School board should build bridges, not road blocks

Dear Editor:
In September 2010, Gov. Chris Christie came to Hoboken and spoke about the need to tear down barriers between public and charter schools for the sake of the children. Our interim superintendent, Peter Carter, backed up that sentiment and said, “We want to join hands with all those who do what we do.” And Mayor Zimmer said, “It’s extremely important that we support charter schools and traditional public schools, they really go hand in hand.”
It’s nearly two years later and last month I made the simple suggestion that charter school students in town be allowed to join the high school band and, in the process, inject some life into that anemic program. But other school board members are clinging to an archaic system of “us” and “them” rather than finding ways to give all our children the opportunities they need and deserve.
It’s not as though there’s a waiting list to get into the band. In fact, unlike pages devoted to “crazy hair” and “crazy hat” days, the band didn’t rate even one photo in this year’s high school yearbook. After the band withered away in the 1990s, it was resurrected about six years ago and students as young as fourth grade were allowed to participate. We have well over 1,000 eligible students, but fewer than 30 are involved, and only a tiny handful in grades 9-12. And that’s after we invested in all new uniforms. Those children in the program deserve our applause and the chance to play in a bigger and better band. We pay our band director, Gary Enrico, a stipend of $5,142 no matter how many or few kids join.
It’s disingenuous for our school board members to say they can’t imagine intermingling students from various districts. The Hoboken students attending High Tech HS and County Prep HS can play on all Hoboken HS sports teams because the county’s mayors, including Mayor Zimmer, agreed in 2010 to pull the plug on all sports teams at those county-funded magnet schools. Our district also participates in the School Choice program, which allows 100 students from other towns (mainly Jersey City) to attend our schools and participate in all activities.
Unlike some other school board members, I routinely encounter parents who want more opportunities for their children, not fewer. After all, charter schools are public schools and those parents are paying the same school taxes as everyone else here. But of course, this is about more than music. This is about who is going to play gate-keeper. I know I’m not the only one who’s tired of hearing that kids come first, well, that is, after the adults get done putting up insurmountable road blocks.
It’s 2012. Please let’s stop calling issues “complex” just so we don’t have to do the work of figuring out how to provide the best possible experience for all our children.

Maureen Sullivan
Hoboken School Board Member

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