Now, finally, after knowing for so long and sworn to secrecy, McLellan can stand on a chair and pound his chest as hard as he wants. As the district prepares for the first day of classes on Wednesday, the schools' chief can honestly say that his high school is among the top third of all high schools in the Garden State.
"We're ecstatic," said McLellan, who was quoted in the article featuring the state's top schools. "Two years ago, we were ranked no. 159. Now, we're no. 96. That's a pretty substantial gain. Two years ago, we were in the lower 50 percent. Now, we're in the top 30 percent. That really is impressive."
Weehawken was one of only two Hudson County schools to be considered in the ranking. McNair Academic of Jersey City earned the spot as the state's best school for a second straight time.
McLellan said that the ranking is the "culmination of a lot of labor from a lot of areas for several years." "To receive a ranking like this, you need a full community effort, cooperation at every level," McLellan said. "We have a very dedicated and devoted teaching staff, whose tireless efforts should be applauded. We have a Board of Education that is committed to the ideals and goals we set. And we have a government that is willing and able to support anything we do. I'm fortunate to have all those things working for us. It's definitely a combined working effort."
McLellan said that he knew that Weehawken would receive a higher rating than the last time New Jersey Monthly ranked the state's high schools.
"But I didn't think we would do that good," McLellan said. "I know we work hard. I don't know what the other schools are doing. But we stayed on course and achieved our goals."
McLellan said that the magazine used several criteria for the improved ranking, which included the addition of advanced placement courses into the curriculum, as well as vastly improved scores in the High School Proficiency Tests. Weehawken scored an average of 100 percent in writing skills and 95 percent in reading and mathematics.
"I think offering new courses also helped us," said McLellan, citing the addition of Latin to the school's course list last fall.
"We are finding out that Latin is the father of all languages and you draw so much from learning the Latin language," said McLellan, who will introduce Advanced Latin, also known as Latin II, to students for the first time this week.
The return of ...
McLellan said that the new school year will bring the return of some popular programs, as well as the addition of others.
For example, the district's Extended Care Program, which allowed working parents to give their children in grades K through 6 supervised care before and after school, will continue at both Webster and Roosevelt schools. The cost for the program is $10 per day after school and $3 per day before school.
The high school will bring back the mock trial team, which enabled students to learn about how the court of law operates. The high school is also initiating a debating team for the first time.
"These are programs that help students expand on their oral skills," McLellan said. "It's essential in college courses, especially presenting college interviews."
The district's state-of-the-art technology department will get an added shot in the arm this fall when 100 new computers are introduced to the classrooms and the computer labs.
"Every classroom will be equipped with one-to-three computers," McLellan said. "Every classroom, from pre-kindergarten through 12. We want all our students exposed to computer skills."
McLellan said that work will continue on a district website.
"Construction of the website started at the end of last year," McLellan said. "We hope to have it fully operational very shortly."
The high school will also offer creative writing classes for the first time.
"With our gains in writing, we want to take it to the next level," McLellan said.
McLellan said that the district received a $20,000 bequest from the estate of a former teacher, Loretta Reich, who recently passed away. McLellan said that the grant will be used to upgrade the high school library in Reich's memory.
With the retirement last spring of Patricia Hannan, Catherine Campen has been promoted to the position of Supervisor of Pupil Personnel Services, which in layman's terms is the director of the school's guidance office. All in all, it should be an exciting year for the Weehawken school district - even though the students can't be too excited that another year is beginning this week.
"We're always trying to do better than the previous year," McLellan said. "And we definitely intend to meet that challenge. It's a continual learning process, one that we're very proud of."