School districts wait for budgets
New programs, building renovations on horizon
by Tricia Tirella
Reporter staff writer
Mar 01, 2009 | 3297 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
NEW SCHOOL – Union City will open a brand new high school in September.
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Due to the state’s budget being delayed, many schools throughout Hudson County have been held up in finalizing their own funds for the 2009-2010 school year. However, on March 10, Gov. Jon Corzine plans to make his State Budget Address.

With the announcement of the state’s budget, school boards will have some idea what type of state aid they might be able to receive. In April, several of Hudson County’s towns hold a public vote on the school budget, while others allow their school boards to make the final decision. If a budget is voted down by the public, it goes to the City Council for further cuts.

The public budget vote (usually accompanied by a school board vote) will be held April 21.

Meanwhile, high schools are gearing up for a 2010 school year by providing new programs for students.

Aside from public school budgets, private schools have had to worry about staying viable in troubled financial times. Many Catholic institutions are changing the way they once operated their schools in order to keep their presence in Hudson County.

Here are some of the new programs and changes on the educational horizon.

UC High School opening in Sept.

The Union City High School building opens in September of 2009. It combines the former Emerson and Union Hill high schools into one building on Kennedy Blvd.

According to Union City Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Silvia Abbato, the students will have the opportunity to enroll in highly sought after programs.

The high school will be comprised of 1,700 students in 10th through 12th grades. It will feature a state-of-the-art media center, performing arts auditorium, gymnasium and a rooftop athletic complex. The former buildings of Union City’s high schools will be utilized as junior high schools for students from sixth grade through ninth. The project has cost $174 million, paid for by a state grant.

Abbato said that Chinese will be offered as a language option for students, as well as the already offered classes of Spanish, Italian, and French.

“It’s something innovative,” said Abbato. “Technically speaking, a student can graduate speaking three or four languages, which is phenomenal.”

She said that the district was aiming to make students ready for the “global workplace.”

A robotics class will be part of a new academy in the High School called Math Science and Technology Stem Program. She said the new curriculum will be more rigorous and up to “21st Century” state standards.

Hoboken gears up for renovations

A Hoboken School District spokesperson said that the renovation of the Connors School, an elementary school on the west side of town, is still awaiting final approval. The start date will be some time in 2010. The project has already been funded with up to $33 million from the state.

“It’s just short of a gut rehabilitation,” said the director of facilities. Connors School had its centennial last year.

There will be new walls, ceilings, a “gymnatorium,” a state-of-the-art media center, and larger classrooms.

As is typical of Hoboken, a recent plan to implement a new dual-language program for the younger grades caused a divisive debate. The Hoboken Board of Education voted against the “HoLa” (Hoboken Language) program in February, after initially approving it last November. Parents have been attending the last four months of meetings and were split on whether the district’s funds should be spent on improving test scores and education in the upper grades. SAT scores in the high school typically lag even behind some other urban districts.

When voting on the HoLa program in February, board trustee James Farina said that the district may need $500,000 for school programs in the next budget, and that ultimately a dual language program would be too costly. Many found the program a luxury in tough economic times.

In any case, the district still runs some innovative programs. At Demarest High School, the culinary program has not only been teaching students how to cook, but how restaurant businesses work. Students learn in the high school’s state-of-the-art kitchen complex.

Hoboken High School is part of the International Diploma Program, which is comprises of two-years or rigorous curriculum, leading up to examinations in students in 11th and 12th grades. Final exams are evaluated by a panel of experts in their respective fields. The courses include higher levels of English, history, biology, math, and art design.

Jersey City

Jersey City, a state-operated district with 38 schools, received its report card for the 2008-2008 school year earlier this month. Because the district is state operated, it receives a majority of its $627.4 million budget from state aid.

While the district’s per-pupil costs are still above the state average, gradation rates have declined. The report cards from the state’s Department of Education cover 35 different categories on education.

The district, which contains 27,986 students and 3,312 teachers, has a student teacher ratio of 8.4 to 1, which is better than the state’s average of 10.5. The cost her pupil was $16,124 will the state’s was $14,359.

However, the average administrator of Jersey City school system earns $121,882, which is about $10,000 more than the state average.

The graduation rate for last year’s school year was 74 percent versus the 78.1 percent the year before.

The city has several charter schools, which are founded by parents and/or educators and get some public funding.

Downtown’s Learning Community Charter School, a K-8 school currently located on Canal Street, is planning on relocating to the building that used to house the Caritas Academy on Kennedy Blvd. There are currently more than 300 students in the school, and Susan Grierson said that the new location will allow some of the more than 400 students on the waiting list to attend the school.

There will also be a new “Ethical Community Charter School” in Jersey City next September, which was approved by the New Jersey Department of Education last fall.

North Bergen plans on extending school, new software

According to North Bergen Superintendent Robert Dandorph, the district’s high school recently applied to the state to get the approval to extend the building 15 feet from the main entrance toward the auditorium.

He said that they hope to modernize their guidance and health offices. They also plan to have 10 to 12 computers in the guidance office with a program that allows students to search for colleges based on their skills. They also plan on making “sick” and “well” rooms for the nurse’s office.

For September, Dandorph said that the New Jersey Department of Education has provided them with a program called “Learnia” for grades third through eight. The program will allow students to practice standardized testing and will compile data of their progress. Students will be able to access it from school and home.

“The whole concept of the future is that the teacher will actually know where the child is during any time of the year,” said Dandorph.

New supers in Secaucus, Guttenberg

The school districts of Secaucus and Guttenberg both hired new superintendents this school year.

Dr. Joseph Ramos, an administrator with experience in the Jersey City school district, was brought in to replace an interim superintendent in Guttenberg this past September.

The Guttenberg school system only has one school – Anna L. Klein, a K-8 school. High school students attend North Bergen High.

In Secaucus, Superintendent Cindy Randina was hired last year to serve the district. She previously was the interim superintendent for Wayne’s school system. Randina created a new administrative position, an assistant superintendent of education and technology, but removed three other administrative positions in doing so. Board of Education Business Administrator Edward Walkewicz said that he could not comment on this addition or new programs in Secaucus’ school system, because the budget for next year has not yet been introduced.

WNY starts biodiesel; visual arts programs

According to Assistant Superintendent Rosemary Donnelly, West New York has implemented two small learning communities at Memorial High School that will grow in scale next year.

The first is called “Project Triple Threat” because the program prepares students to sing, dance and act. The visual and performing arts learning community is comprised of 25 students who attend three classes together and are taught by artists in residence, including Broadway performers.

Donnelly said that program has a partnership with the Theatre Development Fund of New York City. She said students are able to see different performances and meet the performers. Next year, another group of 25 students will join the program.

The other program is titled “Alternative Fuel.”

“Right now the [students] have a gasoline powered car and they are converting it to electric, removing the motor and parts and they are replacing it was an electric motor,” said Donnelly.

Donnelly said that next year the program will be pared with an automotive alternative energy science course.

In addition, Director of Special Services Stacy Olivero said that West New York has been working on bringing autistic students who were once sent to schools out of the district back into the district.

Olivero said that there are currently four classrooms of students who were slowly brought back into public schools 1 and 4.

Olivero said that in New Jersey, 1 out of every 99 children are diagnosed with autism. Students will slowly be mainstreamed into regular classes and are already attending physical education with the general student body.

“We want them to be a member of society and work well in the community many of our children really work really well can be taught many, many different skills,” said Olivero. “It’s wonderful I’m so thrilled we’re able to do this as a district.”

Weehawken reading series

Weehawken Curriculum Director Joseph Little said that the school’s reading series program this year was a success. Students in K-8 were given reading materials to work on each day, tailored to their abilities.

“The whole concept of the future is that the teacher will actually know where the child is during any time of the year.” – Robert Dandorph

Little explained that tech support is available for students online and that teachers are able to track their day-to-day progress. Students with auditory disabilities can also log on to their computers and have the material “read to them.”

He said that a committee of 15 teachers and parents are currently working on the curriculum for math next year. They are currently reviewing new textbooks and will narrow down their selection.

“A lot of the town participates, which is a real big plus for us because it gives us a perception that we would not have,” said Little.

Catholic Schools closing, consolidating

Due to increased costs of tuition per pupil and lagging enrollment numbers, Our Lady of Victories Catholic School of Jersey City will be closing June 30. This elementary school is one of many parochial schools that have been closed in recent years in Hudson County.

“The situation with OLV in Jersey City is something that is similar to what we’re experiencing in other places in the Archdiocese, and which are occurring in other places in the country,” said Archdiocese of Newark Spokesperson Jim Goodness last week. “We are seeing a decline of enrollment in a number of our schools, and the cost of providing the education continues to go up in cost per student, and in a lot of cases has reached the point where parents can no longer afford to send their children to Catholic schools.”

Goodness said that there are little more than 40,000 Catholic students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade in Hudson County, whereas 10 years ago there were 61,000.

He explained that in OLV’s case, the students will attend Our Lady of Mercy, located on Ege Avenue, and St. Aloysius on West Side Avenue. Goodness said that in recent years, two separate schools have been forced to close in that area, so the pastors and principals decided that in order to “maintain a strong Catholic school presence,” they would bolster the enrollments in two main schools in order to stabilize increasing tuition costs.

Previously, a church’s parish was responsible for paying for costs in their particular school’s promotion and marketing. Now all of the area’s parishes will take on that task.

West New York’s St. Josephs of the Palisade High School has dealt with similar enrollment problems. Principal Bruce Segall said that currently, they are reaching out to alumni to get some “major” fundraising going to offset tuition losses. He said that the school is currently working on preparing its budget and salary negations. Segall hopes the school’s new brochure will attract attention.

This is the first year that All Saints Academy in Bayonne – which is comprised of a consolidation of Our Lady of the Assumption, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Saint Andrew, Saint Henry, Saint Joseph, Saint Michael, Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Mary, Star of the Sea schools – is in existence. The site of the former St. Mary Star of the Sea School has served since September as the new location for the only Catholic elementary school in Bayonne.

Immaculate Conception Elementary School in Secaucus, according to Beverly Trotte, has been able to keep enrollment at relatively the same level as last year. Trotte said that this year they would be offering students an after school enrichment program that includes a science club, chess club and even magic.

Hudson Catholic High School in Jersey City, in order to stay open, will be going coed next year. They plan to raise $1.5 million to upgrade facilities in the school and keep that current $7,500 tuition stable.

Carolyn Smith, director of admissions at St. Dominic Academy in Jersey City, said that this year’s graduation class with be the first receiving their International Baccalaureate Program Diplomas. St. Dominic’s was accredited as an IB Program school two years ago, which enables juniors and seniors to take advanced classes that qualify for college credit.

Smith said that the school also plans on offering Mandarin Chinese for fall 2009 and is in the process of interviewing teachers. St. Dominic’s will then offer four languages, including French, Spanish, and Latin. – TT

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