Hoboken schools focus on diversity

Superintendent presents data on district demographics

Superintendent Christine Johnson presented the district’s demographic data at the last Board of Education meeting.
Superintendent Christine Johnson presented the district’s demographic data at the last Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Johnson released a Diversity, Inclusion and Global Learning Report during this month’s Board of Education meeting and presented a strategic plan to ensure the district is diverse.
The report analyzes the student make-up of the district, captures the complexities and different needs of each school due to shifting demographics, and outlines advancements and achievements made by Hoboken public schools over the past three years.
“I am immensely proud to serve the Hoboken Public School District,” said Johnson. “Our district is a diverse urban community with different needs and requirements that need to be properly understood.”
The report also includes a strategy to launch advisory subcommittees in the areas of Human Resources, Enrollment, Curriculum and Programs, College and Career readiness, Global Learning, as well as Health and Wellbeing.

Data and analysis

The report highlights the socioeconomic and racial diversity data of the students in the district as a whole as well as broken down by specific schools. According to the report the district’s kindergarten through twelfth grade minority population has decreased by 11 percent from the 2014-2015 to the 2017-2018 school year.
Three years ago, 75 percent of the 1,683 students were minority. That included four percent Asian, 53 percent Hispanic, 17 percent black and 1 percent multi-ethnic.
The 2017-2018 data of the 1,869 enrolled students shows a 12 percent decrease in Hispanic students, a three percent decrease in black students, a four percent increase in multi-ethnic students, and no change in the Asian population.
The socio-economic data shows that there is a nine percent shift from economically disadvantaged students to non-economically disadvantaged students over the last three years. In 2014-2015, 63 percent of the students were economically disadvantaged while in the 2017-2018 year 54 percent were considered economically disadvantaged.
Broken down by grade level, 75 percent of high school students are considered economically disadvantaged, 71 percent of middle school students are economically disadvantaged, and only 44 percent of elementary school students are economically disadvantaged.
This could be caused by the shifting demographics of Hoboken as the socioeconomic and cultural makeup of the town has changed.
The data additionally compares different elementary schools’ diversity make up, which show similar school populations at Calabro School, which has a 53 percent minority population, and Wallace Elementary School, which has a 50 percent minority student population. The data also depicts stark differences between Connor and Brandt elementary schools.
Connors shows a 90 percent minority population while Brandt only has 26 percent.
“Ideally we want all our elementary school data to look like Calabro and Wallace schools,” said Johnson. “We are working towards that, but we face some challenges.”
Johnson said she believes due to projected trends and the anticipated kindergarten enrollment in the coming year, Connors and Brandt elementary schools will begin to even out their minority and non-minority populations over the next several years.
One of the difficulties in doing this is that because Brandt is a growing school, in which the district adds grades each year, the student population doesn’t change as quickly as students don’t graduate, and only incoming kindergarten students are added. This changes the schools population more slowly.
“One of the things I think we will need to look at is if this rate of change is quick enough,” said Johnson.
The district’s elementary school populations are also strained by size, as not all schools have the same amount of seats.
Another layer of impact is that student attendance is not solely based on which schools are closest to their homes. The district not only tries to keep siblings together in the same school but also takes into account a student’s learning needs.
Johnson said historically students who needed specific special education courses were sent to Wallace School because that’s where the program was offered. But since then, she has been working to expand the program so basic special education courses will be at all of the schools.
The socioeconomic data at the district’s elementary schools is similar to that of the diversity data. It shows Wallace and Colabro are similar, with 46 percent and 39 percent of the student populations considered economically disadvantaged, while Brandt and Connors are almost complete opposites of one another, with 14 percent and 87 percent of the student populations considered economically disadvantaged, respectively.

“Teaching is impossible without dialogue, and dialogue isn’t possible without different perspectives.” – Superintendent Christine Johnson


Recommendations, pride, and committees

According to Johnson and Kate McQuestin of the Hoboken Public Education Foundation, as part of the initiative, climate and culture surveys will be distributed to staff, students, and families in early February.
“We have the quantitative data,” said Johnson. “But we also need the qualitative data.”
“A recent survey of more than 100 parents and teachers by Hoboken Public Education Foundation shows there is a lot of support for the district, with 99 percent saying they are proud of Hoboken public schools,” said McQuestin. “They are proud of the many wonderful things happening behind the doors of Hoboken public schools every day.”
She added that this school pride is one of the reasons she got more involved and said the district is filled with people who are trying to make everyone “of all socio-economic backgrounds, of all ethnicities and of all abilities – included.”
During February, invitations will also be sent to all families and staff district-wide to participate in a choice of one of six advisory sub committees.
The six subcomitees are Human Resources, Enrolment, Curriculum and Programs, College and Career readiness, Global Learning, and Health and Wellbeing.
The advisory sub-committees will have a leadership team consisting of a parent, staff member, Board of Education member, and a high school student.
Chairs of advisory committees will reach out to participants announcing initial meetings and goals in March and a policy will be presented to the Board of Education in June.
“Student empowerment is a partnership,” said Johnson. “Teaching is impossible without dialogue, and dialogue isn’t possible without different perspectives. But as we look to the future, and address the complex and changing needs covered here, I urge Hoboken’s community to work together cohesively and constructively to enable all of our children to reach their full potential.”
Johnson added that the district has already taken steps to ensure it is a diverse and inclusive community. This includes being more active members of the Kean University Diversity Council, the New Jersey Consortium for Excellence Through Equity, and hopefully, acceptance into the University of Wisconsin’s Minority Student Achievement Network.
“I actually just completed the application last week,” said Johnson. “What is exciting about this network is it’s really a very powerful organization, where we can network with other school districts from around the country who share similar complexities, challenges, and characteristics that we have and provides us with partners for dialogue and professional development.”

Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.