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2-7-14 Education in the News
Star Ledger - Snow storms force schools to take back holidays and extend year

NJ Spotlight - Revised ‘One Newark’ Plan – One Less Closure, Changes for Charters...Historic Weequahic High stays, students at schools turned over to charters have the option of staying put

Star Ledger - Snow storms force schools to take back holidays and extend year

By Peggy McGlone/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
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on February 07, 2014 at 7:00 AM, updated February 07, 2014 at 7:24 AM

Two storms in three days caused havoc for commuters and companies, but they also KO’d the calendars of many school districts.

After canceling classes Monday and Wednesday, many school administrators are scrambling to find replacement days.

"This is a difficult winter. We’ve had four snow days, four delayed openings and one early dismissal and it’s only Feb. 6," Chester Superintendent Christina Van Woert said. "It’s very chaotic and it’s inconsistent in terms of education."

From the northern mountain towns to Shore communities, schools have closed for snow and ice more days than they planned, officials said. Since the state requires 180 days of instruction in order to be eligible for aid, officials must now choose to cancel long weekends, take back days from winter recess or spring break or add days in June.

A survey by the New Jersey School Boards Association in 2010 showed about 70 percent of respondents built snow days into their calendars, with three extra days the most common. Schools officials reported they were more likely to pull back holidays and winter break days than they were to add days to the end of the year, when graduation and other activities make changes more difficult.

"Last year it was Hurricane Sandy, this year the unrelenting snow," Roxbury Township schools spokeswoman Ameerah Palacios said. "We’re nimble and flexible, and we try to work with parents to do what’s best for students."

Roxbury adopts a 180-day calendar each June, and scheduled holidays are pulled back as needed. The district in Morris County has had five snow days so far this year, which means it has revoked scheduled holidays on March 21 and 24, April 21 and May 23 and 27. If there’s more snow next week, the school will be open Presidents Day, Feb 17.

"We found that it’s better to take holidays than to take away from spring break," Palacios said. "Students need it as much as the teachers."

South Orange-Maplewood includes three snow days in its calendar but has had to close for four days, district spokeswoman Suzanne Turner said.

The district will be open April 25, the last day of spring break. If there’s a fifth snow day, school will reopen April 24.

Scotch Plains-Fanwood will be shortening its spring break, too. The district in Union County has exceeded its built-in three days, so Wednesday’s day off — the fourth emergency closing — will be made up on April 14, the first day of a planned week off.

"It’s not ideal. We’d like to stay away from spring break," district spokeswoman Sally Rowland said, noting that families have made plans they don’t like to change.


In Paterson, school officials pad the calendar with five days, a reaction to the state of emergency called in the wake of Hurricane Sandy during the last school year. But even the additional two days may not be enough this year. Paterson has had four snow days already.

"There are still a few more days in June if we need to take more," district spokeswoman Terry Corallo said.

Officials say they are careful about changing the calendar to give families time to adjust. Many choose to cancel holiday weekends, like Presidents Day and Memorial Day, in order to preserve spring break.

Attendance is the biggest reason. Middletown Superintendent William George said school officials have to be careful about adding days that will result in high absenteeism. Middletown has exceeded its three snow days, and thus has extended the year one day to June 24.

"Attendance is very important part of the school report card," George said. "I try very hard to stay away from those days because if our attendance is (low) it impacts the way our district is perceived."

George said the district will extend the year three more days to June 27 before taking back April 21, the last day of spring break.

"We want to get it right, and we’re not meteorologists," he said. "We want to make sure our students are prepared, and at the same time safety is important. But balancing all those things is very stressful."


NJ Spotlight - Revised ‘One Newark’ Plan – One Less Closure, Changes for Charters

John Mooney | February 7, 2014

Historic Weequahic High stays, students at schools turned over to charters have the option of staying put

In the face of fierce debate, the reorganization of Newark public schools will undergo some revisions that seek to address mounting questions and criticism while finalizing the plans for next fall.

State-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson plans to move ahead with the bulk of her controversial “One Newark” reorganization for the state-run district, but with some changes and updates, according to the revised plan obtained by NJ Spotlight and expected to be released today.

In one of the highest-profile schools to be affected, for example, Anderson’s plan would retain Weequahic High School as a comprehensive high school, while also moving two single-gender academies into the building.

Under her initial plan, Weequahic would have no longer existed as a high school, and the academies would have taken over the building, a move that spurred intense objections from the storied schools’ families and alumni. Now, Weequahic’s current students would remain, at least for the next two years, and the three programs will share the building.

Anderson’s revised plan also reveals new details on her strategy for sharing or turning over district schools to charter operators, one of the most contentious aspects of One Newark.

In the revised plan, four district schools -- Hawthorne Avenue, Bragaw Avenue, Madison Avenue, and Alexander Street -- would each be turned over to charter operators next year.

But a key detail indicates that the bulk of the students in each of the schools would have the option of staying put, a significant departure from the model followed by charters elsewhere in the city. The charter schools would still import their own leadership and staff.

Anderson said in a statement that the revised plan continues her pledge to bring quality schools to the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

“A child in the South or West Ward is virtually guaranteed to be in an elementary school where only 30 percent of students can read -- or in a high school with a graduation rate below 30 percent,” the statement read. “This is simply unacceptable.

“If we bring good schools to the neighborhoods with the greatest needs, we could revive schools and communities,” it added.

The revisions come as Anderson faces increasing pressure, political and otherwise, over her plans for reorganizing the state’s largest district at a time of shrinking enrollment and equally fraught budget picture. Anderson is in her third year as Gov. Chris Christie’s appointee to lead the state-operated district.

Anderson also faces time pressure, as the deadlines loom for the central piece of One Newark, a plan for a universal enrollment across district and the bulk of the charter schools. The deadline for families to enroll is February 28.

Still, there is little certainty that the revision will much ease the public uproar, since the changes have more to do with details than with overarching principles. And several contentious aspects of the original plan remain intact, including several other school closures at places like Newton Street and Maple Avenue schools.

“There’s nothing there, no real substance,” said Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, a chief antagonist of late. “It’s still the same Cami Anderson: not from Newark, not caring about Newark.”

The president of the district’s local advisory board, Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, said even the concessions appeared to be only temporary steps to appease different factions who have raised concerns. Weequahic, for example, would stay open for two years, after which it would need to meet certain benchmarks.

“This is all an attempt to win back some measure of credibility and separate the Weequahic High School alumni from the rest,” said Baskerville-Richardson, herself a Weequahic graduate.

“I don’t see any major changes in here that prompt me to say she has addressed our concerns,” she said.

According to the revised plan, Newark Public Schools would vacate its downtown headquarters on Cedar Street and move to the current Newark Vocational High School. The district now pays $4 million in rent for the Cedar Street location.

The vocational school in turn would move to West Side High School, which would close as a comprehensive high school and be home instead to the vocational program and the Newark Early College program.

The new central offices will serve as the headquarters for the district, while also providing programs for at-risk students and adults, the plan said.

The agreement with the charters is a significant step for their operators, which have long sought space in the district's buildings but now will also have to serve their students. The three operators involved are among the city’s most established: TEAM Academy, North Star Academy, and Newark Legacy.

“It is a stretch from what we have done before,” said Ryan Hill, president of TEAM Academy charter schools, which would take over management of Bragaw Avenue School and at least some of the operation at Hawthorne.

”But what we really like about this is we get to be part of the solution for the South Ward, which has seen dwindling enrollment while ours has skyrocketed,” he said. “Hopefully we are part of a long-term solution that fights back against that trend.”


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