West New York students scored higher than the state averages on the tests this year, and not just for urban districts.
Since his election in 2001, one of McGreevey's cornerstones has been education, specifically early childhood education. He was careful to make the assembled press people well aware of his accomplishments Tuesday.
According to a press release, during McGreevey's first year in office, he placed reading coaches in 80 elementary schools, created the Governor's Book Club, and began 900 school construction projects (two in the process right now in West New York and Union City) and improved communication with teachers through "Teacher Town Hall Meetings."
Joined by New Jersey State Assembly Speaker and West New York Mayor Albio Sires at a preschool assembly press conference, the governor opened by asking, "Can I talk about how great this school is?"
McGreevey then launched into a litany of accomplishments pertaining to education. Said the governor, "The best thing to do is to invest in early childhood education. We [the state] tripled the funding along with the help of Speaker Sires for early childhood education. It is singularly the most critical factor in a child's development."
A beaming Albio Sires, the mayor of West New York and speaker of the state Assembly, said, "We are honored that the governor is here. The governor is stressing education all the time. We are very proud of our district."
McGreevey lauded West New York's three-point plan for education excellence.
First is having "reading specialists" that are on hand to help any student who might be having problems. Secondly is a 90-minute "reading period" that is intended to get the student involved in reading for the sake of reading, not just to study. Third is the practice of having "extended day programs" that allow students to stay after school to get help.
Said the governor, "Clearly, the initiatives undertaken here in West New York are paying off for these students. Every student should be extraordinarily proud of themselves. They stand as examples of the kind of achievement I hope bring to every student in New Jersey."
The importance of early childhood education was reiterated by West New York Board of Education member Adrienne Sires, who was invited to the press table by the governor. Said Sires, "We began this [early childhood] program in West New York with half-day programs, and we found that it wasn't sufficient. We increased the days and we went from 279 to 1,050 children participating at the early childhood learning level."
In urban, immigrant-laden districts like West New York, a great fear among undocumented parents is that if they enroll their children in these types of programs, the government will be able to locate them through their children. Thusly, most children are never enrolled and in the end, they suffer for it by missing out on an early childhood education, which according to the officials is crucial to a child's development.
Said the governor, "The best opportunity to intervene in these children's lives is at this age [3-4]. I am urging parents, as the governor, to bring your child to the program. The goal here is to make sure that every child is actually present at the program. We don't question the status of the parents."
Continued McGreevey, "The parents need to understand the importance of this. I cannot underscore that enough."
McGreevey pledged an increase in school spending of $200 million statewide as part of the 2004 fiscal budget. This applies to all school districts, not just Abbott districts. $100 million has been earmarked for school construction and $100 will go toward "direct aid," with $50 million going toward non-Abbott districts and the other $50 million going toward Abbott districts.
The increase of expenditures in the midst of a worsening state budget crisis is a curious development, to be sure. McGreevey mentioned that making cuts elsewhere to help pay for the money he has pledged for the state's schools. He was not specific as to where these cuts would happen, however.
Assembly for the governor
After the press conference, McGreevey, Sires and other officials moved upstairs to the packed auditorium and were treated to singing from a group of fifth graders. McGreevey chatted with Sires as the school theme song was belted out.
School superintendent Anthony Yankovich introduced Sires, himself a graduate of School No. 4. Sires joked with the audience, saying that an old fan that was on the stage had been was there when he was a student. Said Sires, "This is why we have the governor here."
Sires introduced the McGreevey and for the next half an hour, McGreevey moved about the auditorium with a wireless microphone, drawing embarrassed children out of the audience and asking them historical questions. McGreevey's civics lesson seemed lost on some of the younger students, but a surprising number answered some of McGreevey's more challenging questions pertaining to the structure of government in the United States. Said McGreevey at towards the end of his visit, "America is about an idea - freedom."
An effusive Albio Sires said after the assembly, "This is a great day for West New York. This is a direct result of the teachers [Sires is an ex-teacher]. There were a lot of obstacles to overcome. This is a testament to the hard work of everyone in the district."