Already one of the most innovative secondary institutions around, High Tech High School in North Bergen is further blazing its trail as a leader in non-traditional subjects by offering a culinary arts major as it enters its new school year.
Though based in the township, High Tech is a countywide public school that accepts students from across Hudson County. Students don’t just get to go to the school; they have to apply to it for admission.
First a club, now a career
Principal Joseph Giammarella said the interest in starting the cooking program came from the students themselves, first in the form of a school club, but now as a means of career preparation.
It is something that started out slowly, but has now taken on a life of its own.
“Toward the end of last year, we created a culinary club for the students,” Giammarella said. “Then we started preparing breakfast and lunch for all our students. We handled it properly and gave the students time. Now, classes are starting this year.”
Student interest really was the impetus for the new program.
“Basically, the chef made himself visible to all the students,” the principal said. “Based on conversations of different menus, they started with a salad bar. And the students loved it.
“From there, we realized there was something we needed to address, a program like this, and decided to implement it,” Giammarella said. The chef came from County Prep in Jersey City, also in the Hudson County Schools of Technology district.
“We try to give them diversity.” – Joseph Giammarella
“It’s a full curriculum,” the principal said. “The Class of 2017 will have four full years.”
Giammarella said that this foray is in keeping with the school’s curriculum emphasis on career-based education.
“Because of our charter, we have to provide vocational classes to all of our students,” he said. “This goes along with that.”
“We really listen to what the students have to say. That’s what makes High Tech a school that students want to come to: our reputation. They know we have concern for the students.”
Other career-oriented curricula at the school include architecture, automotive technology, broadcasting, desktop publishing, office systems, musical theater and theater arts, television production, and website development.
“We run the gamut of vocational and tech programs,” the principal said. “We try to give them diversity.”
“We’re a highly recognized school in the town,” Giammarella said. “Programs like this raise the bar for students who want to apply here. They know that over the years we haven’t regressed; we’re still progressing and looking at new and exciting programs to attract more students.”
Giammarella need not worry that prospective students want to attend the school. It is a highly respected institution, one for which receiving kudos is nothing new. High Tech garnered an “A,” the highest possible mark, from Inside Jersey magazine’s new public high school rankings, which used the last four years of standardized test scores to look for trends in student achievement.
“We really appreciate the recognition of the magazine,” Giammarella said. “I guess it really validates what the staff does every day. It's very nice to be recognized in that particular light; in a good way.”
The principal said the latest honors followed those bestowed upon it in the past by US News & World Report and Business Week.
No personnel changes
Giammarella said the 2013-14 school year begins at High Tech with virtually no changes in staffing. Allyson Krone, the assistant principal there, is still on board. The Guidance Department remains intact, and there are no new teachers. There was only one retirement.
“We’re pretty much staffed where we should be at this point,” he said. “What we have this year is what we had last year.”
“I’m old, but think that because we don’t have the turnover, it speaks to the type of district they’re working for,” Giammarella said. “Being very people oriented, we give the support to staff to take care of our customers, which are the students. It really goes from top to bottom.”
Sports and clubs basically unchanged
The principal said there are no changes in sports or clubs this year either, except for the rejuvenation of the chess club.
But he also feels there is no need for changes in those areas.
“We have a tremendous intramural program,” he said. “We have approximately 50 percent of our students participating in our intramural program: basketball, badminton, judo, and yoga. We have a great physical fitness program that students and staff take advantage of, with treadmills and exercise bikes.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.