CRANFORD, NJ — The installation of full-day kindergarten across the township, a key component in the superintendent’s proposal to restructure the district, would benefit students who are hurried under the half-day setup, according to local teachers at a Jan. 22 meeting at Livingston Avenue School.
Shaun Benoit, who teaches half-day kindergarten at Bloomingdale Avenue School, and Gina DiFabio, who teaches full-day kindergarten at Walnut Avenue School, said that so many educational components have been added to the kindergarten curriculum in the past years that teachers struggle to cover everything in the course of a day that is only two and a half hours long.
Benoit said each day is packed with reading and writing workshops, a new science program, snack time and specials such as music, library and gym, among other subjects.
“I think if you try to understand our day, you’re probably exhausted,” Benoit said at the meeting. “The children are exhausted. All we do is hurry them along. Are we teaching? Absolutely. Are we covering our material? Absolutely. Could we do a better job? We know we could.”
The Jan. 22 meeting was one of a series that have taken place since October, when Superintendent Scott Rubin first announced his idea of restructuring the school district. Two main tenets of Rubin’s proposals are full-day kindergarten across the township — some children currently have half-day instruction and some have full-day — and the creation of one comprehensive middle school. He is proposing a redistribution of students among the schools to create a Cranford Middle School for grades six to eight in the Hillside Avenue School.
There are currently 10 different plans on the table that vary in their scope and cost. Plan No. 1 carries an estimated $5.85 million construction cost; Plan No. 8 carries a $34.52 million construction cost. Plan Nos. 8, 9 and 10 would not include a comprehensive middle school. All the plans would create full-day kindergarten across the township.
DiFabio said the full-day kindergarten schedule allows for much more learning. For example, her class was building ramps as part of their exploration into motion, and talking about “force, gravity and pushes and pulls.”
She said the added time would allow for teachers to work with students on educational components that can’t be learned from textbooks.
“It is a whole new world, going from half day to full day,” DiFabio said. “And we talk about that social, emotional growth for our children. It is so important to have that in our program, to have them play, to have the socialization, to have these children learn conflict resolution, problem solving, cooperation. I mean, all these things are so important. All these things went out the window about six years ago. There just wasn’t time while trying to fit everything else in.”
Early in the meeting, Marilyn Birnbaum, the former interim superintendent of schools in Cranford, was invited to speak. She said that while the township is a good district, it “should be a great district.”
One way to improve the district, she said, is through the creation of a comprehensive middle school.
“The concept of having one building, six to eight, where all the children are together allows for so much in terms of programming, scheduling, true team teaching, extracurriculars,” Birnbaum said. “It will allow the kids to know each other so that when they enter ninth grade, that doesn’t become the year where they suddenly start to grow up.
“They will start to grow up before that. Middle school is a very difficult age and when they are together in one group, they tend to do well. It’s very difficult to have a middle school schedule when you’re also trying to run a first-grade schedule or a second-grade schedule or a third-grade schedule. Very difficult in the terms of the kinds of scheduling you can do. So middle school was something we wanted very, very much.”
Residents voiced their concerns at the meeting regarding the change. Some worried that the addition of school buses to roads would add to the township’s traffic issues.
Some parents said they don’t favor the reimagining because it won’t allow them to walk their children to their neighborhood schools. Others said they were concerned their taxes will rise.
Rubin has heard these and many other points of contention since he first outlined his reimagining of the district at the Board of Education’s workshop meeting Oct. 8 of last year. The subject has spanned many meetings and has been shaped by many voices, but Rubin said the process has not diminished his commitment to the reimagining project.
“The responsibility was to be a good representative of the community and provide, to give an honest reflection of our community, which is a wonderful community and to try to collaborate and partner with everyone to try to enhance the offerings,” he said. “I am absolutely steadfastly committed to that the same way when I first started. And so while I believe in a full-day kindergarten and a comprehensive middle school, I really enjoy having these conversations with the community.”