By Ron Leir
Lady Liberty Academy Charter School of Newark, which has rented space in the former Holy Cross parish school in Harrison the last two school years, is re-upping for a third year at the same location.
The school was left without a home in summer 2011 after it couldn’t come to terms with its landlord for the space it was occupying on Pennsylvania Ave. in Newark and came across the Passaic River to neighboring Harrison as the next best option.
Since then, the school has been striving to find a place of its own, back in its city of origin, and now, at long last, it recently completed the real estate closing on a Sanford Ave. property, said Lady Liberty Executive Director Glen Pinder.
“Unfortunately, we won’t be able to complete construction by the time classes resume for the fall term in September,” Pinder said.
There were environmental issues to deal with: Contaminated groundwater had been leaking onto the property from another source, according to Pinder, but he said the school secured funding from the state Department of Environmental Protection to clean the site.
And, he said, construction money is coming from a $10 million bond issue, which will include engineering and other professional fees related to the project, “so we’re in a good place.”
Not that Lady Liberty is in any rush to leave its host town.
“We absolutely love Harrison,” Pinder said. “The community loves us; our landlord [Holy Cross Parish], the mayor’s office, the Police and Fire Departments have all been supportive, along with local businesses. We wish we could take this facility we’re in now and put it in Newark. We have no complaints.”
They’re even prepared to accept a 3% increase in the $437,000 a year rent they’ll be paying to the parish for occupying its old parochial grammar school on Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. South, just off Harrison Ave.
Lady Liberty, which strives to foster a more aggressive approach to learning by staying open until 4 p.m. each day and by extending the school year, from 180 to 190 days, continues to struggle in raising its students’ performance on standardized tests, Pinder said.
Three years ago, the school “flat-lined,” he said. “In the second year, we saw some growth and we expect to see growth in this year.” Not enough, perhaps, to achieve state benchmarks, but “our kids are settled in – they’re engaged,” he added.
Lady Liberty, serving kindergarten through eighth grade, started its Harrison sojourn with an enrollment of 471 and has slipped a bit to the current 459, according to school records.
But Pinder remains optimistic about the coming year.
There are plans, for example, to expand Lady Liberty’s participation in the Jazz House program which arranges to send musicians to schools to help introduce kids to instruments like the trumpet, saxophone and flute and the rudiments of learning how to play them.
“This year, we’ve got the program for grades 4 and 5; next year, we’ll add sixth grade,” Pinder said.
“We’re also looking to become part of the Global Learning Communities and use technology as more of an instructional tool and peer tutorials,” Pinder said.
As described by its website, the GLC is “an independent educational organization committed to facilitating continuous and comprehensive change and growth in students, teachers and principals, schools, businesses and community skills, attitudes, learning outcomes and knowledge. … We work in partnership … with individuals, schools, districts and state/national systems over a period of 1-6 years to facilitate the process of renewal and growth so schools can become 21st Century Global Learning Communities.”
Lady Liberty will be sending teachers to a Boston conference “as a major initiative so that teachers, parents and students will be connected on the web,” Pinder said.
Meanwhile, in the interest of furthering technological growth, Pinder said the school has furnished all eighth graders with iPads; seventh graders share them.