Cranford survey finds support for full-day kindergarten

Images Courtesy of Cranford School District
Cranford’s proposed ‘Reimagining’ Plan No. 8 would reconfigure the district’s public schools to create three schools for kindergarten through fifth grade and two grades 6-8 while introducing full-time kindergarten through the township.

CRANFORD, NJ — Residents are in favor of two “reimagine” plans for the township’s schools, both of which include the addition of free, full-day kindergarten, according to preliminary survey results.
Superintendent Scott Rubin announced at the May 20 Cranford Board of Education meeting that more than 1,900 residents responded to the survey seeking input on possible reconfiguration of the district. He said the responses support Plan Nos. 8 and 10, along with various other districtwide improvements.

The survey, which was available for about three weeks — from April 26 through May 13 — proposed 10 plans, some of which included the addition of free, full-day kindergarten and a comprehensive middle school.

Plan No. 8 includes four kindergarten-through-grade-five schools and two middle schools for grades six to eight, and would cost approximately $34.5 million to construct, with 48 classrooms — the most of all the plans — and one lavatory, added across the district.

Under the plan, Bloomingdale Avenue, Brookside Place, Livingston Avenue and Walnut Avenue schools would be transformed into elementary schools, while Hillside Avenue and Orange Avenue schools would become the middle schools.
This plan would have one middle school on each side of the township, Rubin said at the meeting.

Plan No. 10 involves no redistricting for the township’s eight schools and carries a construction cost of about $15.4 million. It would require constructing 21 additional classrooms and two lavatories in the district.
Plan No. 8 would result in an annual tax impact of $512 to the average homeowner, while Plan No. 10 comes in a less expensive $362 on the average home. Neither plan calls for additional busing.

“Both of these plans provide great benefits to the school system,” Rubin said at the meeting.
Currently, there is no consistent approach in the district to grade configurations in school buildings, Rubin told LocalSource in an April 29 email.

Bloomingdale Avenue School is comprised of 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.

The current configuration of Cranford’s public schools has a variety in terms of mixture of grades. Some schools have only kindergarten through second grade, others kindergarten through eighth and even other with no kidergarten.

Under the current configuration, some teachers are shared among grade levels and even among buildings, Rubin said.
In addition to the reconfiguration plans, the surveys also asked about updated science labs at Cranford High School, the installation of air-conditioning in gyms and cafeterias, and the modernization of school libraries. Those enhancements would result in an estimated a tax increase of $170 per average assessed home per year.

State Sens. Maria Ruiz and Shirley Turner, both Democrats who represent parts of Essex County and parts of Hunterdon and Mercer counties respectively, introduced Senate bill No. S-1055 in 2018 to require full-day kindergarten in all public-school districts and a uniform age for enrollment. But this isn’t the only reason the district is looking to expand from the current lottery-based kindergarten system, Rubin said.

“Full-day kindergarten can be a gift of time to better meet our students’ needs,” Rubin said the email. “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 told the board at the meeting that full survey results will be released sometime next month and that it is likely that a townwide committee will be assembled to help determine the next steps in the “reimagining” process.
The goal of the survey was to “identify if there are plans or elements of plans that the community would like the district to pursue,” he said.

In April, Rubin said he is most supportive of Plan Nos. 1 to 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 No. 11 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.”

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.