An extended year
On Thursday, 300 Union City students began their first day of a 210-day school year, which is much longer than the 180-day school year they are used to.
These students attended the district's new kindergarten through fifth grade school currently being built on 14th Street and Central Avenue in the old St. Joseph's School Building.
"The parents [of these 300 students] have volunteered for their students to be there," said Superintendent of Schools Thomas Highton about the students attending the 11-month school. "But if you ask the kids, I don't know if they really want to be there."
The still unnamed Central Avenue School, which will hold 500 students in 22 classrooms, is expected to open before February 2003. According to Highton, the 300 students that will be moved to the new school by February are at different schools right now. Their teachers will follow them to the new school.
"We wanted to have the least amount of negative impact on the students," said Highton, adding that this plan will keep the continuity in the students' instruction.
During the extended year program, the students will have five marking periods instead of four. However, this does not mean that these students will not have any summer vacation. The students will receive a five-week summer vacation instead of the two months of vacation time from July through August that they are used to.
Highton explained that the extended year will allow the students to receive a more hands-on learning experience. The school will focus on the sciences, technology and the arts.
A new middle school, the Jose Marti School slated for the St. Matthews Monastery site, is scheduled to break ground some time in September. The school will serve 750 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. The school will also house a community library and health center that will be open to all residents in the community.
"The Central Avenue School will be an extended year school," said Assistant Superintendent of School Stanley Sanger, explaining that the new school will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. "But the Jose Marti School will be an extended day school."
This school will be the first community school completely funded by the state. The school will be built as part of the new school construction program funded by the Economic Development Authority.
Whether your children are attending the new 210-day school or remaining in the traditional 180-day school year, chances are they will have a teacher they have never seen before.
Highton said that the district hired 85 new teachers for this school year. Many of the openings were due to a separation package offered to veteran teachers at the end of the last school year.
The separation package was offered to teachers who had been in the district for 35 years or more, and allowed them to receive 100 percent of their total sick days if they agreed to resign at the end of the last school year. Normally, teachers only receive 50 percent of their sick days when they resign or retire.
According to Sanger, the new teachers had a total of five days of training from the Board of Education. The teachers were trained in the district curriculum.
Each classroom will also have support personnel to assist the teachers and to also work one-on-one with students who may need extra help throughout the day.
No child left behind
In April, three elementary schools in Union City were labeled as schools in need of improvement by the state Board of Education. These three schools were listed along with close to 200 elementary schools statewide based on the guidelines defined in the federal "No Child Left Behind Act," which took effect on July 1.
The three schools were Washington School, Gilmore School and Roosevelt School. According to Highton, these schools will see some administrative and management changes to address this situation.
Highton also said that he is prepared to make changes throughout the year if the new administrative and management teams are not working out.
Already, Highton said that Gilmore School has seen a great improvement in the ESPA exam last year.
The "No Child Left Behind Act" also focuses on early literacy and bilingual programs in the primary grades. According to the act, all children must be able to read by grade three.
To help achieve this goal, Sanger said that the district will be focusing on the younger grades and early literacy programs.
The new Central Avenue school will allow the district close down some of the trailers it is currently using.
"The first step in the process to service more early childhood students in district," said Sanger, adding that the district now contracts with more than 15 outside providers to service their 3- and 4-year-old students.
The new Central Avenue School will also help to alleviate the overcrowding in Hudson School, Edison School and Gilmore School.
"We expect to have [fewer] students in all of our classrooms," said Highton, adding that he expects to keep the classroom size to 21 students in the lower grades.