By Ron Leir
EAST NEWARK –
In a move some might interpret as a sign of “independence,” East Newark has brought its public school pre-K program back home this fall.
This marks a departure from sending its 4-year-olds to neighboring Harrison where the Board of Education farmed out the youngsters to a privately operated nursery center.
On a separate front, East Newark’s Board of Education, which operates a single K-8 school, has been investigating the possibility of withdrawing its high school-age students from Harrison High School on the grounds that the tuition rates are onerous for borough taxpayers.
For now, though, school trustees are focused on bringing the little ones under its own roof, having made modifications to the front room of the East Newark Recreation Center on Central Ave. to create a new pre-school facility.
Mayor Joseph Smith said it was only a couple of weeks ago that the state Department of Education signed off on using the facility as an early childhood classroom after leaks in ceiling blocks were corrected, the room was painted, a toddler-friendly commode was installed, and a security/intercom hooked up.
When the weather is bad and kids can’t go outside for a half-hour play period, they’ll have access to the Rec Center gym.
Meanwhile, East Newark Superintendent/Principal William Shlala noted, “We’re soliciting prices to carve out a piece of the Rec Center parking lot into a pee-wee playground.”
While the borough was waiting to hear from the DOE, as a contingency plan, it sounded out the Kearny school system about the possibility of that district taking its 4-year-olds – a proposal that, Smith said, Kearny school brass would have welcomed had the state nixed the Rec Center move.
For a few years, East Newark Public School managed to accommodate a pre-school class but a sudden surge in primary enrollment last year that prompted the creation of a second first-grade classroom to avoid overcrowding forced the borough to send its preschoolers to a Harrison-based nursery school at Fourth St. and Cleveland Ave.
Now, Smith said, the borough will have direct control over the program, from both an educational and financial perspective.
Tim Havlich, the newly hired school business administrator (replacing Paul Vizuzzo), said that the BOE had budgeted $112,000 for last year’s pre-K program. This year, factoring in rental fees assessed by the borough for use of the Rec Center, plus the cost of the building’s modifications – including a still-to-come replacement of the building’s HVAC system – Havlich estimated that, “we should be working a little under that budget.”
At the same time, having the program in the borough should make it easier for parents bringing their kids back and forth.
The BOE has hired Jennifer Palumbo, who has 10 years’ experience as a pre-school instructor in Harrison, as its pre-K class teacher and Joanne Ribeiro, a candidate for a teaching degree at Drew University who is bi-lingual in Spanish and Portuguese, as a teacher aide.
As of last Friday, the first day of classes, 16 youngsters had been registered, according to Palumbo. Eight of the “younger” 4-year-olds are participating in the morning session, which runs from 8:20 to 10:50 a.m., and eight of the “older” group attend the afternoon session from 12:20 to 2:50 p.m.
“Instruction is based around the ‘open classroom’ theory,” Palumbo said, “where kids have a choice of where they’d like to work” but are still exposed to all topics.
Among those ‘work’ areas are setups for a kitchen experience, sand and water, art, building blocks, math and science “manipulatives,” a small library and a “quiet area.”
Kids will be getting a free “fresh fruit or veggie snack” from the Farm School Network, Shlala said.
At the Borough School, meanwhile, Shlala said students can expect these new developments:
• Listening to recordings of the likes of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, etc., played over the school P.A. system before the start of classes, from 7:50 to 8:30 a.m., “to expose them to the classical culture,” Shlala said.
• A “Silent Reading” program: For three days a week after lunch, kids will be devoting “15 to 20 minutes” to read some type of age-appropriate material, “make notes, break off into pairs and share what they’ve read,” said Shlala. Typically, he said, “our kids – most of whom are bi-lingual – struggle struggle in language arts,” so the silent reading is designed to reinforce those skills.
• The Basic Skills program will be getting iPads to facilitate instruction of remedial skills “and we’re increasing our staff level from two to four, both for during and after school sessions,” Shlala said.
“We’re also exploring, with our food vendor, Maschio’s, incorporating ‘Breakfast After the Bell’ for our kids,” he said. “Sometimes, kids are late and, by 9 a.m., because they haven’t had breakfast, they’re hungry, so we’re looking at whether we can arrange to have them eat breakfast in the classroom.”