Superintendent outlines school-year highlights

Inflatable planetarium to rotate around buildings

By John Tredrea
   A new inflatable planetarium that can be set up in five minutes and packed into a duffel bag will be rotated around the six Hopewell Valley schools this year, Superintendent Judith Ferguson said Tuesday.
   The cost of the $20,000 planetarium, called Star Lab, was split by Bristol-Myers Squibb (B-MS) and the Hopewell Valley Education Foundation. B-MS has a large research center Hopewell Township. The foundation is a nonprofit, formed about 15 years ago to help the school district.
   "This promises to be a very popular acquisition," Dr. Ferguson said of the Star Lab. "It can be used across many disciplines — science, social studies, math, literature — because it comes with state approved curricula. Even teachers of our autistic students have begun planning lessons using it. As for the kids, they’re going to love it."
   Dr. Ferguson’s other back-to-school news includes:
   • The Social Norming project at Timberlane will continue this year and be expanded to include Central High School as well, the superintendent said. "We started this late last spring with the Timberlane students, with a focus on bullying and harassment," she said.
   At Central High School, the focus will be drugs and alcohol, she added, noting that Hopewell Valley is one of 11 districts in the state to participate in this pilot program, which is being administered by Rowan University.
   "An intriguing approach to shaping behavior, Social Norming has been used in corporations and colleges and universities, but is just emerging as a tool for use on high school and middle school campuses to help guide youth toward healthy lifestyle choices," Dr. Ferguson said.
   In addition, noted bullying author Rachel Simmons will speak to the Hopewell Valley community in February. Thanks to a grant from the Hopewell Valley Education Foundation, Ms. Simmons will address parents, staff and girls in grades seven to nine. A companion program for boys also will be offered.
   • The superintendent said completion of a fiber-optic link between Timberlane Middle School and Central High School will allow two-way video feeds between the schools and permit more ambitious multimedia presentations than has heretofore been the case.
   "The project will enable students in both schools to receive transmissions from around their own campus, such as an address from the principal in his/her office, as well as the other campus, including the high school’s TV studio and the Performing Arts Center," Dr. Ferguson said.
   "Cable news, formerly available in just the school’s media centers and select classrooms, will now be available in all classrooms. The new infrastructure will allow teachers in every classroom to incorporate computers, DVDs and VCRs in their instruction. Later this fall we expect to add the capability to receive satellite transmissions," the superintendent added.
   • The $8.7 million addition to Timberlane Middle School, begun this summer, is on schedule for a January 2007 opening, the superintendent said. When completed, it will add seven new classrooms to the eighth-grade wing, two science labs, an additional gym and a new band room. Interior renovations, expected to be completed in time for school opening this year, include renovated student lavatories, near the cafeteria, and expanded child study offices and nurse’s office.
   • Effective this September, all courtesy busing and subdivision and cul-de-sac pickups district-wide are eliminated. The decision to cut courtesy busing, a nonmandated service, followed a study of walking conditions at the district’s six schools.
   The study concluded that students formerly receiving this discretionary service — most in Brandon Farms — have safe access to their neighborhood schools, the superintendent said. She noted: "The change affecting students living in cul-de-sacs was a decision made for reasons of equity and efficiency. A recent review of transportation practices revealed that one-third of students living in cul-de-sacs were being picked up within their immediate neighborhoods, while the remaining two-thirds were walking to bus stops outside their cul-de-sacs. Last year, Hopewell Valley was the only area school district that routed buses within cul-de-sacs."
   Another transportation change: late-bus service, which has been reduced from four to two days (Tuesday and Thursday). Late buses run about 90 minutes later than normal to accommodate Timberlane Middle School and CHS students staying behind for club meetings, homework help and sports practices.
   "The elimination of courtesy busing and the reduction in late buses were budget-related decisions, reached by the board, which is struggling to preserve core educational programming in the face of increasingly difficult budget constraints," Dr. Ferguson said.