By Ron Leir
Kearny Schools Superintendent Patricia Blood unveiled her proposed redistricting plan for five newly reconfigured kindergarten to grade 6 elementary schools last Thursday night to mixed reactions from a packed house at Lincoln School.
The plan – a by-product of the new middle school program for grades 6 and 7 – was to be presented to the Board of Education Monday, June 16, for final approval before being implemented for the fall term in September.
Several school trustees, including President Bernadette McDonald and other members of the board’s majority bloc, attended last week’s meeting as observers.
Blood spent part of the session outlining the revised school boundary lines – (fliers and maps defining those borders were made available to attendees) – and reminded parents that the new borders were a ripple effect of centralizing all seventh- and eighth-graders at Lincoln School.
The expectation is that the district will be saving money in the process by not replacing all of the 25 teachers who will be retiring June 30 and by transferring multi-certified instructors to fill slots where most needed, Blood said.
Even with the enrollment growth anticipated, Blood said that class size should even out district-wide among elementary schools to manageable levels. For K, grades 1 and 2, class size will be “capped” at between 21 to 23; for grades 3 and 4, the maximum will be 23; for grades 5 and 6, 25; and for grades 7 and 8, 25 to 26, she said.
Afterwards, Blood patiently fielded questions from the audience for about 90 minutes.
A number of parents voiced concerns about some children having to walk longer than normal distances to get to their new school; others worried about timelines for picking up multiple kids in the same family from different schools; some wanted to know about security at the new middle school.
By state law, school busing is triggered if students have to travel more than two miles to reach their school. Kearny “isn’t a busing district,” said Blood. “Even if we ran two school buses up and down Kearny Ave., it would be a great expense,” she added.
Blood recommended parents investigate car-pooling children to and from school. “We’ve all done it for [taking kids to] soccer and baseball,” she said. “At Franklin School, where my office currently is, I see probably more than 100 parents dropping off students on any given day.”
Out of consideration for students with siblings in more than one school, Blood said: “We’re going to ask the [school] board to consider staggered hours for smoother pickups and drop-offs.” If parents believe they have “hardship” situations, they should contact her office, Blood said.
When a parent suggested that additional school crossing guards should be secured to ensure kids’ safety, Blood said that the number and location of crossing guards are controlled by the municipal government, not the school board.
Asked whether Lincoln School would be equipped with metal detectors, Blood said that there’d be “no detectors” but that the district was “ordering” electronic swipe cards for admission to the building.
“I promise you we’re doing everything in our power to keep our schools safe,” Blood said, “but I don’t think you want your kids to be coming to an armed camp.” To this statement, much of the audience responded with loud applause.
Blood added that, “Our school secretaries do look at those [surveillance] cameras [mounted at schools’ main entrances] before buzzing in visitors.” Blood said that even she has been challenged by a vigilant secretary – and rightly so, she added.
Asked if anything would be done to help youngsters going to different schools adjust to new surroundings, Blood said that all elementary schools would have “summer orientations.”
And, at Lincoln, where kids will be grouped as parts of teams of 100 to 110 with four “core subject teachers” assigned to each team, kids will be brought in, “100 at a time,” to see how instructional areas are being arranged, Blood said. Additionally, there are plans for a “social event” the week before school opens, she said.