Having spent four weeks getting readjusted to her old workplace, Kearny High School interim principal Linda Rocco is “thrilled to be here.”
In an interview with The Observer last week, Rocco – who began her three-decade-plus education career as a student teacher of health and physical education at KHS – is now back where she started.
Having recently retired as Point Pleasant High School principal, Rocco allowed herself to be coaxed back into action, this time as a per-diem administrator until the Kearny Board of Education can find a permanent replacement for the departed principal Al Gilson.
Rocco said she has discovered that “teachers, secretaries and administrators alike” are on the same page when it comes to implementing the superintendent’s vision of “moving students forward academically in a safe environment and giving teachers the resources they need to give good classroom instruction.”
One piece of good news that Rocco said she can offer students and staff is that when they return for the fall term “there will be no classes in the trailers” that have been parked on the school’s front lawn as a result of the construction work that has continued on and off for the past several years.
Work has apparently progressed to the point where the trailers will be used “only if they are needed for the shortterm due to construction,” Rocco said.
Additionally, Rocco said, “they’ve started to put in the new windows for the school.”
Rocco said she’s found an upbeat mood among those school staff she has managed to see so far. “I’ve visited our sports camps and everybody I meet is truly positive – despite the construction challenges – and cares about our kids,” she added.
Another new aesthetic wrinkle being readied for the fall term, said Rocco, features a new school uniform policy that replaces black bottoms with khaki.
School board member Cecilia Lindenfelser, who chairs the policy committee, said that board members “were okay with khaki because we didn’t like the stretchy, tight leggings.”
A BOE website posting further clarified that the new uniform “will include a choice of red or black uniform shirt and khaki bottoms. In addition, a quarter zip pullover with the KHS insignia will be available for use during the winter months. The current beige uniform shirt … will be phased out in June 2016.”
On the code of conduct front, Rocco said, the district is tightening rules on student attendance. As part of a new proposed board policy, “high school students who are tardy to the same class will be charged with one unexcused absence for each combination of four tardies.” A student who logs “10 or more cumulative unexcused absences” is deemed truant.
Also, “A student who is deemed to have four cuts in the same class will lose credit for that course.”
And, “A secondary student may be dropped from a course or denied course credit when he/she has been absent from 15 or more of the class sessions for a full-year course, and eight or more class sessions for a half-semester course ….”
School districts are subject to the loss of state aid if they fail to achieve certain district-wide attendance benchmarks.
An encouraging academic note: The high school will be offering, as a first, a two-year Advanced Placement History program to be taught by 10-year district veteran John Adamski.
And, Rocco said she’s introducing an administrative strategy of assigning her two assistant principals to take charge of specific grades. To that end, William Gaydos is being assigned the sophomore and senior classes while Paul Measso is to handle the freshmen and juniors.
“The idea is so that they get to know the students more closely and help them navigate through the system, including academics, attendance and so forth,” Rocco said. “We did this at Point Pleasant and it seemed to help.”
Some important fall dates for students and staff to note, she said, are these: Sept. 1 and 2, new teacher orientation; Sept. 8 and 9, staff return; Sept. 8 at 1 p.m., freshmen orientation happens; Sept. 10, students begin classes (half-day); and Sept. 24, the KHS PTA and administrative team meet to discuss the parent portal, new dress code, new attendance policy and accessing the student handbook on the district website, www.kearnyschools.com.