“You really need to have a master plan. You need ideas and vision to see beyond what the problems are at the moment to realize what you want to do.” That’s Superintendent Patricia McGeehan’s guiding philosophy in making lemonade out of the lemons of underfunding the Bayonne School District regularly faces. Despite that, the district will continue to put those principles to work in the upcoming school year, through developments in everything from athletics and technology to vocational education.
A large photo of Bayonne High School from a few hundred feet in the air hangs on the wall of the boardroom. “That’s taken with a drone…the technology we have now,” said McGeehan, touting the district’s embrace of technology. “Years ago the great equalizer was public education,” said Leo Smith, assistant superintendent of business/school business administrator.“Now, technology can be a great equalizer in terms of what we’re able to do in a diverse, underfunded district like this.”
Using the internet as an educational resource is central to the district’s plan moving forward. Cloud computing was integrated into the curriculum in 2014, a system that stores data on servers rather than locally on each computer, sharing digital resources and lowering hardware costs.
Students begin using Chromebooks in second grade, but starting in September, the high school is changing from a “classroom model” in which students leave their laptops at school to be charged overnight to a “1:1 model” in which students get their own Chromebooks to take home every night, “just like you’re taking home your history book or your math book, this is your Chromebook,” said McGeehan.
To support this cloud-computing investment, pyramid-shaped charging stations will be placed throughout the school, because, as McGeehan noted, “Kids will be kids. They’re going to forget to charge them.” A new “Chromebook depot” is also in the works, featuring a technician, who can fix or replace a problem computer on the spot. BHS’s tech department has also been providing webinars to teachers, so they feel more comfortable navigating a blended learning environment.“We’re growing with [cloud computing] because we have to grow,” said McGeehan.
A fifth academy
In response to the growing demand for medical professionals, combined with the district’s focus on providing students with vocational options, BHS is getting a fifth academy this year: the Academy for Health and Medical Sciences. The program offers students hands-on application and training in the allied health fields.
A certified nurse will instruct 120 students in a newly renovated clinical lab designed for lessons in anatomy and physiology. “It will be equipped like a regular hospital, so students can get a hands-on experience and come out with useable skills for the job market,” said McGeehan.
The academy also secured scholarships for eight seniors to attend Jersey City Medical Center’s five-month EMT Certification Program in January, which requires after-school and Saturday attendance; the district will provide transportation. The fee is normally $2,000, but the scholarships, which students have to apply for, will make it free. McGeehan said, “At the end of June, these seniors can be an EMT and get a job in July, how about that?”
“Years ago the great equalizer was public education. Now, technology can be a great equalizer in terms of what we’re able to do in a diverse, underfunded district like this.” – Leo Smith
Food and waste
The school is expanding its recycling program to Philip G. Vroom Community School, Mary J. Donahue Community School, and Lincoln Community School, to include styrofoam trays and plastic cups, “to cut down on the garbage that goes out, so that’s an ongoing project,” said Leo Smith.
The district is saving money this year by putting all 125 food-service employees on the district payroll instead of outsourcing that function.“We’re saving a lot of money by making all those employees our employees,” Smith said, noting that with the money from a newly replenished food-service fund, the district was able to pay for a new elevator in front of the high school. “Previously our handicapped students had to go through the basement through the loading dock to get to the elevator,” Smith said, “but now they can come through the main entrance.”
On September 21, the high school will have a ribbon-cutting for the expansion and renovation of the Strength and Conditioning Center, which will feature a new Hall of Fame. Other developments in district athletics include a new high school football coach, Jason Acerra, and an after-school track program for second and third graders. “They’ll have a competition, and I’ll go and give them medals,” said McGeehan.“What’s more fun for parents and the family? We’ll have them at our indoor track here so they can do it through November.”
The elephant in the classroom
Despite underfunding, the district finds ways to get things done. “We work very hard, and we’re extremely creative,” McGeehan said of the district’s efforts in taking over food service, maintaining the building without going through major contractors, and creative new revenue streams, such as an after-school program.
“We’ve had after care and before care, but it never grew to be what it is right now,” she said.“We’re always encouraging our kids to stay after school and be involved in a multitude of programs, besides after care that parents pay for.” A recent district-conducted survey revealed that there are about 2000 kids who stay after school on a daily basis, for computer courses, to help other students with homework, or for after-school care. “Some of these programs are actually making money now,” McGeehan said, “so we have a revenue stream.”
McGeehan is in her last year of her contract and remains as positive as ever. “What we do here is create goodness every day,” she said.“We create change, we create power, we create so much.” No interview with the superintendent can go without mention of at least one of her favorite adages: “Find a job that you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.