Full-day pre-K coming to East Newark Oct. 1

Holy Cross School in Harrison will host one East Newark all-day pre-K class. Google Images

Starting this fall term, the East Newark Public Schools will be offering full-day pre-school for the first time in the district’s history, Chief School Administrator Richard Corbett said.

Corbett said the district has been operating a part-time pre-school program for 15 children ages 3 and 4, but now, with the help of a $337,039 grant for “high quality pre-K” funding from the state Department of Education, it will be able to expand to a full-time operation.

East Newark is one of 19 school districts — and the only one in Hudson County — to share in a total of $17 million awarded statewide for the 2021-2022 school year as part of Gov. Philip D. Murphy’s pledge to provide universal pre-K to all families across New Jersey over the next several years.

Corbett said the grant availability is conditioned on starting the full-day program by Oct. 1.

Corbett, who has listed full-day pre-K as one of his goals for the 2021-2022 school year, said the plan is to have two classes, one in the Borough School on North Third Street, and a second at Holy Cross School in Harrison.

The district is currently accommodating grades 6 to 8 at Holy Cross under an annual rental agreement with the building’s owner, the Archdiocese of Newark. It now plans to piggy-back on that arrangement by renting an additional basement-level classroom in the former Catholic school to handle the full-day pre-K children, Corbett said.

That 1,200-square-foot basement space was previously used as a library by Holy Cross when that school was still functioning. There will be two bathrooms available for use by the pre-schoolers. District personnel painted and did what Corbett described as minor renovations to prepare the space for classroom use.

“We’re also putting in a camera and P.A. system,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Borough School is handling the other pre-K class and grades K through 4.

Corbett’s office and staff have relocated to first-floor space at Holy Cross where children who now occupy 10 third-floor classrooms have access to a full-size gym/auditorium for exercise and lunch — a big improvement over the cramped basement space that doubled as a tiny gym and lunchroom in the Borough School.

(Because of the age of the Holy Cross School building — it was opened in 1915 — it is exempt from the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Corbett said. It has no elevator. To date, he said, none of the East Newark youngsters attending classes there has any physical impairments preventing them from ascending a stairwell to the third floor.)

“The kids, their parents and our faculty all love it here,” Corbett said, referring to their home away from home at Holy Cross. “The kids get to use a real-sized gym in a space that doubles as an auditorium with a stage and cafeteria. Plus, we have air-conditioning, which they’ve never had before because of the age of the Borough School which was built in 1919.”

Corbett said the district will register up to 30 preschoolers, with two classes of up to 15.

Corbett said he’ll need to find “an experienced pre-K teacher and an aide” to assign to the class at Holy Cross. And although most school jobs are now locked up around the state with the fall term having already begun, Corbett is confident he can fill those positions.

Meanwhile, the existing teacher and aide at the Borough School are being retained to handle the full-day pre-K session there, he said.

The state grant will help the district pay for the new employees, a pre-K intervention team, some new furniture and teaching supplies, he said.

Corbett lauded the borough’s Board of Education for being “very supportive” of the grant application process to make the full-day pre-K a reality.

Another “first” happened in fall 2020, Corbett noted, when the state DOE designated it a “High Performing District” based on an examination of school personnel, school governance, financial management, instruction and programs/operations.

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Ron Leir | For The Observer

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.

He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.

He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York