Also at the 45-minute meeting, the board voted unanimously to extend Superintendent Dr. Christine Johnson’s contract for two additional years, to 2022.
The schools reopen for students on Thursday, Sept. 7, which is a full day.
“The Hoboken Board of Education continually assesses and evolves its long-range facilities plan,” Kluepfel said in his president’s report. “Obviously, the district's needs now are very different than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Today, we see tremendous population growth in our city, as well as renewed interest in our K-12 program and the enrollment growth that brings.”
In the 1990s, district enrollment dropped below 3,000 students and continued dropping throughout the decade. But now that Hoboken has new development and more school options, more families are staying. The district also has federally funded pre-K 3 and 4 programs because it’s an urban “special needs” district.
Kluepfel said he believes the district is prepared to meet the needs of Hoboken’s families, but that the schools will soon need additional space.
“With some reconfiguration here and there, we do have space in our six buildings to meet our needs over the next several years,” he said. “But if enrollment continues to grow at the rate we're seeing recently, we will surely face the need for additional space. Or buildings.”
Several of the district’s older school buildings were sold to developers in the last three decades, with the money helping fill budget gaps.
Kluepfel said the board will undertake an in-depth demographic study to better asses and plan for the district’s needs.
“With that insight, the board will explore options that take into account our enrollment, our curriculum and educational program, and the core policies that guide district practices and decisions,” he said.
He added that the board will need help from the city and state.
“Any large-scale planning will require close coordination with many state and municipal agencies — it starts with the New Jersey School Development Authority and the Department of Education, but will include local planning and zoning boards, various city hall departments, and, of course, the city council and administration,” he said.
He stated that in the future the board will solicit ideas from the public in order to create a plan to meet the educational needs of “our prospering city.”
Johnson said “Our enrollment is growing rapidly,” and added that she believes it’s because more families are choosing to stay in the district.
“The reason why I see more families enroll and choose to stay in the district is because of the quality of our teachers and staff, growing number of new programs, and quality curriculum,” said Johnson.
She said the concern for the district’s space and enrollment is “not actually coming so much from parents. The concern is coming more from our ongoing assessment of enrollment data.”
As of last week, K-12 enrollment was at 1,926, an increase from the June K-12 enrollment figure of 1,730.
Resident Ailene McGuirk, who lives in the southwest part of town, has expressed concerns in the past that families in her area are choosing to go uptown for their education instead of staying at the local Connors school on Second Street, which is more diverse. She also stressed the importance of needing more kindergarten classrooms downtown.
At last week’s meeting McGuirk said she was concerned with the district’s growing enrollment and perceived limited space. She urged the board to consider placing a new school in southern Hoboken when the time comes for expansion.
She said, “I know a lot of us have talked about what could be a good place for [a new school], but with a shortage of kindergartens south of Seventh Street, with the limited elementary school space south of Seventh Street, and you might not call it a shortage [of kindergarten classes] but from where I stand it sort of feels like one, I hope that you’ll consider building in our neighborhood. I know there is a lot of pressure to look uptown where there is going to be a lot of new development, but I think where we are downtown, we could use a little bit of help in terms of classroom space. Even if you rework the facilities you currently have, they don’t address the needs of families who live south of Seventh.”
McGuirk also asked if exit interviews are being done with families who decide to leave the public schools for local private or charter schools, to find out why they’re leaving the public schools.
Dr. Johnson responded that they do several exit interviews with families and that “While we see numbers of children in the community that may depart to go to a seat at a charter school or at a private school, we too are the recipient of children that are coming to us at the first grade level or the second grade level from those schools as well. “
She said she will at some point provide the board with a comprehensive analysis that “will show that there is not really a disproportionate number of those exiting versus those entering into the district.”
The Board of Education unanimously approved of a new contract for Dr. Johnson. Her contract, which initially took effect on July 15, 2015 and was due to expire in June 2020, was rescinded and new contract was established, which would not end until June 2022.
The resolution states, “It is the best interest of the Hoboken Public School District to provide for administrative stability, the continued execution of goals and objectives, and to minimize disruption to the effective operation of the district.”
Several members of the board and a member from the public congratulated Dr. Johnson.
Trustee Jennifer Evans said “This reflects the board’s and the community’s great satisfaction with the superintendent and the desire to have her continue to do this work for a longer time frame, which is very exciting news.”
Trustee Sharyn Angley said, “I just wanted to thank Dr. Johnson for all the great work she has done so far, and we look forward to another five hopefully plus years together.“
Trustee Brittany Montgomery said, “I would like to echo the admiration for Dr. Johnson’s hard work and commitment to the students, the families, the community, and the teachers.”
Kluepfel read a statement on behalf of Trustee John Madigan who was absent. “I support the new contract of the superintendent. I feel Dr. Johnson has done very good work in our district and I look forward to working with her and the board members for the children of Hoboken,” read Kluepfel.
Montgomery also read a statement from Trustee Peter Biancamano who was also absent.
“When Dr. Johnson first became superintendent of the Hoboken public schools two years ago I stated many reasons why she would be the perfect person to lead our district,” read Montgomery. “One of those reasons was Dr. Johnson’s commitment to signing a five-year contract after the revolving door of superintendents that had preceded her appointment. Dr. Johnson … communicates directly and honestly with people from all parts of our city and holds high standards for the education of all. Students, parents, staff, and board members may all have different opinions on issues but we are all united in our respect for the work Dr. Johnson is doing.”
Resident McGuirk said, “Congratulations on re-upping your contract. As someone who has been in Hoboken for a long time, I am so happy to see that we are going to have consistency in the superintendent’s role. I think that’s probably some of the best news for not only the growing population that we have in our neighborhood but all over town.”
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.