CRANFORD, NJ — The local school district will survey residents in the next few weeks to gather input as it continues to consider its “reimagining” — with some proposals including the addition of free full-day kindergarten and a comprehensive middle school.
The reconfiguration proposal has been discussed in school board and town hall-style meetings since first introduced by Superintendent of Schools Scott Rubin last fall.
The goal of the survey, which was made public April 26 and will close May 13, is to “identify if there are plans or elements of plans that the community would like the district to pursue,” according to Rubin.
In order to access the survey on the district website, a user must enter the unique login that was sent to every household in Cranford on April 26.
There are currently 10 proposals; all include full-day kindergarten and seven call for a comprehensive middle school.
“After several meetings, both community and school-based, and many correspondences and presentations, it is time for the community to voice their desires through a survey that will help guide the district’s next steps,” Rubin said in an email to LocalSource on April 29.
Plan 1 carries an estimated $5.85 million in construction costs; Plan 8 carries $34.52 million in construction costs. And Plans 8, 9 and 10 do not include a comprehensive middle school.
The district also launched a new section of its website April 23 that breaks down each proposal, along with tax-impact information and previous presentations.
“Our goal for taxpayers is for them to be able to analyze the information and make their own decisions on the best pathway forward for the Cranford Public School District,” Rubin said. “The Board of Education and superintendent are representatives of the community and believe in a collaborative process.”
Currently, there is no consistent approach in the district to school building grade configurations, according to Rubin.
Bloomingdale Avenue School comprises kindergarten through second grade; Brookside Place School is kindergarten through fifth grade; Hillside Avenue School is kindergarten through eighth grade; Livingston Avenue School is third through fifth grades; Orange Avenue School is third through eighth grades; and Walnut Avenue School is preschool through second grade.
Under the current configuration, some teachers are shared among grade levels and even among buildings, Rubin explained.
The addition of a comprehensive middle school, which would serve all students in sixth through eighth grades, would help alleviate the issue of teacher sharing and help provide for “true team teaching, cross-curricular instruction, greater flexibility for scheduling, additional availability for parent/guardian meetings and create programming that is specific to the adolescent both as a learner and individual navigating these challenging times of their development,” Rubin said.
Democratic State Sen. Maria Ruiz and Shirley Turner, who represent parts of Essex County and parts of Hunterdon and Mercer counties respectively, introduced Bill No. S-1055 in 2018 to establish full-day kindergarten in all public-school districts and a uniform age for enrollment. But Rubin said that isn’t the only reason the district is looking to expand from the current lottery-based kindergarten system.
“Full-day kindergarten can be a gift of time to better meet our students’ needs,” Rubin said. “In an unhurried environment, teachers would have the flexibility to adjust the pacing in the classroom to delve deeper into the standards and allow for continuity, consistency and repetition which is how 5- and 6-year-olds learn best.”
Rubin said he is most supportive of Plans 1-7, which all implement a full-day kindergarten program, establish a comprehensive middle school and provide “equitable and appropriate spaces district-wide.”
He also said Plan 1 was proposed because it accomplishes these “three key upgrades and does it in the most fiscally responsible way. However, I will champion whichever plan the community wants to support.”
Other proposed enhancements to the district include the installation of air-conditioning in gyms, cafeterias and performing arts spaces, and updated science labs.
The projected increase of 99 students in the district from the 225-unit apartment complex on Birchwood Avenue has been factored into the reconfiguration plans, according to Rubin.
He said the Birchwood development took more than 10 years to come to fruition, so it is impossible to predict the possible impact from a proposed 905-unit apartment complex at 750 Walnut Ave. — the site of the underutilized Hartz Mountain complex on the south side of the township.
“By implementing a fiscally responsible rezoning plan, we are better serving our current students with an eye on the future,” Rubin said. “If we keep our debt manageable, we will be in a better financial position to pivot in the future should the growth of the community require the school district to consider additional capital improvements.”