While the state’s Department of Education keeps lowering the mandated classroom size for elementary school classes, West New York’s student enrollment has steadily increased to over 6,000. The Board of Education was able to keep up with the trend more than two years ago when it decided to include a middle school into its facility plan. Unfortunately, due to new state mandates for schools in the so-called Abbott (or “special needs”) districts like West New York, the construction plans have been put on hold while school officials continue to meet with representatives of the state.
“We have been ready and set to go,” said Board of Education Director of Facilities Richard Loschiavo last week. “Now it is like starting all over.”
The Joseph Coviello Recreation Center on 57th and Broadway is the expected site of the town’s first middle school. Currently, the district has six K-through-8 schools and no middle schools. Loschiavo said that the new school will be built in the open area where the parks currently exist.
Plans for the school include the recreation center’s gymnasium, an auditorium and science and technology labs. Loschiavo said that the site will still be open for everyone to use.
“This is just the first draft of everything,” said Loschiavo. “We will do whatever we have to to fit within the guidelines.”
Meeting class size
The state mandates that there be only 21 students in each kindergarten through third-grade class and 23 students in each fourth through sixth- grade classroom.
“The numbers keep rising, especially in the elementary schools,” said Loschiavo, who added that the schools have only met classroom size requirements by submitting plans that cut larger classrooms in half.
Some schools in the district have had to combine art classrooms with technology classrooms.
“This middle school is a priority as far as we’re concerned,” said Loschiavo. “[The middle school] would free up the X number of classrooms currently being used for seventh and eighth grade.”
Israel Rodriguez, the assistant principal at Public School No. 3 at 5401 Polk St., said that her school has had to make a few changes.
“We have added two trailers in our yard,” said Rodriguez, adding that that yard was used for lunch-time recess. “We have also had to restrict classroom size.”
However, Rodriguez said that these circumstances have not affected the students’ progress in any way. Schools such as Public School No. 5 on 54th and Hudson streets have begun preparing their students for the change into a middle school or high school.
According to P.S. No. 5’s principal, Alfonso Lopez, the school created a system this year in which the seventh and the eighth graders share a pool of six teachers. Each is responsible for only one subject.
“We have a school within a school,” said Lopez.
Taking new steps
Plans for the new middle school were initially on hold because of funding. The town was waiting for a State Supreme Court to decide if the Abbott districts were going to get full or partial state funding for the construction of new schools.
However, along with the ruling that gave full funding, the state also added a second step for approving the plans. Originally, the plans for the middle school would have to be approved by just the Department of Education. With the new ruling, the plans will also be reviewed by the Economic Development Authority before construction can begin.
“This unfortunately slows things down,” said Loschiavo. “A lot of time has been lost for districts that needed new buildings.”
Loschiavo and Superintendent of Schools Anthony Yankovich met with the assistant commissioner of education in the Department of Education last week. However, Loschiavo said that the department has not yet approved the plans.