Back to school.
Yes, it's that time. All 7,200 North Bergen students and nearly 1,000 from Guttenberg will hear the first school bell around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning and will attend full-day sessions from the outset. The two districts' teachers are required to come in for work a day earlier.
In North Bergen, there is a freshman orientation slated for Tuesday afternoon in an abbreviated schedule slated to get the newcomers accustomed to their new surroundings, as well as reviewing the rules and regulations that come with being a high school student for the first time.
There will be a handful of changes in the operation procedures in North Bergen, with the most significant being the addition of the new Robert Fulton School annex (formerly known as St. John Nepomucene School).
As reported last week in the North Bergen Reporter, the North Bergen Board of Education has decided to lease the former Roman Catholic School from the Archdiocese of Newark and will hold nine classes for North Bergen's bilingual students at that school.
Another change will be that there will finally be a resumption of the construction being done at Lincoln School. The project, which was initially scheduled to be completed more than two years ago, was held up in litigation after the first construction firm hired to do the three-story, 12-classroom extension to the school went bankrupt in June, 2003.
Since that time, the Board of Education has been pursuing the bond company that insured the project's construction to find another contractor that would finish the job. The matter ended up in Hudson County Superior Court and has now been resolved enough that the work to finally finish the Lincoln School extension has resumed. The firm of Brockwell and Carrington has been assigned to complete the project. The Wayne-based firm was also the contractors who built the extension to Kennedy and McKinley schools in each of the last two years.
"They're putting up scaffolding and getting some work done," Superintendent of Schools Peter Fischbach said. "They're working with a skeleton crew, but they're finally doing something and we're elated about that. Seeing the progress starting is such a relief. It's been a long time coming."
Fischbach said that there are meetings with subcontractors to start the internal work on the extension.
"They are working right now to secure some certain sections of the construction to insure the safety of the students who attend classes there now," Fischbach said.
Fischbach also believed that there was other good news to report to start the year. The existing contract for the district's teachers' union, the North Bergen Federation of Teacher, expired Aug. 31, but Fischbach was confident that the union and the Board of Education were close to an agreement on a new multi-year contract.
"We're in the process of negotiations right now," Fischbach said. "I feel that we could be reaching a possible settlement. Our last several meetings have been very amicable and it leads me to believe that we're close."
Dr. Monica Coyle, the president of the North Bergen Federation of Teachers, was unavailable for comment.
Friday will be a one-session day for North Bergen students in order that the teachers can meet and discuss a possible contract agreement.
The district's custodial union reached a contract agreement last week.
In Guttenberg, there will be one significant change when school re-opens on Wednesday. For the first time ever, the district's lone grade school, Anna L. Klein School, will offer a handicapped program for students ages 3 and 4 years old.
"We wanted to do something that was more convenient for the parents," Guttenberg Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Penna said. "We want to be able to get these students on our pipeline as early as possible and perhaps they can reap the benefits later on."
The teacher in the special handicapped class will be dual certified in special education and Early Childhood education.
"I think it's absolutely going to help a lot of children in our town," Penna said. "After we get it started, the numbers will probably grow."
Although Penna said that there were no other significant changes to the school's curriculum, he said that there were aesthetic improvements made, like new ceilings and freshly painted classrooms.
There is one constant between both schools - overcrowding. Both North Bergen and Guttenberg's schools are bursting at the seams in terms of average classroom size, above the state average of 20-25 per class.
"Our biggest issue is always space," Penna said.