HoLa’s triumphant return
Spanish/English school preps for lottery; still looking for students
by Timothy J. Carroll
Reporter staff writer
Dec 13, 2009 | 4364 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
LAS MASCOTOS – Isabella Gibbs-Garcia, Juliet O’Shea and Naomi Zuniga and stand next to class hamsters Charlotte and Swel-Cha in a model classroom that was prepared for the school’s last open house.
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Dos lenguas, una escuela. That’s the idea behind the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLa) set to open next September: “Two languages, one school.”

As many as 132 children from kindergarten to second grade will begin their bilingual immersion next year, thanks to the determined efforts of founders Jennifer Hindman Sargent and Camille Korschun Bustillo.

Earlier this year, after much controversy, the Hoboken Board of Education decided not to include HoLa as a district program. So Sargent and Bustillo filed a state charter school application and plugged away at the painstaking approval process.

This past September, they announced that HoLa was one of eight charter schools approved in New Jersey this year out of 27 schools that applied.
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“We’re in a much better place now.” – Jennifer Hindman Sargent
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Charter schools are public schools that are usually founded by parents and educators. Since they are publicly funded, students do not have to pay tuition. Hoboken also has two other charter schools that were founded more than 10 years ago: Elysian Charter and the Hoboken Charter School.

HoLa will be run at the Hoboken Boys and Girls Club, 123 Jefferson St., and is inviting prospective parents to an open house on Saturday, Dec. 12 from 2 to 4 p.m. They will have a model classroom prepared and will answer questions from parents.

The founders have received over 100 applications for the 132 seats so far. The deadline for applications is Jan. 13, 2010.

Charter schools get funding on a per-pupil basis from each child’s school district. They operate separately from the district, but must have an open enrollment process. HoLa will give preference to Hoboken residents.

The state approved six classes of 22 students for HoLa, so if there are more than 44 students per grade, the school will conduct a lottery on Jan. 14 to narrow down the applicants.

The school intends to expand by one grade per year up to fifth grade.

The dual language model allows young students to be immersed in mostly Spanish instruction, reaching a 50-50 Spanish-English split by fourth grade.

Failure leads to success

When Sargent and Bustillo first pitched the idea for the Spanish/English immersion classrooms to the Board of Education in 2008, several people questioned why the board was considering it when programs for existing students were being cut.

In the end, the board actually voted to approve the program. But the approval was not properly done, according to the board attorney. The approval was rescinded and the program failed when put up for a second vote.

Sargent and Bustillo even offered to administer the program for free.

After months of volunteer work to create the program and weeks of intense scrutiny and accusations, Sargent and Bustillo came home empty-handed.

“We wanted to partner with the Board of Education,” Sargent said, “but it would have required some compromises.”

Now, the school will enjoy the relative autonomy given to charter schools.

“[The process with the board] really helped us fine-tune our goals,” she said. “We’re in a much better place now.”

Bad timing turns good

The state charter school application was a “rigorous process,” Sargent said. “We were thoroughly vetted.”

People have accused Gov. Jon Corzine of dragging his feet on charter school approvals in the past, and many of the same people noted that the approval rate increased in 2009, an election year.

Critics have said Corzine is too friendly with the teachers’ union, which quietly opposes charter schools because they do not have to hire union teachers.

So with only eight approvals this year out of 27 applications to the state, what set HoLa apart?

Sargent said the state was “very interested in the dual-language model.”

She noted that the HoLa program exemplifies two national priorities of President Barack Obama’s administration, those being charter schools and multilingualism.

Ready to teach

Sargent, Bustillo, and a small group of parents dedicated to the idea of HoLa are working hard to prepare for its first year.

They are reviewing resumes and scheduling interviews to search for a director. Once that person is hired, the pair will work with him or her to make final curriculum decisions and find teachers.

Sargent said the school hasn’t put out ads for teachers yet, but has already received resumes from qualified bilingual educators.

They are currently negotiating their lease with the Boys and Girls Club and planning to begin a round of renovations to the facility to make it school-ready.

Some upgrades are required by code, most are just cosmetic, Sargent said.

Boys and Girls Club Director Jay Garcia said he is happy to share space with the HoLa school.

Sargent said the school could potentially remain in the Boys and Girls Club for three years, but would not fit once the school expands into fifth grade.

So far, though, “We’re right on target,” she said. Or, in Spanish, “justo en el blanco.”

For more information, visit www.holahoboken.org or call (347) 256-3132.

Check out our continuously updated breaking news and leave a comment at www.hudsonreporter.com. Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at tcarroll@hudsonreporter.com.

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