Half-day preK-3 classes coming in the fall

KEARNY –

Starting this fall, the Kearny Board of Education will be starting an in-house half-day integrated program for 3-year-olds” out of Garfield School on Belgrove Drive.

In conceptual terms at least, this offering sounds like the Kearny High School Nursery School’s PreK-3 child development program that has been operating for years, although there are key differences.

For one thing, there will be tuition attached to part of the new program whereas the nursery setup is free; for another, the new program will be five days a week versus three days at the nursery; and thirdly, regular teachers will be assigned to the new program while high school students are deployed at the nursery.

Kelly Lindenfelser, the district’s director of special services, offered this explanation: “The basic difference with both of these exceptional programs are that they operate on different schedules.

“The Integrated Pre-School will run on the approved school calendar with a cost attached for general- education students. The KHS Nursery School (led by Debbie Comer) runs on its own schedule without cost to families.”

A common denominator is that both offer parents an alternative to sending their children to a privately operated preschool facility off the public school campus. 

Lindenfelser said the new program would accommodate a total of 36youngsters – half of those “general education” and half “special needs” – who will have attained the age of 3 on or before Oct. 1.

Application forms note that parents can specify whether they prefer a morning or afternoon session for their children. Each session runs two and a half hours.

There will be slots for nine general ed and nine special ed students for the morning class and the same arrangement will apply for the afternoon class, Lindenfelser said.

Parents of general-education kids only must pay a monthly tuition of $200 for 10 months. The school district will assume the cost for the special-needs children.

Asked what prompted the KBOE to make the program available, Lindenfelser said that under the law, special needs students, starting at age 3, “are entitled to educational services and we were contracting out those services [through local providers].”

Now, she said, the board will be providing those services “in-house.”

One fulltime teacher and one classroom aide will be assigned to each class, she said. “We haven’t yet decided if it’s going to be an internal transfer [of staff] or new hires. We’re still working on a budget and that will have play in our calculations.”

What officials have determined at this point, according to Lindenfelser, is that, “there will be no additional cost to the district to offer this program [because] the tuition saved from the [privately-run] provider Pre-K programs and the tuition from the general education students will cover all costs.”

The district will provide transportation to and from Garfield School only for the special needs children, she said.

Garfield was chosen to house the program, Lindenfelser said, because the school had the only self-contained classroom with an age-appropriate bathroom currently available within the district.

Lindenfelser said the space at Garfield has been inspected and approved for use by a special services supervisor from the Hudson County Executive Superintendent of Schools Office.

Parents may register their children for the program on Tuesday, March 28, and Wednesday, March 29, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the KBOE office, Midland Ave. and Elm St. Parents are asked to use the Elm St. entrance.

Enrollment will be first-come, first-served.

Registration forms may be downloaded from the KBOE website: www.kearnyschools.com. A KBOE secretary and school nurse will be available to assist with the application process.

Parents whose children have been accepted into the program will be notified by letters to be sent home the week of July 3. Parent will be notified in which class session their child will be enrolled for September.

The first tuition payment for general ed students will be due Aug. 1. For more information, parents are invited to call the KBOE’s Special Services Department at 201-955-5082.

Judy Hyde, president of the Town-Wide PTA, hailed the new development and predicted that, “parents will respond very well” to register. “I posted something on Facebook about it and people are jumping at it, Hyde said.

Hyde said she likes the idea because, “the sooner we get children used to a school environment, the better.” It seems to be working that way for the high school nursery program, she said, adding, “there’s always a waiting list there.”

The KBOE is also moving on a separate front to encourage the idea of kids spending more time on the campus.

On Feb. 21, despite some reservations voiced during deliberations by several members, the KBOE voted unanimously to contract with Right At School, based in Evanston, Ill., to provide an enrichment before- and after-school tuition-based program at the district’s five elementary schools, starting in September. A contract retainer is being negotiated.

The firm was recommended by Superintendent of Schools Patricia Blood and the board ratified her choice after reviewing proposals by local providers and after some board members visited a Right At School program in New Rochelle, returning with favorable comments.

Hours proposed for the program are 7 to 8:40 a.m. and 3:05 to 6 p.m.

School officials are in the process of drafting an application form for parents to use to register their children on a voluntary basis. The tuition fee has yet to be announced.

Right At School’s website says it currently has some 20,000 students enrolled in its programs nation-wide, but Kearny’s would reportedly be the first in New Jersey.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.