The Hoboken Public Education Foundation (HPEF) is a local volunteer group that tries to raise awareness about the quality of the Hoboken public schools and raises funds to provide support for new initiatives and programs.
The foundation has raised over $220,000 since its inception in August of 2015 and is the brainchild of local public school parents Jackie Dowd Prince, Erica Gavin, and Shirael Pollack.
“It started in August of 2015 because at the time, the kindergarten teacher aides were cut from funding,” said Pollack. “And we thought ‘What can we do?’ and that’s kind of how the whole idea started. We said, ‘Hey, private schools and charter schools have fundraising other than through a PTO; why not the public schools?’ And that’s how we got involved and started the process to becoming the Hoboken Public Education Foundation.”
According to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Johnson the HPEF has been “immeasurably helpful.”
“The foundation has been a tremendous support engine,” she added. “The community is really behind the work they are doing.”
The foundation and Johnson work together to identify innovative opportunities to spend the funds raised. In the past, the foundation has provided for professional development for teachers and staff across the district, as well as the Brandt Auditorium Sound System, Calabro Smart Document Cameras, Connors Media Center Books and Turnstile, HJSHS Auditorium Sound & Acoustics System, HJSHS Outdoor Marquis Sign, Wallace Multi-Media Arts Supply Package, Family Science Nights, and the Storm Drain Mural Project with Hoboken Green Team for district students grades five through 12.
“When we provided a two-day leadership retreat for faculty and staff on how to be leaders, we actually received handwritten thank-you letters from people who went,” sad Pollack. “Teachers had been there for 20 years and hadn’t had that type of professional development and they were so thankful for it.”
For the 2017-2018 academic year they hope to provide support for a number of new initiatives including a mural project for the northwest pop-up park and the creation of a living classroom that would act as a Hudson River estuary for hands-on learning. “Not all the initiatives have been finalized,” said Pollack
“As part of the pop up park there will be four storage containers that the students will create murals for about the importance of flood prevention,” said Pollack. “The students will not only learn about the effects of flooding but express what they’ve learned through creativity and can take pride in the fact that every time someone goes to that park, they will see their artwork.”
According to Johnson, the estuary located outside the district’s new middle school at the A.J. Demarest building on Fourth and Garden streets will provide students with hands on experiential learning. “Over the summer we are building a living classroom off the back of this building,” said Johnson. “We will have tanks and fish and water testing stations. We want the kids to roll up their sleeves and get dirty and see what learning is all about.”
The Hoboken Public Education Foundation also hopes to provide for more professional development this year and assist with the biomedical lab at the Hoboken High School.
In the future the foundation aims to provide an endowment and establish a grant process in which members of the district can apply for special projects.
Pollack added, “Our main focus has obviously been funding and to promote awareness by debunking the myth that the public school education is not good.”
She added, “Our kids have so much pride in their schools. They are so fortunate to be in a diverse yet inclusive educational environment.”
“More families are coming and staying and are willing to give us a try.” – Dr. Christine Johnson
“That’s actually why I joined,” said Kate McQuestin, a volunteer for the HPEF who moved here with her family from England. “It’s an outdated but persistent myth. We were told we shouldn’t put our kids in the public school by our real-estate agent. We contacted Wallace to schedule a tour anyway. The tour was led by a member of the PTO. For someone to do that, take time out of their day to give us a tour who didn’t even work for the school, that shows such passion. My kids have settled in well.”
“That’s why it’s one of our main goals is to spread the word. Hoboken is such a great and embracing town,” said Pollack, “but we have actually had to do some education sessions with real-estate agents and brokers in the area because they are the key stakeholders and the first people families meet when they are considering making Hoboken their home. And that’s one of the first questions families ask: ‘How are the schools?’”
Johnson said, “More families are coming and staying and are willing to give us a try. We see it in our pre-K families who are taking the chance and staying for kindergarten. Our enrollment numbers are increasing.”
Last month the founders were joined by an extended committee of roughly 12 volunteers to organize the 2017 Hoboken Public Education Foundation Gala held at the W Hotel. More than 250 people attended. The Hoboken Public Education Foundation exceeded its targets this year, raising more than $120,000 at its gala.
According to Pollack, 100 percent of the gala’s proceeds will be used to deliver a range of “innovative and meaningful programs across the district.”
The Foundation’s Annual Gala attracted corporate sponsorship support from a variety of local organizations, including SJP Properties, Bijou Properties, KMS Development, Suez Water, Tenafly Pediatrics, The Acupuncture Center, and Advance Realty.
“Support from these fantastic organizations, donations, and event attendance is imperative to building a stronger school community in Hoboken,” said Pollack.
For more information on the foundation or to be a volunteer go to www.hobokenpef.org.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com