New beginning for charter school
Addresses security concerns, hires young K-8 principal
by Timothy J. Carroll
Reporter staff writer
Aug 06, 2009 | 1672 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
NEXT IN LINE – New Principal Deirdre Grode is taking over K-8 responsibilities at Hoboken Charter School.
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Last year, the Hoboken Charter School (HCS) defended itself against claims of increased gang-related incidents and friction with the police over whether school officials were being cooperative with their investigations.

This year, school officials are looking forward to a new beginning. Over the summer, the school has hired a new principal and has started to improve its communication with police.

HCS is located in the Demarest building on Fourth Street, which has served in the past as a high school and a middle school. It is currently home to both the Demarest Alternative High School (a school for students who need more individualized education than Hoboken High School) and the Hoboken Charter School, a public K-12 school founded in the 1990s by parents and educators.

Despite last year’s controversy at the HCS high school, Principal Ria Grosvenor is continuing in her position. But taking over the K-8 duties is Principal Deirdre Grode. While Grode is new to the administration, she spent seven years teaching Language Arts and Social Studies at the school.

She replaces former K-8 Principal Alfredo Huereca, who has taken a position with a new charter school in South Plainfield.

Board of Trustees Chairwoman Helen Cunning called Grode’s promotion a sign of the school’s “commitment to excellence.”

“As we begin our 11th year, the Hoboken Charter School is proud of our place in the community and the progress we have made,” she said.

Charter schools are founded by parents and educators and don’t have to follow all of the policies of the local Board of Education, although they receive most of their state funding through the board. They are considered public schools but do not have their hands tied by teacher’s unions.

A young leader

Grode admits that she is a bit young to be leading a school, but she is prepared to take the reins.
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Grode has lived in Costa Rica, volunteered in a prison in Boston, and taught in the South Bronx.
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“I know I’ll have all new challenges, but I’m excited to try something new,” she said in an interview.

Grode’s top priorities are to build up teachers through professional development and prepare students for college very early. “I’m pushing for college trips in fourth grade,” she said.

She has lived in Costa Rica, volunteered in a prison in Boston, and taught in the South Bronx. Over the last seven years, she has built a relationship with parents, students, and administrators at HCS.

“I want to have a presence in the classrooms,” she said. “I want to support teachers to drive reform.”

Working in a charter school gives her more independence than in a district school, she said.

“We have a lot of freedom,” Grode said. Not having a district office overseeing every move, she said, allows the school to “make decisions based on our community.”

“It’s more tailored to the individual,” she said. “We can more effectively reach every child.”

Safety concerns

Throughout the 2008-2009 school year, police reported an increase in gang-related activities involving students from the Demarest building – both from Demarest High School, which is an alternative program for Hoboken High, and HCS High School. At the time, HCS administrators played down the severity.
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“I’m pushing for college trips in fourth grade.” – Deirdre Grode
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Police commented at the time that HCS administrators were not being as cooperative as they should be.

This past April, four students were arrested after a fight broke out in the school. One of the arrested youths allegedly wore a pair of a makeshift “brass knuckles.”

Police said that many of the youths in the schools were communicating with gang-oriented youths in Jersey City, sometimes by text message.

After the Reporter wrote about the incidents, Grosvenor claimed news reports were “riddled with inaccuracies.” He made it clear that no arrests were made on school premises, since the four students were technically arrested at police headquarters. The students involved were suspended.

In May, Cunning said that aside from the pair of “brass knuckles,” no weapons were found in the building after a search, and that all staff were told to help out with investigations in “whatever ways possible.”

Don DePascale, an educational consultant at HCS, said the situation at the time was “extremely volatile,” but now the school is moving on.

“We will continue to work closely with the Hoboken Police Department keeping lines of communication open for the school,” he said. “It is unfortunate that in the past not everything that was reported was totally accurate.”

“We’re looking forward to a new beginning,” DePascale said.

One source close to HCS said the students involved in many of the police activities last year have been removed from the school.

Police Chief Anthony Falco said he is in favor of continuing to provide the school with the same anti-drug, anti-gang, and anti-bullying seminars the department held last year, but hasn’t determined whether there are enough officers to perform those duties.

“If I can get the resources, and allocate the manpower,” he said, “I’m a big proponent.”

Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at tcarroll@hudsonreporter.com.Catch our tweets at http://twitter.com/hobokenreporter.

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