June 25 School Board Meeting Also Dedicated to Budget, Moore School, Racial Equity

Jersey City Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker said that the city’s board of education is on track to deliver a balanced budget for SY2020-21 while it prepares for a September reopening of schools under state guidelines. School closings due to Covid-19 and a school year-end shortfall of $125 million were obstacles Jersey City’s Board of Education faced in the 2019-20 school year.

“We plan to start school in September with in-person instruction,” Superintendent Walker said. “There is a committee that is responsible for the re-opening. Dr. Norma Fernandez [Deputy Superintendent] is spearheading that. We have 30,000+ students. The charter, parochial, and private schools are waiting for us to make decisions. We want to coordinate services with the other schools. We know we have an impact on those schools, too, so we have to be careful so that it will be for everyone.”

State guidelines for September reopening unveiled by Governor Murphy’s office on June 26 will also contribute significantly to Jersey City’s local plans.

The Jersey City Board of Education started the 2019-20 school year with a $120 million budget shortfall, according to Superintendent Walker, but through efficiencies and the payroll tax it is on track to deliver a balanced budget, he said.

September Reopening Plans

Superintendent Walker outlined three September reopening plans based on varying risks the pandemic may present at the time. The least restrictive plan features enhanced safety precautions, social distancing, considerable reliance on hand sanitizers and masks, and increased cleaning of heavily trafficked areas. A second plan based on a higher public health risk, focuses on distance learning with face-to-face instruction and reduced class sizes; the third and most restrictive plan includes full-distance learning wherein  all students participate in lessons that meet the standards with pacing, interactive experiences, graded assignments, and assessments.

“Remote (learning) is here to stay,” Walker said. “We are going to fine-tune that to get the best out of our teaching and learning for our students.”

In any and all cases, Jersey City will take its cues for September reopening from the state and the Centers for Disease Control.

Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker

Schools Superintendent Franklin Walker

“We’ll have to redesign the (schools) for social distancing,” the superintendent said. “I don’t have the expertise for that. We’re in the process of [contracting with] a company that has done this in other places and will look at our environment and develop a plan that supports the social distancing structure. We have identified needs regarding masks, cleaning supplies. We have training that’s coming in so custodians will be trained how to clean. It’s a different day. Another goal is to hire additional custodians. We need to have a cleaning schedule, a bathroom schedule where people are cleaning on a regular basis and document these things are taking place. It takes a different kind of mindset to support those situations. As soon as we receive guidance [from the state], we will proceed with our plans.”

Grants and Partnerships

Superintendent Franklin gave an update on progress the JCBOE has made, raising close to $10 million for the schools through grants. He said a dual educational component with local colleges and universities along with professional development for new administrators will also be implemented this fall.

In the 2019-20 school year, the board of education established a grants department where approximately 116 grants, which included five-year grants, formula grants, and charitable donations, have raised $5.6 million for the schools. Eight grants that bring in an additional $4.6 million are still pending.

For SY2020-21, the JCBOE has formed partnerships with St. Peter’s University, New Jersey City University, and Hudson County Community College for dual education at high schools. It will use Title I funding to hire instructional specialists to provide professional development to teachers in the district, and the board has joined the Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline to support new and aspiring administrators.

Parents Talk

During the virtual meeting, trustees heard from 17 residents who called in — mostly parents concerned about sending their children to school while the Covid-19 pandemic is still a threat. Nancy Pokier, whose child attends P.S. 5, said she wanted better communication from the school board on its plans to reopen schools.

“I would like more information, details, and updates on how these plans will be implemented,” Pokier said. “What is the plan for a safe school environment? What is the plan if a child or teacher tests positive for Covid-19? Will all schools have a full-time nurse, enough custodians? Come September, schools will need adequate custodial staff. What is the plan if schools don’t open, and we have to resume remote learning? What will be required of students for at-home learning? How will kids who fall behind be lifted up to success? As a parent, I need to know the process and the details. We can’t wait until late August. I urge you to show us the wheels are in motion, so we are prepared to provide a thorough education to all of our kids.”

Denise Smith, a parent of two Jersey City public school students, thanked her children’s teachers for their hard work. She said they have been doing well with remote learning, and the teachers have been reaching out to the students.

“I wanted to say something positive about the teachers in the district,” Smith said.

The youngest caller was Barbara Ioffe, a grade five student from P.S. 16. She stressed how important it is to her to get back to school in September and that she especially misses her classmates.

“I’m the kind of kid who loves going to school,” Ioffe said. “I understand the importance of the school closing, but please let us return. I’ve been in this school for a very long time. Please let us know as soon as you can.”

Maritza Ortiz, a parent of a student in special education classes at P.S.28, said she was concerned there were no field trips or after school programs for children in special ed classes.

“My son has never been on a field trip with his class, and he has no behavioral issues,” Ortiz said. “Special ed kids need resources and more help. They need after school tutoring.

A. Harry Moore School Restored

A. Harry Moore School

In February, a portico collapsed at A. Harry Moore School, forcing students, faculty and administrators to relocate to temporary quarters at Regional Day School.

“After countless hours of work, our students at the A. Harry Moore School will be back in their newly remodeled building,” Superintendent Walker said, “and we have reached an agreement with NJCU to keep them there.”

“There was a parent who called in about special education and after school programs,” Trustee Alexander Hamilton said. “We had talked about this in our committee meeting to make sure something happens for special ed students after school. We are looking at that.”

Trustee Gerald Lyons suggested a committee should be assembled to address hate speech and racism.

“I can’t believe that’s taking place in Jersey City, one of the most diverse cities in the nation,” Lyons said. “Even on the posts, the inappropriate language, people are saying things … you just don’t say things like that. It shouldn’t be.”

Addressing Systemic Racism

School Board president Lorenzo Richardson closed the public portion of the school board meeting by addressing systemic racism. He said he has planned a training program for board members to better understand systemic racism so they may affect change.

“We must dismantle the systems of racism that divide us and come together as a village and support one another,” Richardson said. “I have already spoken to the board, and I am scheduling this board to have equity and unbiased training where we can learn more how we can affect change. We will also do an equity audit to take a comprehensive look at our policies to ensure they are fair, just, and do not support systemic racism. We must unite, or racism will destroy us all. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.’”

Born and raised in Jersey City, Sally Deering spent 13 years as a features writer and columnist for The Jersey Journal. Syndicated by the Newhouse News Service, Sally’s weekly column ran in papers throughout...

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