Along with a group of administrators from the district, Board of Education member Pastor Luis F. Fernandez and newly-elected member Matt Schapiro also came along.
“I haven’t been sworn in yet, but I want take advantage of opportunities like these,” Schapiro said.
Lyles joked that because municipal elections haven’t been finalized yet, this year’s tour had fewer “tourists.”
“But we are excited to show off the work done by our Facilities Team to create quality learning spaces for our children,” she said in her email invitation.
Boarding a small yellow school bus, the group left the district office just off West Side Avenue at 8:45 a.m.
The first stop was PS 24 on Virginia Avenue in Ward B to take a look at the new cafeteria.
“Redoing this cafeteria has been a priority for the team since I first came to the district, and when I saw the faces of the upper classmen on the first day of school, I knew it was worth it,” Lyles said.
The second stop was to look at the “new” gym at PS 22, the latest in a number of improvements made over the last few years. PS 22 is located in Ward F, and is part of an area of the city near the Morris Canal Redevelopment District that is slated for new development, and as a result, additional students.
Tour covered a lot of ground
Although the tour followed a predetermined agenda, talk on the school bus and in the halls of the various schools covered a wide range of topics, including the district’s efforts to reduce its dependency on trailers as classroom space. While the district hasn’t yet done away with the practice, significant strides have been made to reduce them. But a big concern, officials said, is to make sure that there is enough space in brick and mortar school buildings before doing away with trailers.
The third stop on the tour at the old PS 20 on Danforth Avenue, which highlighted one of the more pressing problems in the district.
With more women in the work force, more single parent families and the need for both spouses to work to meet the cost of living, early child centers have become a necessary part of people’s lives. These also help kids under the usual school age get an early start in the education process with the hope that they will do well when they start in the traditional grades.
Lyles pointed out that a few years ago a state evaluation of the district said Jersey City needed to create ten additional early childhood centers to meet the demands of a growing population.
“But then they refused to fund our building any,” she said.
The district had to get creative, finding space here and there throughout the city that will provide for these.
The newly created Early Childhood Center at Danforth Avenue (the old PS 20) was upgraded more than a year ago, then got a second “makeover” after a small fire last year.
“We were able to save money on the lease to Curries Woods when we relocated our children in this building,” Lyles said.
In several cases, the district was able to take advantage of the construction of new schools which left the old schools available. Although local officials pointed out, they had to act quickly to adapt the new space to these early childhood uses before the state decided to take over the property if left vacant.
This was also true when it came to the newly created Early Childhood Center at Infante (the old PS 31). Because of the construction of the new Patrician A. Noonan School in Jersey City Heights, students were moved to the new school, and Infante took the overflow of early childhood students from other schools.
“As a result of creating this space we were able to take the PS 23 Pre-K students out of the West Side trailers as well as house overflow students from PS 11,” Lyles said.
“We want to help people who get flooded.” – Riane, a 3rd grade student at PS 28.
A tour of the new Patricia A. Noonan School gave the “tourists” a glimpse of the future of Jersey City education, where every classroom has “a smart board” and every student has access to laptop or tablet.
But the district’s goal is to provide this technology in every school, old or new. Perhaps a good example of this is PS 28, which has taken the lead in environmental studies, and includes a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) work space – not to mention the “Mad Scientist” room where tubs bubble with growing things, including fish born in the school, and a giant lizard that “sort of hangs out” there.
In the STEM room, Jehzeio and Gabriella, 3rd grade students, are part of an effort to “save the world.” They are part of a several teams taking part in a contest to help find solutions for flooding due to natural disasters.
“We want to help people who get flooded,” said Riane, who is part of another 3rd grade team along with Nicole and other students.
Although the tour came to take a look at the school’s recently renovated library, they also took a peek in at the STEM room, which includes smart boards, computers, and a 3-D printer.
The STEM room is also an example of the district’s adapted reuse. Back in the 1990s when the district closed down its industrial arts programs, this space became a storm room.
“Think of it as the junk drawer in your kitchen,” said Principal Christian McAuliffe. “That’s what this was. It took me more than a year to clean it out.”
The school itself is an example of the potential for older schools to step up and meet contemporary technological needs.
With the help of volunteers from a local finance company, the district was able to give the library a new paint job, while the school district replaced aging carpet with a new floor. While the library is a kind of media center, McAuliffe said the school is equipped with Wi-Fi throughout and that every classroom has a smart board, and every student has access to a computer.
PS 28 has also become something of a natural science educational shining star, locally and nationally, having won a number of national awards for its work in science.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.