A celebration of a great teacher
New school in JC Heights named for pre-K advocate
by Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Sep 17, 2017 | 2560 views | 0 0 comments | 70 70 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SCHOOL
SCHOOL NAMED AFTER CHILDHOOD ADVOCATE – The city’s newest school has been named after Patricia M. Noonan, who led the movement for early childhood education in the area.
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For most of the people who came out to cut the ribbon on a new elementary school in Jersey City Heights, the event became a tender tribute to the woman for whom it is being named. Patricia M. Noonan was a pioneer in the field of early childhood education at a time when most people said pre-kindergarten was little more than babysitting.

Noonan served in the Jersey City School District for 43 years as an elementary teacher, an assistant principal, supervisor, and eventually the associate superintendent. She convinced Jersey City to offer a full-day kindergarten in 1989, and in 1996, she spearheaded the development of preschool classes.

She passed away in 2007.

Her sister, Elizabeth, said at the opening, “It’s difficult to talk about someone you’ve known and loved all your life. On a September day in 1963, Pat Noonan, nervous, entered her teaching career. She began her career in Public School No. 16 in downtown Jersey City. She was assigned a kindergarten class. From that time on, her love [was clear] for children who were young. She saw in them the potential to become good students, good citizens and most of all, good family people.”

Dr. Peter Donnelly, a member of the school naming committee, said that when Noonan proposed early childhood education there were a lot of naysayers.

“Pat dedicated her 43 years in education to Jersey City’s youngest students,” he said. “She was a strong proponent of early childhood education. There were many who thought it was nothing more than expensive babysitting. Today, of course, we recognize these early school years are critical to academic success. As a result of Pat’s efforts, Jersey City was among the first districts to establish extensive pre-school programs, and served as a role model for other districts around the state.”

Ann Byrne, the principal, said that Noonan believed that given the opportunity, all children can take their place in the community, and to make sure that children could compete with their peers in every walk of life.

Ironically, the new school not only provides space for 150 pre-k students transferred from another school building, but will allow the old school site to be rebuilt in an early childhood center.

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“Pat dedicated her 43 years in education to Jersey City’s youngest students,” -- Dr. Peter Donnelly

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Investment in the school district

Mayor Steven Fulop noted that this is the second ribboncutting of a new school in Jersey City in two years.

“Part of this is due to the fact that we have strong representation in Trenton,” he said.

A third new school is expected to open downtown in Jersey City next year.

Fulop said this is the result of people who have a common belief that the children of Jersey City deserve the best facility.

“We’re working towards that objective,” he said. “We are a growing city and we’re growing rapidly, and yet at the same time we are investing in our schools.”

Board of Education Trustee Vidya Gangadin called the opening of the school “a historic day in Jersey City.”

Charles McKenna, CEO of the state School Development Authority, said he hoped the sight of smiling schoolchildren will dim the memory for neighbors of the construction.

“September is always a good time of year for us because we open a lot of schools around the state,” he said. “This year the SDA has opened five new schools around the state at the cost of about $230 million.”

This school in Jersey City cost $54 million to build. It has 123,000 square feet, including instructional space, and space instrumental for performances, arts, a science lab, a recreation center and other activities. It has science labs, a demonstration room, and a media center. It also has outside play areas.

“Every classroom has a whiteboard, and every student has access to a computer,” he said.

He also noted that the school is “a green school,” meaning that it limits negative impacts on the environment.

“This means that is not only energy efficient, but it is environmentally friendly,” he said.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles said she was happy to see the school open. “It takes a lot for a school to be built and it takes a very long time. This school has been in the making for many, many years long before I came to Jersey City,” she said.

When she got here, she was told this site on Summit and Jefferson was where the new school would be built.

“I couldn’t believe it because it never looked like it would become a school in this spot,” she said. “But indeed, it has been transformed.”

She remembered the groundbreaking and how she had to wear a hard hat.

“And it crushed my hair,” she said, laughing. “But who knew that a few years later they could transform that rock into this building.”

The school, which serves students in Pre-k through grade 5, is a state-of-the-art building with computers and internet access in every classroom.

According to an online state SDA description, the “school will educate approximately 770 students in grades pre-kindergarten through five. The school will include 30 general education classrooms, 10 pre-kindergarten classrooms, four self-contained special education classrooms, cafeteria, gymnasium, assembly/multi-purpose room and a media center.”

And based on a photo on the SDA's website, Noonan will be a facility of four interconnected sections. The main classroom structures will span three floors.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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