Heights Middle School 7 on at Laidlaw Avenue and Collard Street looks from a distance as if it is ready for a daily throng of sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
But the school will not open until Feb. 5 – and students coming there from other schools may not end up with the same teachers they had before.
There is also a debate over the name of the new school.
Students will be feeding into the new school from Public Schools 6, 8 and 25 starting in February.
The Board of Education has advertised recently naming it the Franklin L. Williams Middle School, after current school board member and former city school superintendent. However, the board is soliciting submissions from the public for other names that can be attached to the school, with a public meeting on the name selection scheduled for Nov. 29 at Public School 6 on St. Paul’s Avenue.
One resident said last week that she is not sure why the school should be named after a current board member, rather than someone in the past.
More recently, this past Wednesday, parents of students who will be enrolling there met with future teachers and other staff, as well as Jersey City School Superintendent Dr. Charles Epps, at Public School 8 on Franklin Avenue.
Heights Middle School 7 is a 165,810-square-foot facility that will house 969 students in grades 6 through 8. The school will consist of 36 classrooms and includes a basement, an auditorium wing, gymnasium wing and an education/administrative wing. Additional design features include on-grade parking, athletic field and basketball courts, and an entrance plaza.Parents pepper Epps with questions
At Wednesday’s meeting, Epps told parents the school is scheduled for an official opening of Feb. 5 because it provides enough time to get the building “prepared” for its opening and for any remaining repairs on the building. He also said students need a smooth transition from their other schools.
“Most importantly, the reason that we are using February 5 is that’s the end of a marking period,” said Epps. “I wanted the continuity of the same teachers, same assignments before we moved into the new building.”
But not everyone was pleased to hear that the school would open so late into the school year.
Naadu Blankson-Seck, whose son Mouhamadou is a sixth grade student at Public School 6 on St. Paul’s Avenue, asked Epps how the move would affect the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students who will be in midst of studying for state exams. Epps was confident there would be no disruption in their studies.
“There would be the sixth grade teachers, seventh grade teachers and eighth grade teachers in the same cluster, but they may get the same teacher or they may not,” said Epps.
A parent of an eighth grader asked Epps how the move be made when eighth graders will be taking the New Jersey Grade Eight Proficiency Assessment, which is important for enrollment into high school.
Another major concern of parents was that transportation of the students since Middle School 7 will not be immediately accessible for all students. Some wanted to know if the school system can provide transportation, but Epps pointed out there a “2.5 mile rule” where any student would live within 2.5 miles of the school could not be bused or receive a voucher for transportation But Epps did say he would study further how the school system could provide transportation.
Another issue was safety since many students would be walking a distance and through areas that are more crime-ridden than others.
Epps suggested to parents that they should get involved in a program that operates within the Jersey City school system that allows parents to officially work as mentors who would escort kids to school and home.
One parent also brought up the issue of student to teacher ratio, which Epps said would be 28-29 students per teacher. The same parent voiced that 15 to 1 would be a better ratio.
Epps also promised there would be a Jumpstart Program during the winter to bring together kids from the three feeder schools for the middle school. Looking forward
11-year old Stacy Munoz is currently a sixth grader at School 8. She told Epps during the meeting that it was “dumb” to have the students not stay together in the same classroom when they move to the new middle school.
She also suggested that they should wait and move at the beginning of the next school year.
“I feel since we are together, they shouldn’t break us up,” said Munoz. “My best friend is the same class that I am in.”
But Munoz did say she is still looking forward to moving into a new school.
Also looking forward was Michelle Christie, a 29-year Jersey City school veteran, who was named in June the new principal for Middle School 7. She will be working with over 120 staff members including 3 vice principals.
“This is going to be an exciting challenge. I am already pleased from what I saw at this meeting with all these parents and even some of the staff in attendance,” said Christie.
She did admit that she concerned about the student size, which may go over 1,000, but was optimistic that with “good planning and discipline”, it will be manageable. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com