Jersey City schools have a lot to brag about: new facilities, new programs, and some of the best schools in the state. But most people don’t know what its administrators and teachers do day to day, and how inspiring they can be to students with whom they come in contact.
Several years ago, Paul Silverman, a local real estate developer, had an idea. With the school district, Superintendent Marcia Lyles, and the city, his idea would bring the community into the school in a special way.
Parents, business owners, and others can shadow principals for a day in each school, learning the inner workings firsthand, some of the issues faced, and some of the inspirational leadership that for the most part has become a matter of routine.
Since 2012, hundreds of people have taken part in the program, making lasting impressions on the schoolchildren, teachers, and administrators.
“We try to get new people to do this every year,” said Silverman.
On May 4, people from every walk of life spent a day in the company of one of the principals of the 40 public schools to learn about and participate in the education process.
Some of the principals this year came from companies such AMCS Business Plans, Johnson & Johnson, Jersey City Medical Center, Goldman Sachs, Google, Carepoint Health, Residential Home Funding Corp. Rising Tide Capital, and others, as well as prominent educational organizations such as Rutgers University and banks like Investors Bank, Valley National and Standard Chartered Bank.
Principal Anne Beirne of PS. 26 in Jersey City Heights, a new school that just opened this spring, said this allows people and organizations to develop relationships with neighborhood.
A celebration of old and new
Olga Wilen of 375 Park Avenue Spirits served as principal for a day at McNair Academy, one of the premier high schools in the city and in the state.
With a student in the school, she sat in on some classes that demonstrated the kind of lessons that her child received, everything from the study of mathematics to Shakespeare.
“This allows a parent to see the dynamics of the day, a great inside view and I’m glad it exists.” – Kathleen McCabe
“This is a wonderful experience for everybody,” said McNair Principal Kathleen McCabe.
In most cases, parents ask kids when they come home from school how their day was, and get vague answers such as, “It was fine” or “It was boring,” and rarely hear an answer to “What did you learn?”
“This allows a parent to see the dynamics of the day, and get a great inside view, and I’m glad it exists,” McCabe said.
Done in every school in the district, the program allows the community to build relationships with the school, sharing an experience with the neighborhood.
In some ways, Jersey City is seeing vast changes within the school district, and new faces are emerging as the community grows.
This is McCabe’s first year at McNair as principal, having come from Cranford, one of the school districts that is seen in competition with McNair.
“We were always looking to see what McNair was doing,” she said with a laugh. “Now I’m here, and it gives me goose bumps.”
A teacher in Mountain Lakes for more than 20 years, McCabe said the school’s good staff and teachers make it work.
In contrast to McNair, nearby Rafael Cordero School has one of the most established principals in the school district.
“I’ve been here 50 years,” Principal Marvin A. Strynar said. He said huge changes have occurred in the neighborhood around Hamilton Park that his school serves.
Born to that part of the city, Strynar said he lived elsewhere in the city for a time, until he was offered the position of principal.
“They thought this would be a good fit,” he said.
Vanessa Imme, an employee of Silverman, served as Principal for a Day at Cordera, showing the close relationship between the school and the neighborhood. Silverman is one of the principal developers in the area, and built several projects across the street at the site of the former St. Francis Hospital. The company is a good developer and a good neighbor, Imme said.
She was treated to a tour of the school, visiting classes to talk to teachers and provide suggestions, giving her a view of how the school works.
Newest kid on the block
The new PS 26 on Laidlaw and Summit avenues is a remarkable blend of old and new.
This is the city’s newest school. Its first students arrived just after Easter, the first phase of a process that will eventually result in a redistricting in The Heights.
Principal Anne Beirne moved over to the new school from 101 year-old PS. 31where she was principal for nine years.
Joining her was Hannah Peterson from Mayor Steven Fulop’s office, who served as principal for a day.
For Beirne, this was as new for her as for Peterson, and so the day became a voyage of discovery as they established new routines that took advantage of the new improved environment.
Although Beirne said she was able to offer students activities such as physical fitness at the old school, the new school has a gym and a real playground as well as some of the most advanced technology available in the school district.
“I’m very excited to come to this school,” she said
Peterson said the mayor’s office is also interested in helping to get leaders in the community involved in the schools.
“It’s important to the mayor that the school and community work together,” she said.
For Beirne, this is a new beginning, since her old school basically handled students in grades from Pre-k to 3, and the new school will eventually have students up to grade 5.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.