By Ron Leir
When they started the fall term last Thursday, Sept. 5, Kearny High School students faced a new “test” even before they reached their classrooms.
They were asked to “log in,” as Principal Al Gilson put it: running their school ID cards past a scanner which, linked to a computer laptop, senses the ID barcode and “registers” their attendance.
“It’s a swipe process,” Gilson said. “You don’t need to be wireless or have an external power source. It’s very simple.”
In contrast to previous years when kids could walk into the high school from any of five access points, now the only way they can “check in” is via the school’s main entrance on Devon St.
At the same time, school monitors check students for compliance with the school uniform policy.
Any students arriving between 7 and 8 a.m. without their ID or required attire are being sent home to get it before returning. Between 8 and 8:15 a.m. students coming into school with no ID are sent to the auditorium and given a temporary student pass. Lost IDs are replaced for a $5 fee. Reports on students without IDs or uniforms are e-mailed to first-period teachers before the first bell so that no instructional time is wasted.
“It’s all about safety and accountability,” says KHS Vice Principal Pat Ragnoni. “We’ve been using IDs for more than eight years with the [school] board’s approval, so now, we’re just using them [with the scanners] for the same purpose they initially intended.”
Of the six scanners acquired by the high school – each purchased at a cost that Gilson quoted as “under $100” – one has been assigned to the nurse’s office so that any student reporting ill can be logged into the system as well.
Superintendent of Schools Frank Ferraro said the new protocol “is going to help with attendance and it’s not an invasion of privacy.”
On Sept. 4, Ferraro talked about more changes coming this school year at the “first annual convocation” at KHS stadium attended by several hundred teachers and staffers.
The $44 million KHS renovation job will resume this year, two students will be appointed as non-voting members of the Board of Education, board meetings will be rotated among the district’s schools (starting Sept. 16 at Lincoln School, and each school will give a presentation on something featuring its students), a new teacher/ administrator evaluation system will be introduced and a long-range strategic planning process will be developed, Ferraro said.
Charles Ivory, executive director of EIRC (Educational Information & Resources Center), hired by the BOE to draft that long-range plan, said he would moderate four 90-minute evening sessions, beginning Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. at Franklin School, involving small group discussions, each around four different themes:
“Kearny Pride” & what’s working well.
“Envisioning the Future,” three years from now.
Developing and identifying action steps to achieve goals emerging from Phases 1 and 2.
“Data Night”: an analysis of student achievement, graduation rates, ratables in the community and the impact of data on what the district hopes to achieve.
“Minutes will be developed after every meeting and made public,” Ivory said.
“You’re the best planners we could find,” Ivory told the teachers and staff assembled at the convocation. Teachers, parents, BOE members and other members of the community will be invited to participate in these workshops, Ivory said.
“No one is going to make speeches at these evening sessions,” he said. “We’ll be sitting at tables with small groups [whose mission will be] defining a common ground, building a consensus around our agenda.”