Hillside schools to be reconfigured

HILLSIDE, NJ — Three schools will be reconfigured in the fall to include grades two through six, following a 7-1 vote by the Board of Education at its April 11 meeting. Hurden Looker, Calvin Coolidge and George Washington will undergo the change. Angela Menza was the sole vote against the move, and Calvin Lofton was absent for the vote.

The current system has students in the district switching schools up to five times, starting off at the AP Morris Early Childhood Center through the completion of first grade, then attending Calvin Coolidge Elementary for second grade, Hurden Looker Elementary for third and fourth grades, George Washington Elementary for fifth and sixth grades, the middle school through eighth grade, and finishing at Hillside High School.
The reconfiguration was first proposed to the board and parents by the Grade Reconfiguration Committee at the March 21 BOE meeting, with committee members saying the change would benefit students, teachers and parents throughout the district.

“We’re running into a situation where we are running out of space in the district and we have to really begin to think about how we’re going to grow,” Acting Superintendent Debra Sheard said at the March 21 meeting.
“The bottom line is, we’re trying to get onto that pathway to excellence and we want to make sure that by having these grades two through six schools, all students are going to receive the same quality of instruction.”

The district will be broken up into three zones based on population, ethnicity and race so that all three schools are in “equal proportion on all these levels,” according to the committee.

The school day will begin at 8:35 a.m. and end at 2:55 p.m. at all three schools, and busing will be available for students who live more than 2 miles from school. All students will wear uniforms of navy shirts and khaki pants beginning in the 2020-21 school year. The current uniforms will remain in place for next year since many parents already have purchased them.

George Washington Elementary School Principal Sharon Festante, who is also a committee member, told the BOE and parents in attendance that the three schools will have identical academic programs and that the reconfiguration is an opportunity to have “better activity coordination.”

“We want to keep all the three schools as equitable as possible,” she said. “In a community, you want to have schools that are equitable and that are all high performing and feeding high achieving academic students into the middle school and high school. That’s what’s going to improve the town.”
At the April 11 meeting, there was minimal comment from the public and even some cheering after BOE Vice President Kim Cook acknowledged that the district will be moving forward with the reconfiguration.

“Looks like we just finally approved the reconfiguration of our schools so that’s going to be really exciting to start,” Cook said.
The BOE also unanimously approved a contract for staffing services for the remainder of the 2019 school year and for the 2019-2020 school year at a little more than $430,000. The board had previously approved the use of staffing services at its Feb. 21 meeting to address the district’s shortage of substitute teachers, particularly for special needs students.

“We’re in trouble with substitutes and it’s a very small market,” interim business administrator David Eichenholtz said at the February meeting. “Right now, we’re really pushing it by pulling people from one-on-one aide positions to cover classes and that can’t continue on.”
Hillside Education Association President Anglea Lawler praised the board for deciding to hire staffing services for the district.

“I am very thankful for this substitute service,” she said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “The staff in Hillside, even though they love getting paid for a missed prep period, they would prefer to have that time to be prepared for their classes throughout the day.”