In what will be a two-part process, the Jersey City Board of Education at its Feb. 14 caucus authorized moving the entire student body from aging PS 31 on Kennedy Boulevard to the new Patricia M. Noonan Elementary School on Summit Avenue starting in the spring.
“We’re hoping to make the move during spring break,” said schools Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles.
This is the first step in a major shift of school populations in The Heights area. The existing public elementary schools are close to or have exceeded capacity.
Parents of PS 31students told the board members the 111-year old school did not provide the amenities needed, especially for special education students.
“Many of the other schools are near or over capacity. But the new school will accommodate these students.” – Dr. Marcia Lyles
Noonan Elementary is one of two new schools constructed in the district. PS 20 near Ocean Avenue in the Greenville section of the city opened last September.
Noonan School is nearly complete and Lyles said students from PS 31 will be the first students to move in, with more students slated to arrive after redistricting in September.
“Many of the other schools are near or over capacity,” Lyles said. “But the new school will accommodate these students.”
The new school will hold approximately 770 students in grades pre-K through five. The school will include 30 general education classrooms, 10 pre-K classrooms, four self-contained special education classrooms, cafeteria, gymnasium, assembly/multi-purpose room, and a media center.
The $54 million Noonan School is at Summit and Laidlaw avenues and accommodates grades Kindergarten through 5.
Anticipated a shortage
After a 2013 schools facility report predicted the city may not have enough room to accommodate a rise in student population after 2018, Perkins Eastman, an international planning design and consulting firm, was hired to conduct a capacity analysis of all district schools.
Their report reviewed existing space usage, updated floor plans, and assessed the physical capacity of each school. The group also looked at the possible impact of housing development in Jersey City over the five years between 2013 and 2018.
School officials said the shortage is partly due to another factor: parents sending their students to schools outside the poorer neighborhoods. Some of these schools, in particularly, School 27, have become overcrowded as a result.
School officials are still working out the details of a redistricting plan for schools in the Heights, but say they expect the board to come up with it before schools open in September. The spring move of PS 31 will allow the new school to start operations as soon as it completed.
Several parents complained that navigating the 111-year-old PS 31 was a burden for students, teachers, and parents, many of whom had to climb stairs to access the four-floors of the old school. They also argued that the school lacked many of the resources students need, such as a real gym, contemporary classrooms, labs, playgrounds and other features the new school provides.
Lyles said the redistricting of students will start in September, and will help deal with overcrowding in other schools such as PS 6 and PS. 27, which are geographically located near the new school.
Oddly shaped zones
In developing several possible redistricting maps – established zones that show which areas will send students to which schools – the district looked for attendance patterns and existing school capacities, officials said.
Each map, however, shows districts that are slightly irregular in shape in order to shift population of students to reduce overcrowding. Not all students will be shifted directly from overcrowded schools to the new schools. Some students from PS 6 and PS 25 will move to the new school, opening up room for students from PS 27 to attend PS 25.
Some students currently bused to one school will be bused to others instead. About 181 students would move from PS 27 to PS 25, and another 156 students would move from PS 27 to PS 28, if the plan is approved.
“This conversation started about three years ago,” Lyles said. “One goal would be to have all bilingual students currently in PS 8 and PS 5 in one school.
PS 31 has about 226 students with a large number of special needs students. Noonan School has room for about 770 students, 150 of which will be pre-K.
Lyles said the district would try not to break up siblings so that they would be required to attend different schools.
Since PS 28 and PS 27 are Kindergarten through eighth grade schools, the changes would be focused on lower grades, so that students who have attended a particular school for a long time will be allowed to continue there. This means that there will be no shift of students in grades 6 to 8.
The district will survey families in an attempt to make sure siblings won’t be required to go to different schools.
Old PS 20 fire will cost more than $1 million in repairs
A fire broke that broke out the basement of old PS 20 on Danforth Avenue earlier this month will cost in excess of $1 million to repair, school officials said.
Fortunately, insurance will cover most of this, leaving the district with a total bill of about $25,000.
The 115 year-old building was vacated last June in anticipation of the opening of the new PS 20 (renamed Maya Angelou School) in September.
The old building was being reevaluated for future use when the fire damaged the boiler room and created a potential for contamination.
Lyles said this is being remediated and no one will be allowed in the school until the school is aired out and repairs complete.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.