First day of school…again
Hoboken Charter School starts rebuilding after fire
by Amanda Palasciano
Reporter staff writer
Sep 23, 2012 | 6723 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WELCOME BACK – Hoboken Charter School is back in session.
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Hoboken Charter School students finally got their first full day of school on Tuesday at the St. Anne’s School building, a former Catholic School at 255 Congress St. in nearby Jersey City Heights.

They were uprooted during the first week of school by a fire at their building at 713 Washington St., which caused severe damage to the structure and resulted in more than a week of cancelled classes.

Fire chief Richard Blohm said Tuesday that while the cause of the fire will be recorded as undetermined, “If we had to put in a guess, we would say that it was an electrical fire on the second floor.”

A lot of smiling faces could be seen Tuesday morning exiting the busses, despite the heavy rains and high winds. Parents watching nearby said they were grateful that their children were back to school, and in such a timely manner.
Students made cards to show their gratitude.
Balloons and “Welcome Back” banners hung at the back entrance to the building, while news crews waited outside. Three buses brought students. One bus pulled up facing the wrong way, but otherwise, the morning transport went off without a hitch.

Busses are not a common mode of transportation to school in mile-square Hoboken. Steve Calmus, a Hoboken resident and parent, said, “Our daughter actually wanted to take the bus to be with her friends [rather than be driven]. She’s choosing to take the bus home.”

Lost time will be made up

School officials have not yet made a decision about when the students will make up lost days. Parent Cindy Altberger said a lot of the children spent their week out of school volunteering their time to relief efforts, and even helping out parents contact companies for donations.

Organized events, like bake sales and play dates, were also held throughout last week to keep the children active and involved. At one event at Pier C, students made thank you cards to show their gratitude to firefighters and officials.

“I think our community was unbelievable, and the outpouring of support in Hoboken really doesn’t surprise me,” Cindy Altberger said.

Jason Altberger added, “The administration did a phenomenal job not only evacuating the building but also at finding a new location in such a short amount of time.”

School officials stressed that the recovery is far from over. Money and supplies are still greatly needed and various fundraising events continue.

George Cahn, a spokesman for and parent at the charter school said Wednesday, “Our ultimate goal is to return to Hoboken and hopefully rebuild the building before the next academic year.”

Not the first hurdle

The fire was not the first time that the Hoboken Charter School has had to fight for its existence. Two years ago the school was asked to vacate space it had been leasing at Demarest School since 1998. Eventually a deal was worked out to first lease and then purchase the 713 Washington St. building for the K-8 program, but keep the 9-12 students at the leased space in Demarest School.

A lack of funds only allowed for three of the five floors of 713 Washington to be restored, depriving the school of a gym, cafeteria, and library.

“We’ve been through so much in such a short period of time,” Principal Deirdra Grode said in a press release, “yet we know with the help of others and the unwavering commitment of our staff, teachers and parents, and the incredible resiliency of our students, we’ll continue to persevere.”

Fire and water

Hoboken Charter School was once named National Charter School of the Year by the Center for Education Reform. The school was one of only two schools recognized in New Jersey and one of 53 recognized in the nation in 2007.

The school is also well known for its civic outreach and service learning programs that promote giving back. In the past, outreach projects have included helping to bring clean water to villages in Africa and feeding the homeless.

Over the summer, art instructor and Director of Service Learning S.K. Duff visited Africa and made a commitment to an orphanage in Kenya whose orphans had lost their parents to AIDS or malaria. Duff’s intent was to have the charter school students raise money for the children of the orphanage, but the Sept. 6 fire has forced a revision to that plan.

Duff plans to push forward with two local gallery exhibitions in October under the theme “Fire and Water” to raise money in the wake of the fire and help bring water to the orphans in Africa. Some of the paintings will be done by the charter school students themselves.

Amanda Palasciano may be reached at

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