Friday, Sept. 6 is the first day of school for thousands of students in West New York, albeit a half day. The year gets into full swing the following Monday.
This year the biggest change for West New York students will be the opening of a new school building. St. Joseph’s, formerly a private Catholic high school that closed in 2009, will become part of the public school infrastructure. Located directly across from Memorial High School, it will act as an adjunct to the high school, but it probably won’t open until January.
“The state department of education purchased the St. Joseph’s School for us,” explained John Fauta, Superintendent of Schools for West New York. “Because Memorial High School has gotten overcrowded. We just have to do the renovations. There’s a lot of work, we have to put new windows and stuff. I don’t think it’ll be opening in September. We’re planning for a January opening.”
At that point, high school freshman and sophomores will transition over to the new building, while students in grades 11 and 12 will continue to attend Memorial.
“It’s going to be like a campus,” Fauta said. “They’ll be going back and forth for different classes. The state also is graciously repairing our science labs in both buildings on their cost. This will give us more science spaces, another cafeteria, another gymnasium. It also gives us a swimming pool, which the town can use for their recreation program, as a dual purpose for the community.”
In addition to the high schools, West New York has six elementary schools housing students in kindergarten through sixth grade, as well as a middle school for grades seven and eight and two early childhood centers for pre-kindergarteners. Altogether over 8,000 students attend classes in West New York schools, with nearly 600 teachers. “We employ well over 1000 people between custodians, maintenance people, bus drivers and the like,” said Fauta.
This year a number of newcomers join those ranks. “We hired a new principal as a result of a retirement of one of our veteran principals, Bernie Abbadessa, who was in the district for 45 years.” To replace him, Vice Principal Christian Cardenas was promoted to principal, with his position as vice principal filled by Charles Krajewski, promoted from his role as teacher at Memorial High School.
“We hired numerous teachers, well over 30, and some more paraprofessionals because of retirements,” continued Fauta. Because every kindergarten, every special ed, early childhood you have to have aides, especially with disabled children you need one-to-one aides.”
Technology for the future
The State of New Jersey continues to aggressively push forward with new standards for student curriculums and testing. With this in mind, West New York is focusing on upgrading and enhancing technology to prepare students for future success.
“We’re speeding up our technology because in the next year or two all state-mandated testing will be done online,” he said, “so we’re getting the children ready, the schools upgraded. Right now all our schools have Smart Boards where everything’s projected and all our classrooms have computers labs. We did get a grant where some of our students were identified and were given iPads.”
Getting back and forth to school can be a challenge for students living near the waterfront. To alleviate this problem, transportation options serve the waterfront communities.
“We have a courtesy bus we’re doing in conjunction with the town to bring people up here to go to West New York,” said Fauta. “We’ve had about 40-50 of their students starting to go to our school district already. Enrollment is going up. We have an excellent early childhood center program which is free to West New York residents. It’s one of the best in the state and people from the waterfront are realizing what we have up here on the hill.”
Among the other programs available is the Saturday academy, initiated three years ago. The program allows children who need extra help in math and science the opportunity to receive additional instruction over the weekend.
Keeping kids safe is certainly a major concern in today’s environment. With the new academic year just around the corner, school security is a top priority.
“We’re very involved with safety,” Flauta said. “Every one of our buildings has a police officer in it, a uniformed police officer. The high school has two, the middle school has two, all the elementaries have one police officer. We’ve been doing that for the past 11 years. We’re very well prepared.”