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PUBLIC SCHOOLS OPEN FOR NEW YEAR ON WEDNESDAY
Wilson, Jefferson Schools Prepare to Open New Additions; Dr. Foley to Join Students at N. Chestnut, Mountain Crossing
As opening day for Westfield's public schools draws near on Wednesday, September 3, Dr. William J. Foley begins a new school year as Superintendent of Schools and ends his first year on the job.
"It feels like I've been here forever," he exclaimed. Its been a challenging year. I've had wonderful support from the board (of education), staff and community."
That said, Dr. Foley welcomes an estimated 4,835 students back to school this fall. The increase since last October 15, the date when enrollments become official, is roughly 100 students, according to district spokeswoman Lorre Korecky.
To handle increased enrollment at the elementary level, the district has 12 newly-constructed classrooms -- six each at Jefferson and Wilson Elementary Schools -- and a two-year leased trailer at Washington Elementary School for small group instruction.
According to school board Vice President Darielle M. Walsh, "the new classrooms look wonderful and they're ready to go." The trailer has been installed at Washington.
Administration officials recently said the building projects were running "below budget."
A ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house for residents to tour the newest classrooms will be Saturday, September 6, at 1 p.m. in Wilson and 3 p.m. in Jefferson.
Recent redistricting of neighborhoods for elementary school attendance has been another way to cope with the districts rise in student population.
"We had to do it (redistricting)," Dr. Foley declared. "I had no choice. This is a big step for the community."
Even with redistricting, Franklin, with approximately 538 pupils, is still the largest of the elementary schools, with 100 more pupils than the next largest elementary schools, Tamaques, which has an enrollment of 438, and Wilson, with 436.
"Its a new problem," said Dr. Foley, of Franklins high numbers. He is betting that the most recent surge in enrollment is short term through 2000, and is related to a spate of home resales in the neighborhood. If enrollment continues to go up, Dr. Foley said, "We'll have to reconsider."
This north side redistricting switches approximately 80 children from Franklin to Wilson in September. The affected area is north of Mountain Avenue at the Mountainside border, in an area known as "The Gardens." Prior to 1984, this area was allotted to Wilson.
Dr. Foley has pledged to join students at the corner of North Chestnut Street and Mountain Avenue on the opening day of school. Resident concerns over students from "The Gardens" crossing a busy avenue have led to increased safety measures. A police officer and 25 miles-per-hour speed limits will be posted along Mountain Avenue during school hours. A crossing guard stands at the intersection of Mountain Avenue and Raymond Street, as well.
The south side redistricting, an area bounded by Rahway Avenue and the Boulevard between Summit Court and Clifton Street, will witness a move of nearly 100 students from Tamaques to Jefferson School. Dr. Foley has said these students will actually have a shorter and safer route to school than before redistricting.
Jefferson School anticipates a total of 396 pupils this fall; Washington School predicts 371 pupils, while McKinley Elementary School will have a student body of 285 -- which makes it a little more than half the size of Franklin.
No class in any of the district elementary schools exceeds 24 students, according to projections. A class size limit of 25 students is the policy of the school board.
In moving toward a more technology-based system, each of the school libraries at the two intermediate and six elementary schools is in some phase of computer automation. The work was begun a year ago, according to the district's Director of Technology, Darlene Nowak. The Westfield High School library has been completely automated.
This years cost toward library automation is $650,000, with nearly $300,000 of that spent on the intermediate school libraries alone, according to the Board of Education.
Last spring, a technology committee chaired by Ms. Nowak estimated a $5 to $6 million tab over three years to implement its computer technology goals in the district by 2000.
A technology committee report recommends one computer for every four students in the district by 2000. At the time of the report, May of 1996, there was one computer to every 15 students. With the additional computers for the new school year, that number has improved to a computer for every eight students. The ratio is 7-1 at the Kindergarten to grade 8 level.
By early next year, the Westfield High School is looking to establish a $50,000 interactive television (ITV) classroom whereby long-distance conferencing with up to three other sites can provide student learning opportunities.
Ms. Nowak said that ultimately, each student would have a microphone for questions and discussion.
One hundred more computers were bought for the intermediate schools, according to Ms. Korecky.
Dr. Foley said supervisors and other staff have recently been trained in using the districts new technology, citing geography and mathematics curriculums as examples.
He added that he was "very pleased" with the new intermediate school mathematics curriculum, calling it "superior." He said the prior course of study proved "not challenging enough."
Algebra will now be taught to seventh and eighth graders, with an additional accelerated program of algebra in seventh grade and geometry in eighth. In essence, the previous sixth grade mathematics course has been eliminated and pre-algebra will begin in the first year of intermediate school.
"Sixth grade math tended to be repetitious," Dr. Foley noted.
A new district appointment for the coming year is Dennis Murphy as Principal of Edison Intermediate School, replacing retiring Sam Hazell. Mr. Murphy will begin his new position on Monday, October 20.
Mr. Murphy has 20 years of administrative experience and currently serves as Principal of Cedar Grove Memorial Middle School.
"I'm really thrilled to have him here," Dr. Foley said.
Charles "Chic" Hansen is the new Principal at McKinley, coming from the district position of Fine Arts Supervisor which will now be filled by Linda King, former instrumental music teacher for the districts elementary and high schools.
Ms. King began a computer music program for the district and led the Westfield High School Marching Band to victory in national championships in 1990, 1995 and 1996.
More than 40 other full- and part-time teachers have been hired this year, according to the Board of Education. An orientation program for new staff has been going on this week.
The Board of Education reports that 60 building maintenance projects are in the works. School grounds were landscaped, roofs replaced, bathrooms renovated and fire and security systems installed over the summer. The track at Gary Kehler Stadium will be relined and repaired by mid-September.
Asbestos removal was completed at Jefferson School and similar work will be done at Washington and Franklin Schools.
Planning for the new year, Dr. Foley said he looks forward to formulating a Strategic Plan for strict educational goals. Using board, staff and community input, the process could take a year, Dr. Foley said.
"We have (district goals) now, but its never been codified," he said.
Asked about specific ideas for the Strategic Plan, Dr. Foley included the continued growth of the use of technology and emphasized the desire to see more opportunities for individualized learning.
"I think Id like to see a system with more community and teacher interaction to serve as a guidance system for the school -- more like a private school. "Were competing with private schools," Dr. Foley said.
Newly-conceived "charter schools" are also cropping up across the state, according to the office of Governor Christine Todd Whitman. State Education Commissioner Dr. Leo Klagholz will decide on 37 requests by January for charter schools, according to a recent Star-Ledger report.
Charter schools allow community groups to open new schools using taxpayers money. Dr. Klagholz noted that these groups are looking for better educational options in their areas.
After pointing out that strategic planning is a feature common to the military and private business sectors, Dr. Foley concluded, "I think its worthwhile in changing times to sit back and think about what we want our children to know."
"I believe we can respond to these changes by using them to reinvent a better school district," he concluded.
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