By Ron Leir
When Lyndhurst public school students end their summer vacations and return to class on Sept. 5, they may think that, like Alice in Wonderland, they just went down the rabbit hole.
But instead of being scared, they’ll be happily surprised.
They’ll find upgraded computer labs and “SMART Boards” in almost every school.
Sixth-graders will be exposed to actual science labs in what used to be kindergarten classrooms.
Interesting course options and new after-school clubs will also be available.
And even more new developments await them.
It’s all part of the district’s redistricting/reconfiguration plan developed by administrators and staff, after township residents voted in December 2011 to reject a $28.8 million referendum that would have funded district-wide capital improvements tied, in particular, to enhancing educational opportunities for middle school youngsters.
Superintendent Tracey Marinelli said that she and her staff have spent much of the summer prepping all the changes associated with setting up three school “clusters” designed to eliminate, as much as possible, uneven elementary school enrollment patterns that have generated as many as “37 to 39” kids in a class and as few as 15 in others.
As of September, Marinelli said, as a consequence of the school-to-school movements of students and staff around the district, the average elementary class size should be “24 to 25.”
Parents have been afforded the opportunity to appeal their children’s school assignments on the basis of personal hardships but not always successfully. Of the 70 requests for reconsideration, a district committee granted only 20, according to Marinelli.
More than 60 elementary school teachers saw their school assignments change and all have made the switch willingly, Marinelli said.
“They all know what grade and subject they’ll be teaching but they haven’t yet received their daily class schedules,” she said.
The central office is still working on their schedules.
The principle behind each school cluster is that multiple sections of the same grade will be grouped together in manageable sizes to promote what Marinelli characterized as “more teacher collaboration: sharing of great instructional practices and sharing of information.”
There should also be more sharing among elementary school administrators, according to Marinelli.
One example, noted by Marinelli is that Franklin School Principal Joseph De- Corso, whose talents include experience with differentiated instruction. He will be working in tandem with Roosevelt School Principal Peter Strumolo, one of whose specialties is school technology, to maximize efforts in those areas.
Similarly, she said, Columbus School Principal Joseph Vastolo, who has a special facility with policy and procedure, will be paired with Jefferson School Principal Robert Giangeruso, whose background includes expertise in special education.
To plan out the logistics of the district’s cluster reconfiguration, Marinelli, School Business Administrator David DiPisa and Instruction/Curriculum Supervisor Marlene Krupp did a walk-through of classroom space earlier this summer.
Together, they came up with a strategy of converting kindergarten classes in Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt Schools to science labs for sixth-graders. K-class toilets were to be replaced with “slop sinks” for experiment purposes and classroom cabinets were to be used as storage space for microscopes and other science-related items, according to Marinelli.
In some elementary schools, space has been created for music and art rooms.
As a further means of enhancing the middle school curriculum, kids in grades 6 and 7 can choose one of three elective courses while eighthgraders can select two of six options.
For sixth grade, the electives offered are: Introduction to Art (an exploration of basic design, color, drawing, painting and graphics); General Music (basic general music theory through an exploration of music history, styles of music and careers in performing arts); or Instrumental Lessons (small group private lessons).
Kids in grade 7 can pick: Art Appreciation (basics of figure drawing, painting, graphics, crafts and 3-D designs, plus art history and a look at potential careers in applied art); Music Appreciation (exploration of music genres, including classical, opera, musical theater, pop culture, folk and eclectic); or Instrumental Lessons.
And grade 8 students will choose two of the following: Cartooning & Illustration (cartooning and caricature construction); Music of the 20th & 21st Centuries (evolution of musical style in an historical and cultural context, technology, economics and ideology); Instrumental Lessons; Advanced Computer Applications (digital photography, computer illustration & Adobe programming products); Advanced Spanish (a passing grade entitles the student to be placed in advanced Spanish class at Lyndhurst High School); or Solar System & the Universe (organic and inorganic makeup of the solar system).
To help students in grades 4 to 8 prepare for the NJASK state-mandated proficiency tests, teachers will be conducting small group, 40-minute workshops in math and language arts that will focus on the “incorporation of study skills and notetaking strategies into content instruction.” Based on standardized test scores, students will be placed, initially, into one of three skill sets: remedial, getting to an advanced level and enrichment, but as the workshops progress, a student’s placement can be “fluid,” Marinelli said.
Students will also have a choice of some new and old extra-curricular activities, based on a survey taken earlier in the year, Marinelli said. New offerings include: Junior Future Business Leaders of America, Junior National Honor Society, Introduction to Journalism and Accelerated Band.
“We will also provide more district-wide activities,” Marinelli said, “so children in kindergarten through grade 3 in all schools will participate in a Dr. Seuss Day celebration; we will offer a two-day Spring Olympics in a central location with greater administrative support; and there will be monthly PTA meetings with administrators so that parents can “share good ideas across the district and perhaps split the costs for a project.”
At the high school, Marinelli said that students will be offered Public Speaking and Forensics as electives and the district is surveying student interest in starting an ice hockey team and learning languages other than the existing courses in Italian and Spanish.
This summer has also been devoted to some physical upgrades in schools: Lincoln School, plagued by persistent water leaks into classrooms, got a new roof for $64,000; Franklin School’s 40-year-old bathrooms got new fixtures and, next month, the school is due for new custom-made windows; and 480 Apple Imax computers are being distributed among all schools at a cost of $1,100 per unit, according to DiPisa.
“By the end of next summer,” he said, “we will have all classroom chalkboards replaced by 18-foot-long interactive magnetic white boards and projectors.”