Project would add space, renovate borough schools

Staff Writer

By vincent todaro

Project would add space,
renovate borough schools

DAWN MARIE SANNWALDT  Spotswood High School Chargers Kyle Ust and Nick Defalco make a tackle during a scrimmage against the New Brunswick Zebras in Spotswood Friday.DAWN MARIE SANNWALDT Spotswood High School Chargers Kyle Ust and Nick Defalco make a tackle during a scrimmage against the New Brunswick Zebras in Spotswood Friday.

SPOTSWOOD — A $20 million referendum tentatively scheduled for December will probably be the biggest project on the minds of school officials in 2001-02.

Superintendent of Schools Anthony Vaz said the referendum is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 11, and the actual dollar amount is subject to change. The district is awaiting word from the state on how much funding will be made available to help pay for the proposed project. Under the recently passed Facilities Act, the state in some cases can pay up to 40 percent of eligible costs for school construction projects.

"We’re still waiting on what the exact figure will be. Hopefully, they’ll get back to us in a couple of weeks," said school Business Administrator Derek Jess.

Jess also said the district still has to make some minor adjustments to the construction plans.

"Basically, the work is new construction and renovations to all four schools with increased enrollment," Jess said.

Among the plans are adding a new wing to the Schoenly School, for students in kindergarten and first grade, in order to accommodate more classrooms. Appleby School, for second through sixth grades, would receive renovations to existing classrooms.

Memorial School, for grades seven and eight, would get another wing, which is expected to double the size of the school, Jess said.

District officials want to move the sixth grade from Appleby to Memorial.

Spotswood High School would receive renovations, as well as a new administrative wing, if the referendum is approved. The existing administrative section would be turned into approximately five classrooms, according to Jess.

There is also a proposal to build an auditorium for the performing arts, which would also be used for some classes, Jess said.

As with many other districts in New Jersey, Spotswood is dealing with an increased student enrollment. Last year’s total enrollment was 1,623, and Jess said he will not know until the middle of October what this year’s count will be.

"Over the last few years, enrollment has grown," he said.

In addition to Spotswood children, the district also receives all of Helmetta’s students, as well as Milltown’s high school students.

As it did last year, the district will use two trailers at the Appleby School for fifth-grade classrooms, Jess said.

The district also faces a high turnover rate among staff, having lost 34 staff members — including teachers, administrators and secretaries, according to Jess. As of Aug. 23, the district had filled 31 of the vacancies, however.

"A lot of it has to do with people retiring. Others may be able to earn a better salary elsewhere," Jess said.

"Our turnover is probably equal to many districts," said Vaz.

The turnover is particularly a challenge in areas such as mathematics, science, special education and foreign language, where the demands for teachers outweigh the supply, Vaz said.

A new program that will provide mentoring and support to incoming teachers has been implemented to help get more teachers into the district, Vaz said.

"This is to say to them, ‘We’re here to help you and want you to stay,’ " Jess said.

The program, called "A New Teacher Orientation," takes teachers into Helmetta and Milltown to see the schools there and be introduced to students, he said.

"We also teach them certain approaches, like saying ‘This is how you handle disciplinary problems,’ " he said.

The district also has a new master Web site and recently began a cable television station.

It has had a Web site for a while, but will launch the master site in November, Vaz said. The cable station, Channel 3 in Spotswood, was started in the spring.

As for the goals the Board of Education has set for the year, Vaz said they include successfully passing the referendum and continuing with curriculum revisions.

"The goal is to provide a great education to all students and help move Spotswood into the next century with upgrades of all facilities," Jess said.

As for security issues, Jess said the district has avoided any potential problems.

"We’ve been fortunate, and all the doors are locked," he said. "We’ve been lucky that we have a very good staff that pays attention to the needs of students and the school."

Schools are set to open on Sept. 5, with staff reporting on Sept. 4. School is scheduled to run through June 19.