Time to have those pencils sharpened and those uniforms hemmed.
This year, Union City and West New York students have many new things to look forward to, including the opening of new schools for their district.
Union City will open an Early Childhood Education Center, which will enable the district to cater to children ages 3, 4 and 5 in house, instead of using outside providers, and West New York will open the new No. 4 School for kindergarten through sixth grade. The original No. 4 School will house students from the town's No. 2 School which is undergoing renovations this year.
The construction and renovations projects are being completed by the New Jersey Schools Development Agency, formerly the Schools Construction Corporation.
Changes are also taking place within each district's administration. New principals have been assigned to some of the schools in West New York, and there have been several changes to the town's central administration of the Board of Education.
Union City is preparing for administrative and structural changes that will occur in 2008.
"These are very exciting times," said Stanley Sanger, superintendent of Union City schools.
Union City's Early Childhood Center, located at 2200 Kennedy Blvd., will house about 270 students in pre-k to kindergarten. The 38,000 square-foot building houses 18 classrooms, each with its own computer stations, toilet facilities, and radiant heated floors.
"When the kids take their nap time they will be able to put their mats on heated floors," said Sanger.
According to Sanger, Union City had to place pre-school age children with outside providers in previous years because there was no actual facility.
"This is going to allow the Union City school district to start servicing 3 to 4-year-olds within our own schools, and have less kids with providers," said Sanger.
The center will run school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and host free aftercare from 3 to 5 p.m. Aftercare will be funded by the Hudson County Urban League.
In addition, Union City has a new program to help students dealing with domestic violence.
The city received a $300,000 grant, which will be distributed over a three-year period, to hire specialists and offer a base of support services within the middle school.
"The Union City Board of Education is forging a partnership with the Joe Torre Foundation, which has been prominent in the New York area," said Sanger. "Our partnership with them and with Verizon will allow us to address issues related to domestic violence at the middle school."
"Domestic violence has unfortunately been a common issue for students," added Sanger.
Former Board of Education President Leonard Calvo retired last May. The board appointed Jeanette Pena as the new president, with Alicia Morejon remaining as vice president.
Future district changes
The next phase of major changes will not occur until 2008 with the completion of the new high school, which will bring a whole structural change in the school district.
The new high school will combine the existing Union Hill and Emerson High schools, but will only serve grades 10th through 12th.
The original high schools, as well as Jose Marti Middle School, which first opened its doors in 2004, will be converted into junior high schools serving grades six through nine.
The school district is also currently creating a restructuring committee panel, which will be charged with putting together a transition plan for the upcoming year.
"It's going to be a great transition year for Union City," said Sanger. "It's very exciting, but it's going to be a lot of work."
West New York
In West New York, they are preparing for the opening of the new No. 4 School, which will house kindergarten through sixth grade with a total capacity of 750.
"We have also started construction on No. 3 School, and the demolition and renovation of No. 2 School," said Dr. Robert Van Zantan, superintendent of West New York schools.
In the meantime, the original No. 4 School will house the students from the No. 2 School as renovations to their school commence.
"The second biggest change to the West New York School district is the [shifting] of the central office staff," said Van Zantan.
Last year, West New York was under the direction of Van Zantan, who took over after Anthony Yankovich retired during the winter break.
"We have a new superintendent, a new business administrator, board secretary, and [former No. 5 School principal] John Fauta has been named assistant superintendent," said Van Zantan.
Fauta is one of two assistant superintendents, along with Rosemary Donnelly.
There have also been several shifts among principals, including former No. 4 School Principal Bernard Abbadessa, who will now oversee the students of No. 2 School while they are being housed at the original No. 4 School.
Last June, parents of students at No. 2 School voiced some concern over changes in transportation and class schedules due to the move.
"We have tried to address the most important questions parents have had including the time [school begins]," said Van Zantan.
In order for the school and bus schedule to meet the needs of the district, the board of education suggested that No. 2 School classes begin at 7:30 a.m. This outraged many parents and kids, who were concerned about the new earlier schedule. Administrators finally settled on an 8 a.m. start time, with bus pick-ups starting no earlier than 7:30 a.m.
"Although it does not fully satisfy everyone, we have come a long way to address the concern," said Van Zantan.
The school district tried to reach a compromise during the last few months, and this past week Donnelly had a follow-up meeting with parents.
"We have contracted with Catapult Learning (a national company) to offer after school care," said Donnelly.
Catapult Learning currently runs after care programs for West New York's pre-school program. The company will offer care from 2 to 5 p.m. for any No. 2 School student who needs it.
Depending on how well it works in the No. 2 School, the program may be extended to the rest of the district. The program will be free of charge to low-income households who qualify.
Additionally, before the end of the last school year, West New York introduced a new fiber optic network, which will be fully operational by Jan. 2008. The system will bring enhanced communication between all the educational facilities, and increased internet capabilities. Jessica Rosero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org