BelovEd expands

Charter school acquires land for new middle school

BelovED Community Charter School has acquired a half-acre parcel of land at 535 Grand St. in Jersey City, directly across the street from its elementary schools, for its planned 40,000 square- foot middle school.
“We’re looking to break ground next winter and open by September 2018,” said former Mayor Bret Schundler, consultant to BelovED.
The New York City and Newark-based architectural and planning firm of Urbahn Architects designed the new middle school.
“Upon opening, the new middle school will serve its first 240 students,” said Schundler, who serves as chairman of the BelovED Community Charter School Foundation. BelovED is named in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the “Beloved Community.” The elementary charter school currently serves 720 students.
“The new middle school will contribute to Jersey City’s and the Jersey City Housing Authority’s balanced development effort to create quality affordable housing and neighborhoods, in addition to the luxury multi-family properties prevalent in Jersey City,” Schundler said. “The BelovED campus is located within a moderate and affordable housing section of the city and serves children from local families.”

“Upon opening, the new middle school will serve its first 240 students.” – Bret Schundler
The architectural team has completed the preliminary design for the new educational facility.
According to Urbahn’s principal Marty Stein, “The new 40,000-square foot, four-story middle school will serve students in grades six to nine. The building will feature an open first floor with outdoor recreational facilities for students and a teacher’s parking lot. Classrooms will be located on higher floors.”
The property was previously the site of a small retail store that was demolished more than 10 years ago.

Preliminary design

The small site forced Urbahn to be particularly creative in developing and maximizing a functional program, Stein said.
“It’s a very dynamic design, in which many functions are incorporated,” he said. He also oversaw the design of the original BelovED K-5 school and its recent addition. “The program includes 15 general classrooms, four half-classrooms, two science rooms, two art rooms, a music room to serve as the central public space of the school, a cafetorium with a warming kitchen, a gymnasium with a mezzanine, a media center/library, administrative offices, and a large sub-dividable multipurpose room to be used for events and testing. In addition, the school will include a parking lot for 31 cars and outdoor assembly/recreation space.”
The parcel is within a FEMA-designated flood zone, which added another challenge for the design team.
According to Urbahn associate and project manager Emmanuel Perez, “We are specifying all programmed space and critical systems on the second through fourth floors. The ground level is dedicated to parking, building access, and recreation. The upper floors are structurally cantilevered above the parking lot.”
Due to the soft soil at the site, the foundation will consist of subterranean concrete piles and pile caps, which will support the new school’s structural steel frame.

BelovED has come a long way in five years

BelovED Community received its charter from the state in September 2011, and has received positive encouragement from the state Department of Education’s Charter Schools Office to expand.
The state considers BelovEd a high performing charter school with a strong track record. The state encouraged the school to conduct a needs analysis to identify other areas of the state where charter schools could offer choice in underserved communities.
In addition to Schundler, Jersey City resident Kathryn Narramore, an assistant professor of English at Hunter College, has been a key player in the school’s growth. Narramore served as the school’s qualifying founder and now serves as treasurer for the BelovED Community Charter School Foundation, an independent nonprofit that Schundler launched to support the work of the school.
BelovED Community’s board members include Gregory Corrado, Rev. Ronnie Calvin Clark, Salvatore Risalvato, David Robinson, Jessica Lisboa, and Richard Valdes.

Helping to fill a need

Schundler, a former Commissioner of the state Department of Education in the Christie administration, is considered the father of New Jersey’s charter school movement. He became a strong supporter after becoming mayor in 1992, and is responsible for helping to open the Golden Door Charter School on JFK Boulevard in Jersey City. He is also one of the people who pushed for legislation that would enable charter schools to develop throughout the state.
BelovED opened in 2013, and added an additional wing in 2014, but at the time needed to share space with Head Start because the new school could not yet sustain itself with only a few grades. Charter schools expand incrementally after applying to the state. BelovED started with grades kindergarten through third grade, added the fourth grade with the expansion, and recently added a fifth grade.
Schundler said the new middle school will help deal with the expected flood of students into Jersey City school.
“Jersey City’s population is booming,” Schundler said.
A report done for the school district two years ago shows that Jersey City has a potential to be short 7,000 seats by 2017.
“The district doesn’t build new schools, the state does,” Schundler said.
The state spends money throughout all the school districts, but only builds a few in Abbott districts like Jersey City.
“We’re trying to address the shortage,” Schundler said.
He said once the middle school opens, BelovED will move to open a high school.
Like all public schools, BelovEd must meet all core curriculum standards.
The school uses the Sabis education system, but has a model for its own school that focuses on building values and character in its students. This involves self-identity and making the world a better place for others.
“We also do social service projects,” Schundler said.
Sometimes this involves a single grade or an individual. But often when a particular grade is involved, so are all the family members and many of the teachers from all of the grades.
Recently, the school’s second grade did a project to help provide meals for homeless people. Kids worked jobs at home, got paid from their parents, and then used the money to purchase ingredients for sandwiches. These were brought to a local shelter to be distributed. At the same time, teachers volunteered at the schools.
The kids returned to school to talk about the project with other students.
“They shared how they felt, and they got a lot of support and validation from their classmates,” Schundler said. “This let them consider that making a positive difference for others can also make the students happy, too.”

Al Sullivan may be reached at

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