The Town of Kearny is getting its first charter school … but it’s going to be a hybrid creature.
What that means is that the school will be located in Kearny but its students will be drawn from Kearny and Jersey City.
Sounds strange but such is the plan that state Department of Education Commissioner David C. Hespe preliminarily signed off on pending the charter school submitting certain documents, meeting state and federal codes and securing a four-year charter agreement.
To explain: the Hudson Arts & Science Charter School – as the new facility will be known – will be occupying the former Mater Dei Academy (and former St. Stephen’s Grammar School) at 131 Midland Ave.
This new school, which will be a branch of North Jersey Arts & Science Charter School (NJASCS), has signed a lease with the St. Stephen’s Parish Finance Committee and the College of Consulters of the Archdiocese of Newark.
That lease will run from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2020, and the first classes will start in September 2016, according to the Rev. Joseph Mancini, pastor of St. Stephen’s, and Timothy White, spokesman for NJASCS. Initially, enrollment will be limited to kindergarten to grade 5, White said.
Mancini said this agreement concludes a three-year effort to land an occupant for the building since Mater Dei closed its doors in June 2012. During that time, he said, “we’ve had three or four potential tenants, including the Kearny Board of Education.”
The KBOE had come close to securing the property as part of what was projected as a centralized middle school with the district’s sixth-graders to be accommodated at the parochial school building and grades 7 and 8 at a reconfigured Lincoln School.
Board members voted in March 2014 to authorize negotiations with the parish toward a lease and/or purchase but, only weeks later, the board ended the talks after reportedly concluding that the cost of retrofitting the building to make it disabled-accessible, combined with the rental or acquisition fee, would be prohibitive.
Now that a deal with the charter school has been nailed down, “we’re happy and relieved,” Mancini said.
The parish, he added, will not be totally abandoning the building. Under the lease terms, St. Stephen’s will have access to conduct religious education classes, “outside of the school’s regular hours of operation.”
NJASCS spokesman White said that Hudson Arts & Science Charter plans to “hold a lottery” for registration of its first incoming students in spring 2016 and start operations in September 2016. To help promote interest, “we’re going to do a lot of marketing work,” he added.
“HASCS is required to secure the certificate of occupancy [for the St. Stephen’s building] by June 30, 2016,” White said. “The building is in very good shape and only minor interior cleaning and upgrades need to be completed. We expect to have all internal renovations completed by January 2016.”
Hudson ASCS anticipates filling 360 spots for its first year of operation with the average class size pegged at 20, White said. When the school’s charter comes up for renewal, White said it would likely look to expand its grade levels.
Jersey City Board of Education would be responsible for costs involved in transporting students to Kearny, White said.
Because charter schools are considered public schools and cannot operate as for-profit entities, the school boards of the two “sending” districts – Kearny and Jersey City – would be faced with the costs associated with youngsters attending Hudson ASCS.
However, Hudson ASCS would be managed by its own 10-member board of trustees, of whom seven would be voting members.
Back in fall 2014, NJASCS had initially applied to operate the Hudson ASCS out of the former Our Lady of Victories school on Ege Ave. in Jersey City but reportedly after discussions with the Archdiocese of Newark, that deal was scrapped and the Kearny location was targeted.
Currently, NJASCS operates seven school facilities spread among Garfield (elementary and middle schools), Hackensack (high school), Paterson (elementary school) and Passaic (elementary, middle and high school). With the school in Kearny, total enrollment will be 2,500, according to its website.
Locally, Kearny Schools Superintendent Patricia Blood was unreceptive to the new school entry.
“If the Hudson charter school garners the necessary enrollment and opens in September 2016, and if students who live in Kearny are accepted as students there, the Kearny school district will lose funds because we will be supporting those students’ attendance at that school.
“However, given the wealth of resources and services that Kearny schools have provided students and given the significant increases we are charting in student achievement, particularly in the area of literacy, I don’t know why any our students would choose to leave our schools,” Blood said.