By Ron Leir
Public school students in Nutley may be blinking twice when they start the fall term on Wednesday, Sept. 4
That’s because they’ll be seeing several new administrators and teachers around the district, along with a host of new educational resources – books and technology – designed to strengthen their learning curve.
Another surprise in store is the start of an “inclusion pre- K” program, being launched on a pilot basis, in the district.
And, later this month, the entire school community figures to see a new face on the Nutley Board of Education to replace trustee Victoria Flynn, who has moved with her family out of the township.
Also: on Aug. 26, the BOE hired a new general counsel, Schenck, Price, Smith & King with offices in Paramus and Florham Park, replacing Frank Pomaco of Belleville. Mark Zitomer and Joanne Butler from the new firm will be assigned to Nutley.
Superintendent of Schools Russell Lazovick, beginning his third year of a five-year contract, has spent part of the summer assembling all the pieces of a revised school personnel that includes some 40 new certified instructional and professional staff members.
“Some are replacements for employees on sick or maternity leave, some are filling positions vacated through retirements, and others are reflective of growth in elementary school enrollment,” Lazovick said.
The past few years, Lazovick said, “we went, generally, from three sections to four sections in our primary [K to 3] grades at Lincoln, Washington and Yantacaw schools. We had what we thought, was a bubble. Well, it was no bubble. Enrollment has continued to grow.”
So, where it was deemed necessary, more teaching staff were hired to accommodate the additional classes to prevent overcrowding in those three schools, Lazovick said. Meanwhile, the superintendent has found new players to take charge of key supervisory posts.
At the John Walker Middle School, for example, a new tandem of Tracy Egan as the new principal, and Michael Sullivan, as the new vice principal, take over.
Egan, who has been with the district nearly 15 years, served as Middle School vice principal for the past three years, while Sullivan previously taught social studies for the Colts Neck public school system.
Nutley High School gets a new junior (10-month) assistant principal in Alphonso Gonnella, formerly a history teacher for the Bridgewater- Raritan Regional School District.
James Riley replaces Michael Cundari as coordinator of fine and performing arts (Cundari has relocated to Florida) and Robyn Powell has been named coordinator of health and physical education.
And Theresa Schiffenhaus, who was the interim director of special services, is now full-time director, while Helen Doyle-Marino has been upgraded from special services teacher to supervisor of special services.
Then there are the new instructional supports: As Lazovick has alerted parents on the Nutley school district web site, “For the coming year, every classroom K-12 will open with new mathematics materials. These were selected by a group of parents, teachers and administrators and members of the Board of Education through a 6-month process of research, review and piloting.”
On the language arts side, Lazovick said, “Every K-8 classroom will open with new libraries, filled with over 200 titles representing every genre and multiple reading levels. Each of our elementary schools and our middle school will also open with guiding reading libraries consisting of over 260 titles and 1,600 total volumes.”
And, Lazovick said, all K-5 classrooms will be equipped with new science materials. The district has invested about $1.5 million in the new language arts and math resources and about $100,000 – supplemented by a $30,000 grant from the Roche Co. – for the new science items, he said.
“These cutting edge resources,” Lazovick added, “will support our teachers as they continue to provide rigorous and engaging instruction for all our learners.” All new materials will be aligned with the state’s new “Core Curriculum Content Standards” and “Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers” (PARCC) testing benchmarks, he said.
Lazovick characterized Nutley students’ performance in science as “above average” in terms of state-wide secondary school scores, “but in elementary school language arts and math (in particular), we’re not where we hope to be – we’re not showing the level of growth we need to be at. We’re hoping these new resources will help get us there.”
Another tool he’s hoping will aid in the improvement process is technology. “We’ve added 60 iPads and 30 laptops to each K-6 school building and we’ve also added multiple class sets of iPads and laptops to our middle school and high school classes in world language, math, social studies, music and art,” Lazovick said.
Nutley BOE President Charles Kucinski is equally enthused about the inclusion pre-K program for a total of 32 youngsters ages 3 and 4 that will be hosted by Radcliffe Elementary School, 379 Bloomfield Ave.
“We’ve never had a pre-K program in our school system before,” Kucinski said. “Up to now, parents had been sending their pre-schoolers to private community nursery schools.”
Now, however, plans call for “16 children per class,” of whom eight will be general education children and eight will be special education youngsters, Kucinski said. There will be one class session during the morning and a second in the afternoon.
Children were selected through a lottery system.
Parents of the general education children will be charged a $3,000 fee for the year while the BOE will receive reimbursement for the special education children from the state Department of Education, Kucinski said.
“It’s great that we have both groups of kids learning together,” Kucinski said. General education kids will be made “more aware” of their classmates’ situations which will likely work against future “bullying” and, at the same time, special education kids will be aided by learning “socializing skills” sooner.
As for deciding on a new temporary board member to fill the spot vacated by Flynn, Kucinski said he expects that the full board will interview the four contenders for the empty seat at the Sept. 9 meeting and possibly choose someone that night.
The four who submitted letters of interest to the board secretary are: Alan Thomas, an Englewood Cliffs attorney; A. Gerri Budd, an adjunct professor of Women’s Gender Studies at Willliam Paterson University; Salvatore Ferraro, engineer/chief construction project coordinator/recycling coordinator for Nutley; and Patricia Parisi, a guidance counselor for Essex County Vocational School’s Bloomfield Tech.