This year's school budget is $420,458,523, the same as the 2004-2005 school year. The Jersey City school district is an Abbott district, one of 31 urban "special needs" school districts that receive more money for new buildings, additions and renovations in order to ensure that the money spent per pupil is comparable to wealthier districts in the state.
Walker, who oversees 21 of the city's 43 schools, and Dooley said that there will now be a greater emphasis on teaching language arts and math in the schools. This is the result of the New Jersey Department of Education's plan to eliminate the Special Review Assessment (SRA).
The SRA functioned as an alternative assessment to the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), which New Jersey students must take to receive their diplomas. The HSPA tests for proficiency in language arts and math.
Walker explained that the SRA consists of a series of assignments over a period of time instead of being a one-day exam to test for proficiency in a subject.
"Sometimes our children have problems with written tests, and this is another way to test students," Walker said.
Dooley said that in the 2006-2007 school year, the SRA for language arts would be phased out, as would the SRA for math in 2007-2008.
"We have to raise the bar; students have to raise their expectations," Dooley said.
Also, the Jersey City school district will be participating in a new high school initiative starting this year. Dooley said Jersey City was chosen by the state Department of Education as one of four school districts to take part in the Abbott Secondary Education Initiative.
The initiative calls for large middle and high schools to be broken into smaller schools, or "learning communities" to increase the amount of instruction and courses.
The goals are to prepare students entering the ninth grade for college preparatory work and high school graduates for university instruction, and to ensure that every student receives consistent personal attention from at least one adult professional.
"This is going to change how students have been taught in high school the last 40 years," Dooley said.
Dooley said this initiative allows for the creation of new methods in teaching secondary education.
"We want to see our schools engaged in virtual home instruction, more online courses, and our kids taking more classes in college, after they have satisfied their requirements in high school," Dooley said. "Also, more Saturday classes, having students spend a semester working off-campus. For example, science students working at NASA or business students working in industry."
Walker said that the most important issues are improvement in test scores and student attendance, and reduction in student dropout rates.
Also, for the first time there will be workshops for parents in October to train them in understanding the inner workings of the school system and preparing their children for school. New schools and ongoing construction
There is still construction happening on the site of the new school complex on Grand Street between Jersey Avenue and Monmouth Street. The complex consists of the new No. 3 School building, with a capacity for 550 students from kindergarten to fifth grade, and Middle School No. 4 for grades six through eight, which will accommodate 750 students.
Dooley said construction should end later this fall with a Certificate of Occupancy to be issued by December.
Students are expected to occupy the complex by February 2006.
The students for the new complex will come from the old Public School No. 3, as well as No. 9 and No. 22. Dooley also said that the old No. 3 school on Bright Street will function as a "swing space" where students from schools undergoing renovation will be brought to resume classes without being subjected to noise and dust.
Dooley said the construction of the Heights Middle School located on Collard Street on the site of the city's old Reservoir No. 2 should be completed in 2006, with capacity for 850 students.
Another school construction project going on in the city is the exterior renovation of the Dickinson High School on Newark Avenue.
Dooley expressed concern that 12 new schools that need to be built in Jersey City in the next few years may not materialize.
The problem lies with the New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation (NJSCC), the public agency created five years ago with an $8.6 billion budget to construct new schools and upgrade old ones in the state's poorest communities.
This was in compliance with the 1998 N.J. State Supreme Court Abbott vs. Burke decision, which ruled the state was required to fund all necessary renovations and new construction in "Abbott" districts.
In July, the NJSCC announced that a remaining $1.6 billion in funds would be available for the completion of only 59 school construction projects across the state. In Jersey City, that left funding for only five projects, including three early childhood centers, the renovation of Public School No. 34 on Kennedy Boulevard and an addition to Public School No. 24 on Virginia Avenue.
"[Not building schools] puts us behind other Abbott districts," Dooley said. "We have the Educational Law Center fighting in court to get more funding. Why shouldn't we have more schools?"
The ELC, based in Newark, advocates for public school children's access to equal and adequate education under state and federal laws. The ELC is currently petitioning the N.J. Supreme Court to restore the funding for Jersey City's school construction projects. Security measures
Gangs have become a problem in Jersey City. Dooley said later this month there will be an announcement of an anti-gang initiative being developed by the school district, in conjunction with the Jersey City Police Department. "We have a uniform policy to have children look the same, to take away all the distraction and to eliminate the gang colors," Dooley said. "We want to head off a lot of incidents and take the graffiti off our buildings, which mark them as gang hangouts. Our schools should be an oasis of learning."
"Keeping students away from gang activity and delinquent behavior will make them marketable, make them employable.
That can make them significant contributors to their community," Walker said.
Dooley and Walker each spoke about a new security initiative created by Acting Governor Richard Codey to ensure the overall security of the schools. A security checklist of requirements has to be complied with. The training of staff to address various emergency situations and state audits of the security measures will be implemented.
Dooley also said that test evacuations will be conducted during the school year by the Jersey City Fire Department.
Also, now there are defibrillators in the schools for those with heart conditions. For more information on the Jersey City school district, call (201) 915-6201 or visit www.jcboe.org. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org