The education news in Hudson County in 2009 ran the gamut from reduced state aid to new buildings.
In Hudson County, there are 11 school districts with 17 public high schools (including countywide, alternative, and evening high schools), 12 charter schools, and 91 public middle, elementary, and pre-K schools.
There are also several parochial and private schools (see sidebar).
Of the 11 public school districts, six had graduation rates for 2007-2008 that were higher than the state average of 92.8 percent, while five fell below the state average. The five below-average districts were Jersey City, Bayonne, Union City, North Bergen and Harrison.
One of the most significant policy changes to impact Hudson County schools this year was outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine’s new school aid formula, which changes how billions of dollars in aid to schools is distributed. Instead of the formula in place for years that sent enhanced funding to the state’s poorer districts, known as Abbott districts, the new formula follows needy students on an individual basis and the money goes to the schools where they study.
The new formula shrank funding to Jersey City, Hoboken, West New York and Union City at a time when they were facing increased costs.
Jersey City’s school system, with a $640 million budget, has been under state control since 1989 due to poor test scores, but residents can still elect the nine board members. The district is slowly coming back under local control.
Bill Parcells donated $100,000 to St. Anthony’s.
They asked school superintendent Dr. Charles Epps in November to consider some of their suggestions, including creation of an effective student support system, hiring and training top-flight teachers, developing the partnership between parents, teachers and schools, and updating the district’s computer labs.
Also in the fall, parents of students who attend Public School 16 on Washington Street voiced anger when the Board of Education moved up the timetable for dismantling the classroom trailers in the school’s courtyard to a year earlier than scheduled. Infuriated parents had to scramble in June to find new schools for their children entering sixth and seventh grades because the pre-K-through-eighth grade school, once the trailers were dismantled, would shrink to a pre-K-through-fifth grade school.
During the summer, the Learning Community Charter School, formerly located in downtown Jersey City, moved into the former Academy of St. Aloysius building on Kennedy Blvd. In the larger space, the school was able to increase its enrollment to 425 students.
In June, McNair Academic High School – a public magnet school for high-achieving students who live in Jersey City – was ranked No. 85 on Newsweek’s list of the top 1,500 high schools in the United States.
The Hoboken school district went through a tumultuous year, including the sudden departure of school Superintendent Jack Raslowsky, who left over the summer to become president at Xavier High School in Manhattan. Raslowsky was replaced by interim Superintendent Peter Carter.
But the new school year, which started on Sept. 1, also brought some pleasant changes. Connors Primary School began offering a violin program for students in the third to sixth grades and a yoga program for K-6, in addition to some other programs. The Brandt School, previously used for pre-K, third, and fourth grades only, has five new kindergarten classes this year due to an increase in enrollment.
In November, the Board of Education discussed the findings of a recent survey of the Hoboken school system that produced some controversy, including troubling financial findings in an audit. Also, the release of standardized test scores from the third to eighth grades indicated they dropped for the second year.
Also last month, the Hoboken school district announced that renovations to Connors Primary School will begin August 2010, forcing its students to move to the Demarest School building for two years. Hoboken Charter School, a K-12 charter school that was in Demarest, will have to find new space by next fall.
Back in April, three Hoboken moms – incumbent Theresa Minutillo and first-timers Maureen Sullivan and Ruth McAllister – were elected to the Board of Education on the “Kids First” reform slate.
The North Bergen school district started the school year in September with 35 new teachers, and also received $2 million in federal stimulus money for basic skills improvement and $1.9 million for special education programs.
In September a new pilot program was unveiled at two elementary schools, Franklin School from 1st to 4th grades and John F. Kennedy School from 5th to 8th grades, for students who need extra help with math and language arts skills.
North Bergen also began two pre-kindergarten classes for autistic students this fall. Shipping them out of the district usually costs the district $60,000 to $90,000 per student, but this program is estimated to cost the district $35,000 to $45,000 per student per year.
Guttenberg has one school: Anna L. Klein elementary. Older students attend North Bergen High School.
At Anna L. Klein, the pre-kindergarten half-day class was expanded to 60 students this year with the help of an additional teacher. The Klein School will also have the Literacy is Essential to Adolescent Development and Success (LEADS) program this year in the fourth through eighth grades, which will integrate language arts, social studies, and technology. Everyday Math is a new curriculum for students in kindergarten through second grade.
Also, the district received a $3.6 million grant from the state for the proposed school addition/Guttenberg community center.
The Secaucus school district opened amid some controversy when teachers were upset over personnel and curriculum changes made during the summer.
The personnel changes included the principal reassignments in three of the district’s four schools. Pat Impreveduto, who had been principal of Secaucus High School, was reassigned to be principal of the middle school. A week after the start of the school year, he had an accident in the building and has been on sick leave since.
Among other changes over the summer: Deidre Ertle, the former principal of Clarendon School, was made head of the high school. Former Secaucus Middle School head Pasquale Cocucci took over as principal at Clarendon.
Also, the district implemented online lesson plans, interactive “white boards,” and similar technology as an assistance to teachers and students, which rankled many.
There were other changes made this school year, including offering an extended day preschool program for students who need remedial work. Sixth graders were introduced to a new math program that is aligned with New Jersey’s core curriculum standards, and kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders took part in the school district’s new language arts literacy program.
On a related note, the state’s child welfare department closed all 18 special needs schools in the state as of September, including one in Secaucus that serves severely disabled and children with behavioral problems from throughout Hudson County. Under the state plan, these students will receive services and will be educated in their home districts.
The 12,000-student Union City school district saw some major happenings this year.
The new school year kicked off in September with the opening of the new Union City High School on Kennedy Blvd., which combined the old Emerson and Union Hill high schools into a new building. The new building also includes a state-of-the-art auditorium with advanced lighting controls, new Mac computers, electronic classroom boards known as SMART boards, automated no-touch sinks in the bathrooms, and a community health center that is a part of the North Hudson Community Action Corporation.
In November, the results of the New Jersey Department of Education’s annual report on school violence and vandalism were released. Union City reported 191 incidents of violence and vandalism for the 2008-2009 school year that ended last June, the second highest number of incidents reported of all the districts in Hudson County. Only Jersey City’s 268 were higher.
Weehawken students at the Roosevelt School greeted a new principal in September. Alfred Orecchio took over for retired principal Anthony D’Angelo.
Also this year, the school and the Weehawken School Board prepared to undergo a New Jersey Quality School Assurance Continuum (NJ QSAC) review by the state Department of Education.
In June, the pre-kindergarten class of 2009 from the Daniel Webster School had an “environmentally friendly” graduation assembly in the school gym, where the main color on the walls and artwork was green. Props from previous assembly presentations were re-used and recycled. Even the program for the event was printed on recycled paper.
West New York
In West New York, the renovated elementary school P.S. 2 opened for learning. Another new elementary school, P.S. 3, is slated to open in January of 2010.
The West New York District received an additional $2.5 million in state aid because 1,700 more students were declared eligible for the free and reduced lunch program.
In August, five West New York Schools were recognized at the Fourth Annual Healthy Schools Program Forum in New York for transforming their schools into healthier places for students and faculty.
Also, West New York teacher Brian Cooney won a silver Healthy Schools Program Award and Hudson County Teacher of the Year before the end of the last school year.
The county runs several specialized public high schools under the guise of the Hudson County Schools of Technology.
This year, the new North Hudson Park Environmental Academy opened in September in the once vacant county-owned James J. Braddock Park Interpretive Center, overlooking a lake at the 160-acre park. The one-year program, which is meant to transition students from grammar school to high school, is comprised of eight girls and 16 boys from North Bergen, Guttenberg, West New York, and Weehawken.
In June, Karol Brancato, the longtime principal of High Tech High School, retired after 18 years at the school.
Interesting year for private and parochial schools
For some of the private and parochial schools in Hudson County, 2009 marked a time of openness and closure.
Holy Family Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school in Bayonne, opened the 2009-2010 school year in September. This was something of a miracle, as there had been plans for the school to close the year before. But current students, their parents, alumni and others embarked on a campaign to save the school. The school hired a new school president and principal, and negotiated a new lease agreement with the Sisters of Saint Joseph to operate the school at its current location. The school also enrolled 45 new freshmen.
Hudson Catholic Regional High School on Bergen Avenue in Jersey City also began a new chapter. For the first time, girls are a part of the student body. Out of a current enrollment of 397 students, 72 are female. The tuition was $7,700 per student this year.
The co-ed arrangement was part of the school’s survival plan, after it nearly closed its doors in the spring of 2008.
Other substantial changes include a performing arts program with a variety of classes chaired by first-year teacher Aileen Quinn, the longtime stage and screen actress better known as the star of the 1982 movie “Annie.”
Also in September, Marist High School in Bayonne opened its doors for another school year with new programs. One of the more interesting additions to this year’s curriculum is a program called “Project Accelerate,” where Marist students team up with students from Our Lady of Mercy Elementary School in Jersey City and All Saints Academy in Bayonne to study unique subjects such as Korean culture.
And Marist is preparing students for medical careers with a new program offered this year.
Meanwhile, in June, St. Joseph of the Palisades High School, which takes students from West New York, Union City, and surrounding towns, graduated its last senior class of 64 students. The school closed after 78 years due to declining enrollment.
The school’s principal, Bruce Segall, applied to the state to open a charter in the St. Joseph’s building. However, the application was not approved.
In October, St. Peter’s Preparatory School on Grand Street in downtown Jersey City unveiled a master plan to be phased in over a period of 12-15 years.
As part of the initial phase, the former St. Peter’s Church on Grand and Van Vorst streets will be converted into a student cafeteria and multi-purpose space, allowing for the installation of science facilities in the current Burke Hall cafeteria. The Manhattan architectural firm of Beyer Blinder Belle is providing strategic and architectural direction for the master plan.
In November, St. Anthony’s High School on Eighth Street in Jersey City announced that former NFL coach and now football executive Bill Parcells donated $100,000 to the school. Parcells made the donation to the school after a friend of his, who is running a program for female students at the school, told him the school has to raise $1.2 million before June 30 every year. – RK Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.