That's right, the summer's gone and it's time to head back to the classrooms.
Like it or not, the first school bell will ring Wednesday morning, when Weehawken's 1,200 students, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, return.
The first three days will be one-session days, with the students returning to full-day sessions on Monday, Sept. 13.
For the first time, Weehawken will offer full-day sessions for its Early Childhood pre-kindergarten students - a move that has increased enrollment in the pre-K program from 37 to over 80.
The success of the pre-K program encouraged school officials to increase the sessions to full-day. While Weehawken is not required by state law to offer full-day sessions for 4-year-old students like other New Jersey districts that have received Abbott "special needs" district classification, Superintendent of Schools Kevin McLellan felt it was a good move to extend the sessions, to continue the increased learning that has been ongoing at Webster School.
"We needed full-day Pre-K to give our students a chance to reach the higher standards that we expect from our students," McLellan said. "We all believe that sound, quality early childhood education is the way to go. Research shows that when you're dealing with learning issues, it's much easier to remediate students at an earlier age. It definitely saves time and money as the children get older. By the time they get to first grade, we demand that they can write essays. It behooves us to have a sound Early Childhood program to prepare our children properly."
Added McLellan, "I can see the day where the state requires everyone to offer Early Childhood programs. We're ahead of the game by doing this now."
In order to prepare for the increased enrollment that comes with offering full-day classes for the 4-year-olds, Webster School, which houses all of Weehawken's students from Pre-K through second grade, has undergone a major construction extension, with five new classrooms being added to the existing structure on Palisade Avenue.
The construction was part of the $9.5 million improvement bond that was approved by voters in January, 2003 and received 40 percent funding from the state Department of Education.
Because of the more-than-double enrollment in pre-K classes, Webster School will now have five new classrooms - two that will be strictly for the pre-K students and three that will be used for small group instruction.
"The parents we spoke to were very excited about the new classrooms and the construction," said Board of Education President Richard Barsa. "Everything we've heard so far has been positive. The workers are working very hard to make sure that everything is completed by the first day of school."
Webster School Principal Tony D'Angelo said that the move to full-day pre-K classes was a long time coming.
"We're not just offering more hours for learning, but we're also welcoming more kids," D'Angelo said. "Parents are now taking advantage of having the full-day classes. We're at 80 now and we're anticipating anywhere between 90 and 100 students. They're also going to take advantage of our extended care program after school."
The extension to Webster School is not the only change in the Weehawken school system as classes begin. The $9.5 school improvement project continues to move forward. All three of the district's schools, Webster, Roosevelt and Weehawken High School, are now almost 100 percent compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act - and will be fully accessible by the end of October.
There will also be a new classroom in the basement of Roosevelt School (grades 3-6) that will be featured for small instruction.
Other improvements that have been completed in time for the beginning of the new year include the completion of the high school's culinary arts lab and the new girls' locker room. The food preparation area in Roosevelt School is also completed, so that means the students can receive hot lunches.
Film elective, choirs
McLellan said that there will be some changes in the general curriculum as well. One of the most prominent changes will be the hiring of a new music teacher, Suzanne Levine, who will be assigned to Roosevelt School. In the past, music teacher Piero Romano had to shuttle back and forth between Roosevelt and Webster, but now, he will permanently be assigned to Webster, and Levine will work at Roosevelt.
"More time will be devoted to developing the schools' choirs," McLellan said. "We're now going to expand the choirs and establish a bell chorus as well. We're excited about that."
Another change in the curriculum will be the addition of a new eighth grade elective in film. The class, taught by high school English teacher Joanne Nilo, will offer the analysis and history of filmmaking.
"The students will study film as an artistic and social force," McLellan said. "They're going to learn how to critique a movie and study all forms, from silent films to comedies and dramas."
The program was presented to the Weehawken school system from the famed New York University School of Film.
"I am really looking forward to an outstanding school year," McLellan said. "Our staff is ready to go, and I'm anticipating more of the same success we've enjoyed in recent years."