Hoboken Director of Secondary Programs Gerry Kiely anticipates a smooth opening of the schools Tuesday and is pleased about the hiring of nine teachers for the high school and four new primary school teachers.
"For such a long time Hoboken was caught in a cycle of declining enrollment, which meant that there was very little hiring of new teachers going on," said Kiely. "But now our schools are growing and we're are hiring again and the credentials of our new teachers are outstanding. We couldn't be happier."
For the past two years, enrollment in Hoboken public schools has increased, reversing a decade-long trend of decline.
Board of Education President David Anthony believes that this year the city's schools will offer more benefits to the students than before.
"We are very excited about the new school year," said Anthony Tuesday afternoon. "The schools are cleaner and safer than ever before and we have some amazing new programs that are ready to go online this year."
Anthony is enthused about installing new technology in the classrooms. By the middle of the school year every classroom in the mile-square city will be wired for Internet access, and it is Anthony's goal to have a computer in every classroom by the end of the year.
The classroom computers will be an addition to the computer labs that already exist in the areas six public schools.
"One of the things that is most exciting is the new technology in the classroom," said Kiely. "These students are going to have advantages that those before them could only dream of."
Anthony is most satisfied about the prospect of opening the Connors Primary School as an after-school and evening community center. While final plans are still being worked out, according to Anthony, within the first two months of classes, the school, located at Second and Monroe streets, will be opened to the public for evening activities that will run until about 9 p.m.
The activities will include instructional classes on parenting and infant care, study groups with volunteer tutors, sports and recreational games and adult educational programs.
"This is going to be a reality and it is going to bring something to the community that we have never had before and is long overdue," said Anthony. "This will be a true community center that allows us to have an outreach with the community where we give children and their parents a safe place to go that is free of negative influences. We are currently putting together a program that balances athletics and academics, which brings kids off the streets and puts them in a friendly learning environment."
Connors' opening will be funded by a joint venture between the Board of Education, the city of Hoboken and the HOPES-Head Start program.
Also, over the summer, workers have installed closed circuit phone lines in all of the city's schools, which entails that in-school and school-to-school phone calls will be free of charge. Last year local phone service cost the schools over $100,000, officials said.
The new system will also allow for improved in-school communication, as teachers will have voice mail that can be checked. The system cost $120,000 to install, of which 90 percent was picked up by the state. The state will also maintain the system.
State curriculum and structural changes
This year more than 1.3 million students will attend New Jersey public schools. The state-instituted changes for the upcoming school year include a new state exam for high school students, changes in curriculum requirements for them and an influx of new school improvements as part of a multi-billion dollar school funding law.
The new exam, called the High School Proficiency Assessment, will be administered for the first time to all eleventh-grade students in March 2002. This exam replaces the High School Proficiency Test. The HSPA will initially test in language arts literacy and mathematics. Additional subjects will be added in four years.
Passing two subjects in the HSPA is a requirement for a high school diploma. Students who fail one or two subjects will have additional opportunities to test in the fall and spring of their senior years.
Changes to the curriculum mean that the next high school freshmen to be the first class required to complete 10 credits in the visual, performing and practical arts as a graduation requirement. The class will also be the first to complete 10 credits in a world language to receive a diploma.
Because of state funding, Hoboken schools will reap the benefits of facility refurbishments. The renovations will be the tangible product of the New Jersey Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act that was passed by both houses of the legislature and signed into law by the governor on July 18, 2001. The act provides $7 billion to the state's 30 "special needs" districts, of which Hoboken is one.
The program launched the New Jersey School Construction Initiative, a multi-facetted program for the design, renovation, repair and new construction of primary and secondary schools throughout the state.
All six schools in the mile-square city will also be getting much-needed new roofs within the next few years. By the first month of school year, the roofs will be completed on the Calabro and Connors primary schools and Demarest Middle School and, according to Anthony, the contract for the Brandt Middle School is currently being bid out and will be finished before winter.
The construction on the Wallace Primary and Hoboken High schools will begin early next summer.
State fosters school choice for more students
The State Department of Education is also slated to step up the funding for more students to participate in the existing five-year School Choice Pilot Program, which enables students to attend schools outside their districts at no cost to parents. The program is now in its second year, when student participation in the program is expected to triple.
In 2000-2001, there were 96 students who chose to attend schools in 10 choice districts, of which Hoboken is one. In September, it is expected that 308 students will be attending schools in 11 choice districts.
"I am extremely pleased at the progress of our school choice program in its second year," said Commissioner of Education Vito A. Gagliardi Sr. recently. "I am most proud of the fact that this program gives parents an important option other than simply sending their children to the schools in districts which they happen to live. Choice children and their parents are extremely enthusiastic about the program."
More charter schools
When school starts this year, 51 new charter schools will open their doors in New Jersey, which marks the fifth year that the state's charter school law has been in place. The schools will serve more than 13,400 students.
Last year the Hoboken Charter School, which has grades K-12, graduated its first senior class. Another charter school in the city is the Elysian Primary Charter School.
"Charter schools have become an important part of the state's public education system," said Commissioner of the State Board of Education Vito Gagliardi. "They offer an important choice to parents looking for a different educational option for their children."