Fall term will see makeovers at Washington Middle School …

… plus some roster & course additions at high school

Photos by Ron Leir





Photos by Ron Leir/ Workers prepare new cafeteria at Washington Middle School.

By Ron Leir


Students at Washington Middle School figure to see improvements in hygiene, dietary and study habits, beginning this fall term.

That’s because the school, at Fifth St. and Harrison Ave., is getting makeovers that will generate a brand new cafeteria, upgraded boys’ and girls’ bathrooms and a new media center.

Schools Supt. James Doran said the lavatories and upstairs library/computer room should be ready when kids resume classes on Wednesday, Sept. 5, but the cafeteria probably won’t be ready to open until Nov. 1.

During a visit last week to the school – which educates more than 400 youngsters in grades 6, 7 and 8 – a reporter was greeted by the sound of jackhammers demolishing a former library space on the Hamilton St. side of the building.

“We’re putting in a fullservice kitchen with space designed for comfortable seating for 120 kids,” Doran said.

The school will continue its policy of staging lunches at three separately timed seatings, he said.

Since the middle school’s creation in 1962, administrators have provided a makeshift dining area by dedicating a wing of classrooms for that purpose. Pre-cooked food was trucked in on trays from Harrison High School, then re-heated in portable ovens at Washington School and served. Milk and fruit were stored in refrigeration units. Kids ate at desks and tables set up for dining.

But that will change in a few months.

“This has been a pet project of mine since I became superintendent (in 2009),” Doran said. “We wanted to offer the middle school kids a more suitable environment for lunch by preparing food on site and by providing a variety of more nutritious dishes.”

Once the cafeteria is operational, Doran said, kids can expect hot breakfasts on a daily basis – (Lincoln School and Hamilton St. Elementary Schools get them only once a week) – along with a menu that will offer more choices.

Eventually, Doran said, he hopes to do food service improvements at Hamilton and Lincoln.

On the Harrison Ave. side of Washington School, a contractor is nearing completion of new bathroom facilities, which will be bigger and better than the ones original to the 1962 versions, Doran said.

ARCO Construction Group, of Elizabeth, was hired by the district to do both jobs. Doran said the cafeteria will cost in the neighborhood of $480,000 while the bathrooms will run about $410,000. The district is using money from its capital budget to pay for the work, he said.

Rendering courtesy Harrison Board of Education/ Here’s what the new cafeteria will look like when completed.

Doran said the state Dept. of Education (DOE), Div. of Facility Planning, reviewed and approved plans for the projects and the town’s building department is doing periodic inspections.

The other mini-project that middle school students will be treated to this fall is a new media center. “We’ve been prepping that since (this past) Easter vacation, putting in wiring for the computers and air-conditioning,” Doran said.

Observers of the Harrison public schools can expect to see some new faces in administration and some curriculum surprises in September.

The Board of Education recently hired former Jersey City Councilman Steve Lipski as assistant principal assigned to Harrison High School at $121,798 a year and promoted social studies teacher and former Harrison High standout athlete Kimberly Huaranga to assistant high school principal in charge of athletics at an annual salary of $105,858.

Lipski resigned from his most recent job as head of Jersey City’s Economic Development Corp., where he’d been reportedly earning $65,000 a year, to take on his new gig in Harrison, effective July 1.

In 2000 Lipski founded the CREATE Charter School in Jersey City but was forced to shut it down a decade later after the state Dept. of Education declined to renew its charter due to what it judged to be unsatisfactory performance by students and staff.

Still, District Schools Supt. James Doran said he felt both Lipski and Huaranga were “well-fit for their positions.”

In Lipski’s case, Doran said that because of his administrative experience with a charter school operation, “he knows how to use student performance data to assess kids’ weaknesses.” Doran added that certain factors beyond Lipski’s control may have contributed to CREATE’s demise.

Doran said that Huaranga – related to Harrison Councilman Jesus Huaranga through marriage – brings athletic expertise to her new job, based on her having been a girls’ basketball star during her high school student years. She has served the past nine years as social studies instructor.

There were 19 applicants for both positions, Doran said.

Previously, Alan Doffont had served two years as assistant principal in charge of athletics until his retirement June 30.

On the curriculum front, Doran said the district will be piloting an “Eighth- Grade Academy,” that will allow an elite group of students starting eighth grade next month to attend for-credit classes in World History and Computers at Harrison High School.

“We’re in the process of selecting the students,” Doran said. “It’s the start of a long-term project where we’ll be setting up mini-academies keyed to various subjects.”

Additionally, Doran said, the district will be adding courses in Spanish Heritage and Integrated Character Education – which will touch on bullying, texting, computer usage and other “life skills” as part of the social studies curriculum.

“We’ll be using existing staff to teach these courses,” he said.

– Ron Leir

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