. Kravitz, superintendent of schools, is making transformative change to the monolingual teaching environment that he stepped into just two years ago.
If one walks through the halls of the Pre-K to second grade North Cliff School, one is surprised to hear not only French being spoken, but also Italian and Spanish – the three choices that parents have for their young children. These 210 children are the first to be receiving a public ‘tri-lingual’ education in the entire state.
The school is divided into three classes for each grade – one for each of the three languages offered. All classes but Math and Language Arts are in French, increasing the level of proficiency as the years go on.
Most of the children are already bilingual – 50% of the school is made up of Korean-American children, many of them who are at least conversational in Korean. The school promotes their trilingualism, which is only encouraged by their parents, most of whom learned French, Italian, or Spanish in school as well. Sometimes, however, the children are the ones who end up teaching the parents: Kravitz recalls an instance when a child began singing a French carol during Christmas time and having her parent ecstatically email him about it the next day. While on vacation to francophone, hispanophone, or italophone countries, parents are eager to have their children translate for them.
The school’s success as bilingual school is directly attributed to the superintendent’s unwavering dedication to multiculturalism. As an American married to a French woman, bilingualism is life for his three children. Recognizing the benefit for them, he wished nothing less for his students in Englewood Cliffs. Robert Kravitz began his career with a business degree, which led him from being the New Jersey distributor of Ben and Jerry’s in to starting his own baked-goods company.
An MBA later, he entered the education system as a business professor. He was able to use his entrepreneurial spirit to turn a school around from a 66% failure rate to a 90% passing rate - in under a year. His business background also lead him to truly allocate resources and funds in the most efficient and effective ways. This story is one that he appropriately calls a Blue Ribbon Story, after being one of the 300 principals to receive the prestigious Blue Ribbon distinction at the school, as one of the top 1/10 of 1% of all schools in the United States.
During his time at the Fort Lee District, despite it being the district with the second lowest cost for pupil it was the one with the highest test rates in the entire country. His resourcefulness is extended at the North Cliff School. Kravitz attributes this to a conscious hiring effort to recruit individuals with multiple talents. For example, instead of hiring a teacher who can teach math and one who can teach French, he hires one who can teach both. This allows instructors the flexibility to be moved around without increasing the overall budget of the school. And by the way, the school is looking for qualified teachers!
Kravitz (right) with the Kindergarten teacher Lizane Nadon (left) and Education Attaché Fabrice Jaumont
Kravitz provides helpful advice for other educators and administrators in his book, ‘Blue Ribbon Story: An Entrepreneur’s Success in Education’, which tells the dynamic story of how an entrepreneur turned around a school, and the business methods that can be implemented to creating a better education system.
The North Cliff School is truly a model for other prospective bilingual public schools in New Jersey and across the country. The next step: turning the entire Englewood Cliffs Public School System into a trilingual International Baccalaureate (I.B.) school system. People are starting to move to Englewood Cliffs because of this bilingual opportunity for their children – If it isn’t already, Kravitz knows that someday, ‘this is going to be an international town.’
To find out more about teaching positions in the school, or to contribute to the bilingual programs, click here.