School for thought

Two new charter schools debut in Jersey City

This fall there will be two more choices on the charter school roster for Jersey City kids: The Mathematics, Engineering Technology and Science Charter School (METS) and the Dr. Lena Edwards Academic Charter School.
METS is the inspiration of Dr. John Sico, a former Paterson school district superintendent and adjunct professor at William Paterson University. The school, which will accommodate students in grades 6 through 12, is set to open on Aug. 29 at 180 Ninth Street across from the Newport Mall.

“We see this school as being the center of the community.” – Christopher Garlin
There will be 80 students per grade. It will start with 320 students its first year and add students each year until it reaches 560 students. It is currently fully staffed at 23 teachers.
Right now, the school has 22 openings in the sixth grade, 20 in the seventh, 29 in the eighth; the ninth grade is full.
The school is open to any child who lives in Jersey City. It has an open enrollment policy, so prospective students are not required to take a test.
Why a charter school?
“It offers a smaller school setting and has a board established by the founder with new members being elected by the parents,” Sico said.
Charter schools are usually founded by parents and educators, and they don’t need to conform to all the state requirements that regular schools conform to, nor do they have to deal with the state teachers’ union. They receive most of their funding through the local Board of Education, and can fundraise for the rest. They are considered public schools, so they do not charge tuition.
Jersey City has eight charter schools, not counting these two.

Safer urban school?

Sico said that some parents choose charter schools because there is a perception that they are safer than traditional public schools.
“We expect our school to be safe,” Sico said. “It’s all about academics.”
But if you choose METS for safety alone, Sico said that is the wrong reason.
As a parent, Eleanor Cruz felt so strongly that her two daughters needed a better school that she went to Trenton with Sico to argue the case before the state Board of Education.
“I spoke on behalf of Jersey City parents,” she said. “I don’t want my daughters to get lost in the system.”
She described a scene at a local high school where there were fights, riots, and shootouts, and kids were in the streets at lunchtime. “That’s why we desperately need a school where the teachers care about students,” she said.
In the other school, she said, they were giving them a jail sentence, not an education.

Doing the math

“METS is a specialty school,” Sico said. “We cover the core curriculum, but I have a track record in preparing students in the fields of math and science and preparing them for their college of choice.”
Individual attention will be key at METS. For students who need extra help there will be tutoring, and for kids who are advanced, enrichment classes.
Sico said that students with lots of science and math on their transcripts have more options for college and a better chance of getting into their colleges of choice.
“The standard is three years of math and two years of science,” Sico said. At METS he recommends a minimum of four or five years of math and three or four years of science.
“Math and science classes are hard, and a lot of students shy away from physics and chemistry,” Sico said.
However, if a student excels in physics, as well as in courses like English and history, then colleges will take notice.
Sico said, “They’re going to say, ‘Wow, this student is diversified.’ ”

Dress for success

The standards the school sets for academic excellence are expected to inspire pride among students, who will be required to wear a blue uniform shirt emblazoned with the METS Charter School insignia.
“We expect 100 percent will pass standardized tests,” Sico said.
One way to achieve that is to customize teaching methods. “No two students learn alike,” he said. “If a student is having trouble in algebra, you don’t tutor the same way you teach in the classroom. What good is that?”
The METS faculty is geared up for tutoring. “They’re well prepared with alternative methods,” Sico said. “They’re well versed in second or third methods.”
A lot of these classes will take place on Saturdays, another sign of the commitment that will be required from both students and faculty.
Sico is a big fan of one-on-one teaching. He tells the story of a student, “not the best student, but I took him under my wing and gave him tutoring.”
Eventually the student took Advanced Placement calculus and became a top scientist at NASA.
Another student was struggling with algebra but he excelled in the school band.
“I spent about two and half hours watching band practice, freezing in the stands,” Sico said. “I told him if he could follow algorithms in music, he could follow algorithms in math.”
With the extra help, the kid became a top student. “Anybody can be successful in math,” Sico said. “It depends on how it’s approached. They need encouragement and a pat on the back.”
According to Sico, NASA predicts that in the next 10 to 15 years, there will be a shortage of American born engineers.
The METS charter school is hoping to help head off that deficit.

Building character

In late January, the Rev. Francis Schiller, pastor of St. Patrick & Assumption/All Saints Church on Bramhall Avenue, filed an application with the state to start the Dr. Lena Edwards Academic Charter School.
The school, which will take children from kindergarten through eighth grade, will specialize in building character in students.
The focus was inspired by its namesake, Lena Edwards, a Jersey City physician, humanitarian, and philanthropist who was born in 1900 and died in 1986.
The school, which is slated to have 356 students and about 23 faculty, will be on Bramhill Avenue between Grand and Clerk streets, taking over what was once St. Patrick’s School.
“It’s in the heart of an urban community in the Bergen Lafayette section,” said Christopher Garlin, the school’s CEO.
The school will emphasize “character-based education with five key value areas,” he said. Those areas are compassion, diligence, integrity, respect, and responsibility.
“Those are the pillars of the school,” he said. “It will be a classic educational mode with a focus on cultural literacy.”
The school will be intimately tied to the neighborhood.
“We see this school as being the center of the community, a resource for children and parents and the community at large,” Garlin said. “Not in isolation but an extension that strengthens the neighborhood that surrounds the school.”
But the school also has a broad mandate.
“The goal is for kids to be able to reason, think, analyze, and have a broad worldview,” Garlin said. “They have to be strong stewards who understand that they are integrally tied to the community, the country, and the world.”
Kate Rounds can be reached at

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