In what he hopes will be a legacy of his term in office, Mayor Roberts held the first public meeting Monday night to discuss the proposed Hoboken-Stevens Partnership for Public Education (HSPPE). The partnership between the city and the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken will be charged with creating a new public school in town and with offering development training to local teachers.
Roberts, who sponsored Hoboken's first forum on charter schools in the 1990s, was joined by Stevens Institute of Technology President Dr. Harold Raveche at City Hall. The next public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
"The quality of our schools is possibly the most important issue facing Hoboken today," said Mayor Roberts to the more than 50 onlookers at City Hall. "Beyond parking and beyond traffic and even beyond the budgetary items, it is imperative that the Hoboken school system is able to compete with any in the state. We are at the point where families are making lifelong commitments to live in Hoboken. We need to have the highest quality of schools to support that decision."
The HSPPE is a public-private partnership intended to unite community stakeholders in the Hoboken education system in order to promote technology in the Hoboken schools, enhance professional development opportunities for teachers, and establish a new state-of-the-art technologically-advanced "lab school" for the Hoboken community.
The mission of the Hoboken-Stevens Lab School for students in grades 6-12 is to be a world-class mathematics and science school with outstanding programs in all disciplines, using technology in innovative ways to enhance teaching and learning. The new school will be a public school with enrollment open to Hoboken students.
According the project's manager, former city Director of Human Services Robert Drasheff, when finished the school will house between 700-800 students. It could open by 2004 with sixth and seventh graders, then expand by a grade each year after that.
Stevens, a renowned university on the Hoboken waterfront, will be involved in a number of ways. In addition to continuing to provide a number of scholarships for Hoboken students to attend Stevens, the university will aid in teacher development.
"All ships are going to rise," said Dr. Raveche Monday. "We are proud to be part of this comprehensive partnership and strive together to build an excellent and innovative school system. Schoolchildren and their teachers will be taking full advantage of cutting-edge technology."
'CIESE' the day
In the area of professional development, the Stevens Center for Improved Engineering and Science Education (CIESE) will partner with Hoboken teachers. CIESE was established in 1988 at Stevens to help bring the school's technology experience to the k-12 sector. Working collaboratively with k-12 schools and school districts in concert with a variety of partners such at AT&T and the New Jersey Department of Education, CIESE has helped more that 700 schools in New Jersey make better use of technology.
The HSPPE will be the first time that CIESE partners with Hoboken schools. The partnership will involve hands-on teacher training that helps participants master the technology.
Furthermore, school and district administrators will be engaged in meetings, presentations, workshops and further technology training. "The opportunity to work so close with the Hoboken school system is absolutely thrilling," said Ed Friedman, the director of CIESE, Monday. "We are now looking to move into a new phase of education and are excited joining the Hoboken Public School System to Stevens."
Lifetime educator Joyce Baron heads up the Education Policy Working group. The team is responsible for forming the curriculum that the school will use. Baron and the group have decided that students will be expected to perform at an academic level set out by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IB). The IB curriculum is as challenging and difficult as high school curriculum in the country, and already has been used for many years for top achievers at Hoboken High School. The IB, founded in 1968, is a nonprofit educational foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland that grew out of international schools' efforts to establish a common curriculum and university entry credential.
"This is a public school, and Hoboken students will get first consideration," said Joyce. "But this will be a demanding curriculum, and we will require a certain amount of commitment from every student that enrolls in the school."
How is it going to be paid for?
Project Manager Drasheff was very clear in the fact that none of the $55 million in the school district's public Abbott "special needs" Funds will be used to fund the project, as city officials had prematurely insinuated last year. Those funds have been earmarked for specific purposes and will not be taken to fund this project.
Drasheff did say, however, that the city plans to apply for additional Abbott Funds and is seeking to become a demonstration school. That's a label the state reserves for projects that it deems innovative and original. If the project is made a demonstration school, there is funding available.
Drasheff added that there are also a number of other grants available to the HSPPE, and that the city has already received a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Community Affairs' "Community School Smart Growth Planning Initiative."
The grant will be utilized to hire professional consultants and planners to help facilitate the development of the partnership.
The Community School grant assists municipalities and school districts to integrate school facilities planning with neighborhood and community-wide planning and development.
Possible sites for the school
While the educational concepts behind the Hoboken-Stevens Partnership for Public Education (HSPPE) are innovative, the logistical problem of land acquisition has become a sticky subject. Both Hoboken Mayor David Roberts and Stevens President Dr. Harold Raveche have made it clear that the optimal location of the technology magnet school would be at the site of the old Maxwell House plant.
However, they do not own that site. Two developers are planning to put residential housing there.
A year ago, Stevens was the one on the outs with neighbors when it planned to build a garage on Hudson Street. After losing that battle, they curried favor when they suggested putting the new school on the site of the also-controversial Maxwell House development.
Drasheff, who is the HSPPE project manager and the leader of the Logistical and Facilities Planning Team, said Monday that if possible the Maxwell House site would make the best location for the school. The property extends from 10th to 12th Streets along the waterfront. "The old Maxwell House site would be the optimal location for the school," said Drasheff. "[The city and Stevens] are currently in negotiations with the Maxwell House owners," he added.
But Daniel Gans and George Vallone, principals of the Hoboken Brownstone Company and developers of the Maxwell House site, say they are not in negotiations with the city and that the city has not made them an offer.
Currently Gans and Vallone have, before the Planning Board, an application to build 982 units of residential development, which is currently being presented with no variances to the city's zoning or planning codes. Legally, the city has no reason to deny them permission to build. Some development activists in the community think the project is too big.
"We continue our pursuit of our application and continue to be disappointed that the mayor doesn't see the quality of our project," said Vallone Wednesday. "We would tell Stevens to 'show us the money.' We don't want to sound like trite and greedy developers, but we can't sell the property for 10 cents on the dollar. If they came to us and offered fair market value, we would definitely be willing to consider their offer. But I don't see that happening."
Drasheff was not able to offer an estimate on how much the city would be willing to pay for the Maxwell House site.
But Drasheff did for the first time offer up alternatives to the Maxwell House property. The second site would be a block in the Northwest Redevelopment area. Drasheff put the possible price of obtaining that property at approximately $3 million. Developer Frank "Pupie" Raia is currently the designated developer for the Northwest Redevelopment area and his overall plans include a new supermarket, which is now under construction, a mixture of affordable and market rate housing, new residential parking facilities, and a charter school.
Attempts were made to call Raia about the possibly of the city entering into negations to use the property for the lab school, but those calls were not returned.
According to Drasheff, the new school needs to be between 120,000-140,000 square feet in size. He added that new construction would be preferable to renovating an older school. He said that with new construction, there is no need to consolidate existing uses in the current facility. New construction also permits greater flexibility in the physical design and characteristics of both the interior and exterior of the building that may not be possible in older existing buildings. Drasheff added that this is especially true when there is so much modern technology that will be needed in the new school.
But if neither the Maxwell House nor the Northwest site materializes, Drasheff said that the city would look to the buildings that it already owns. In order of preference, the buildings would be the Multi-Service Center at 124 Grand St., the A. J. Demarest Middle School at Fourth and Clinton streets, and the Joseph F. Brandt Middle School at Ninth and Garden streets. - Tom Jennemann