Morana to Christie: Pre-K is closing achievement gap

R.B. schools chief tries to head off potential budget cuts

BY KIMBERLY STEINBERG Staff Writer

Red Bank School Superintendent Laura C. Morana isn’t waiting for Gov.-elect Chris Christie to take office and begin making funding cuts, possibly to programs like the school district’s highly successful preschool.

With news surfacing of a larger-thananticipated state budget deficit, Morana has invited Christie to visit and see firsthand how preschool education is making a difference in the community.

She said during a meeting with the press on Nov. 12 that she has extended an invitation to Christie and is urging him to keep funding in place for the district’s prekindergarten program.

“Our district has found, and a substantial body of research has shown, that quality early-childhood education is essential for closing the achievement gap,” Morana wrote in the letter to Christie dated Nov. 5.

Morana wants the incoming governor to understand the importance of the preschool program before he takes an ax to the state budget.

“I’d hope he’d come to visit right away before taking office. I don’t know how many preschool programs he’s visited, but we have a high-quality program and I want to share our experience with him,” Morana said.

Morana explained that during his campaign for governor, Christie criticized Gov. Jon Corzine’s preschool plan as statefunded babysitting. Christie said he would end funding for it except in the state’s Abbott districts, she said.

However, the borough’s prekindergarten program has received accolades throughout the 2008-09 school year from researchers at Harvard, Georgetown, New York, Johns Hopkins universities and at the universities of Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Additionally, the Foundation for Child Development and the New American Foundation have cited the borough’s program as an exemplary model that has at its core challenging, developmentally appropriate and innovative practices to promote and sustain student learning through third grade.

The district’s assessment data of the program shows “steady growth over a threeyear period,” Morana said.

Red Bank is one of five non-Abbott districts in the state selected to pilot the preschool program for 3-year-olds in 2008-09.

“We have data for the last three years of kids who started the program, into the second grade; 90 percent of them are meeting all the standards,” she said.

“If children have a solid education from prekindergarten to grade three, they’re guaranteed to be successful. We have the data to support it,” Morana said.

She wants to ensure that state funding for the preschool program is maintained, which would allow the program to expand from its current 165 students to 225 in September 2010. business climate for the coastal region,” Burry said.

“This plan focuses on the need to support the arts, entertainment and cultural centers as hubs of economic activity and looks to protect environmental centers for conservation, recreation and the educational process,” Burry added.

To create the plan, the county formed a regional collaborative made up of three to four residents from each of the participating municipalities working in municipal action committees. The collaborative allowed each town to express its vision for future development.

The collaborative included regional stakeholders representing the business, arts, entertainment, environmental and housing communities.

“We met with every single town,” Barris said. “Not only did we have meetings with the regional collaborative, but after the whole project started, we met with different stakeholders in the state, different state agencies, and we met with different county agencies.

“There is a lot of commonality in the region: the coastline, certain highway corridors, blueways and greenways.”

Items discussed at the Nov. 4 public information session included enhancements to the region’s economic, transportation and environmental needs.

Under the draft plan, the county will seek to create arts, cultural and entertainment centers in Red Bank, Long Branch, Asbury Park, Belmar and Manasquan. These centers will focus on the development of arts and entertainment in areas that have been designated by their municipalities as cultural hubs.

According to the plan, arts, cultural and entertainment activities are a primary component of marketing. The Monmouth County Arts Council developed the Blueprint for the Arts, a plan for developing, expanding and marketing arts and cultural activities. This marketing plan is already under way in Red Bank, where the municipality is being marketed as an arts and cultural destination.

A

similar approach

would be taken in Long Branch, where the city is undergoing a resurgence with redevelopment along the oceanfront. Further enhancing the city as a cultural destination will be the planned Broadway Arts Center and renovation of the historic Paramount Theatre.

With each of the proposed ACE centers connected via NJ Transit’s Northeast Coastline, the plan also calls for the renovation of several local train stations.

Of particular note is the Long Branch station, which, according to Maser Consulting team member Marcia Shiffman, has been suggested as a place where major upgrades can be implemented to improve travel times and ridership.

Other enhancements to the region include a proposed scenic byway that would run along the coast from Sea Bright to Manasquan and across the region at two separate points.

The plan calls for each participating municipality to designate a roadway within its borders as a section of the byway.

The roadway, Barris said, would highlight certain features such as shopping, historical or environmental areas. Portions of the roadway could be designated as a part of the byway through signage or other markers.

In terms of environmental conservation, the plan calls for the protection and improvement of waterways and open space. The inclusion of environmental centers of activity in the plan, Barris said, will allow residents and tourists to visit and use the region’s coastline and many lakes and rivers as well as open areas for recreational purposes.

“Everybody usually has a disconnect to the environment,” Barris said. “It’s someplace else that we are trying to protect. It impacts us, but nobody realizes it’s all around you.

“What I wanted was to make people realize, when you go to an ECA like Shark River, when you are boating or kayaking or fishing, dining and overlooking it, that environmental feature has weight as a center, just like going to visit Red Bank for the theater or dining or shopping,” Barris said.

In addition to improving the recreational value of natural features, the coastal plan seeks to protect endangered species by working to lessen the impact recreational activities have on environmentally sensitive areas.

According to Barris, the participation of each municipality in the coastal plan is not a requirement. However, participating in the plan could prove beneficial to municipalities that apply for grants.

A final draft of the plan is scheduled for completion in the coming months, with a presentation expected at a public hearing in February. The final plan is scheduled to be finished in April.

For more information on the Coastal Monmouth Plan, visit www.co.monmouth. nj.us.

Contact Daniel Howley at

dhowley@gmnews.com.