In West New York, Memorial High School, with approximately 1,800 students, will enforce a new dress code that requires each student to wear a special school shirt every day. Younger kids in the same school system already wear a full uniform to class each day.
"I think this is a big step," said West New York Superintendent Dr. Robert Van Zanten. He also said that many parents were in favor of the change and that the school district will provide one shirt for every senior this year.
"Next year, we will probably do away with the jeans," said Van Zanten.
Memorial High School will also introduce a new performing arts curriculum, as part of New Jersey's Small Learning Communities program, in which students are grouped into small classes with particular concentrations.
"This is our pilot program for Small Learning Communities," said Pat LaCarruba, who has taught theater arts at the high school for 37 years and runs the new program. "This year, we have sophomores, juniors, and seniors."
She added that 23 students have elected to participate in the program this year and they will have intensive dance, voice, and acting classes, in addition to traditional curriculum.
"Students will be taking their regularly scheduled classes along with this," said LaCarruba.
The students will also have the opportunity to work with professionals in the field and even write their own plays that professional actors will perform.
"They will be getting a taste of the real world of performing arts," LaCarruba said. "Next year, we hope to have at least 50 students, if not more."
She also said that in the next two or three years, she hopes to have a three-year performing arts program in place.
The school district plans to implement Small Learning Communities at the middle school by 2010, according to a release from the superintendent's office.
West New York schools will also add a fourth class for autistic children in order to provide more services for students who have been previously bused out of the district to attend schools that could accommodate special needs.
Costs associated with sending students to other schools total $80,000 per student per year.
West New York currently has 21 children in the school district's own program, and adding a new class of four to six students will save money.
Construction at West New York's Public Schools No. 2 and 3 continues through the start of the 2008 academic year. The schools are scheduled to open Sept. 2009.
"We are renovating because the buildings are really old and don't meet the needs of our youngsters," said Van Zanten. He also said that emergency work is being done to fix leaks at Harry L. Bain School.
West New York is also trying to clean up existing schools.
"We have a business administrator who is a fanatic about school cleanliness," Van Zanten said of West New York School Business Administrator Rena Hendrick.
The superintendent added that school cleanliness has improved tremendously.
"We are really proud of what we achieved there," said Van Zanten.
New students and teachers
In addition to 300 new students, West New York also has 40 new teachers to start this year.
"They are all spectacular," said West New York Director of Human Resources Gary Lentini. He added that West New York has a thorough hiring process that requires each candidate to have three to four interviews with different school administrators. "The state has very specific requirements," said Lentini. "[Teachers] must be not only certified but also highly qualified."
Lentini also said that a second clinical social worker was hired to help kids at the high school, and that the school district plans to hire a social worker who will be able to make home visits.
The Union City school district hired 64 new teachers who participated in a two-day orientation last week.
In Union City, the two high schools were expected to be combined in one new building this year, but that building is still under construction.
So instead, the two existing high schools, Emerson on 18th Street and Union Hill on Hudson Avenue, will be considered two campuses of one new Union City High School for the 2008-2009 school year.
They will remain in the same buildings until the students can move into the new 2400 Kennedy Blvd. building next year, a project that cost $174 million, paid for by a state grant.
"This is a big transition year," said Superintendent Stanley Sanger. "[The high schools] are starting to do many things collaboratively."
The returning high school students will still report to whichever building they attended last year.
The new school for 2009 is at the site of the old Union City Roosevelt athletic stadium. Sanger said the plot was the only open space left in Union City that could be used to build such a large school.
"It allowed us to acquire land without disrupting neighborhoods," said Sanger.
He also mentioned that the school will have a rooftop stadium.
"Because we lack space in Union City, we had to come up with a design to utilize our limited existing space," said Sanger.
This year, the schools are combining sports teams with the "Soaring Eagle" as their mascot.
"There was a tremendous rivalry," said Sanger about the teams. He also had previously said that joining the teams would foster an environment of unity that would transcend into academic settings and the community as a whole.
Also for this year, the Union City schools will expand their assessment testing for not only grades three, four, and eight, as in the past, but for grades three through 12.
The tests occur three times per year, making sure the student is progressing enough to attend the next grade level.
"I think that is one of the things that make Union City great," said Sanger.
Assistant Superintendent Silvia Abbato said, "It is focusing on skills students have not mastered."
Sanger did not say much about other changes in the district for this coming year, instead looking toward the bigger changes in 2009.
That year, the vacant buildings of the former high schools will become two new junior high schools.
And Jose Marti Middle School, now for grades six through eight, will become a ninth grade academy.
The new high school will contain a health screening center for students and their families, as well as a day care center for children of teen parents. Sanger said this would prevent teens from becoming overwhelmed with parenthood and dropping out of school.
"It is a true dropout prevention program," said Sanger. Counseling for the teen parents will be available.
"We are renovating because the buildings are really old and don't meet the needs of our youngsters." - Dr. Robert Van Zanten