Cranford adds meetings to solicit info on district shakeup

CRANFORD, NJ — School Superintendent Scott Rubin has announced seven more meetings to gather feedback from the community concerning his plans to “reimagine” the school district.

Rubin said since he first outlined the addition of free full-day kindergarten, the creation of Cranford Middle School and a variety of other changes to the township’s schools at the Board of Education’s Oct. 8 workshop meeting, he has “received feedback from numerous community members that the addition of meetings at each individual school would afford a greater opportunity for all to be heard and ensure each localized school community receives the information they desire.”

In a message released Oct. 14, and addressed to parents, guardians, staff, students and community members, the series of meetings, at 7 p.m., are listed as follows:
• Tuesday, Nov. 13, at Walnut Avenue School;
• Thursday, Nov. 15, at Hillside Avenue School;
• Monday, Nov. 19, at Livingston Avenue School;
• Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Orange Avenue School;
• Tuesday, Nov. 27, at Brookside Place School;
• Monday, Dec. 3, at Bloomingdale Avenue School; and
• Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Cranford High School.

In addition to the new meetings, three question-and-answer sessions will be held at 7 p.m. in the Cranford High School Auditorium, with the first two addressing specific topics.

An Oct. 30 meeting will address the budget, a comprehensive middle school, a comprehensive grade building for grades three to five, and buildings for kindergarten to grade two with full-day kindergarten. At a Nov. 28 meeting, the topics will be transportation and district configuration.

According to Rubin’s release, “We ask that the community focus only on the areas that are presented that evening so that we may drill down on those topics.”
A third meeting on Dec. 17, is scheduled to be an open session.

Under the plan, which Rubin has dubbed a “reimagining,” there would be four schools for students in kindergarten to grade two. So, Bloomingdale Avenue and Walnut Avenue schools would remain the same; Brookside Place would shift from kindergarten to grade five to kindergarten to grade two; and Livingston Avenue would change from grades three to five to kindergarten to grade two.

Orange Avenue would become Cranford Intermediate School for grades three to five and Hillside, which houses students in kindergarten through grade eight, would become Cranford Middle School for grades six to eight.

To balance the student populations of the schools, some students who would normally go to Bloomingdale would instead attend Brookside Place. No teaching positions would be lost under the plan, but some would be “repurposed” to cover the kindergarten classes, Rubin said.
He said at the meeting that he would like to have a referendum in December 2019 and implement the changes during the 2020-2021 school year.
“I know that there are oftentimes emotional responses when talking about change and, in truth, this wasn’t easy to bring forward,” Rubin said at the Oct. 8 BOE meeting. “I spent lots of nights thinking about this in terms of bringing it forward. But, as I said in the beginning, it would have been irresponsible not to bring this forward, and we as a team and as a board thought there were so many benefits to this opportunity that, again, it would have been irresponsible not to bring it up.

“In fact, I would be more nervous if I were to pitch you the setup we have right now. Could you imagine if I came in here and said, ‘I have this great idea. We’re going to do a three to eight. We’re going to do a K to eight. We’re going to do a K to five. We’re going to do a K to two. We’re going to do a three to five.’ Listen, I understand how these things happen. It builds up over time because it was responding to needs that were important at that time. But I would tell you that I think that this plan could really be responsive to our students right now and what we want to provide for them. So, let’s continue. Let’s have the conversation. Let’s engage in this and see if it’s the right thing.”

Rubin said the impetus for the “reimagining” of the district started when he took a “look, listen and learn” tour of the schools shortly after becoming the superintendent July 1, 2017. He started to hear the same suggestions repeatedly, most often one for full-day kindergarten. He said his research has revealed that 92 percent of the school districts in the state offer free all-day kindergarten. Among the other school systems in Union County that do not are Westfield and Summit.

Although the creation of full-day kindergarten may have been a priority, Rubin said the plan is an attempt to solve several issues: Equity among schools, duplication of services, class size and lack of dedicated rooms for art and music programs in the elementary schools. Rubin called the elementary and middle school model at schools such as Hillside Avenue “schizophrenic” because “they don’t know what they are.” In some cases, students aren’t allowed to walk down certain hallways because the school is trying to keep the grade levels separated.