Long Branch realigns elementary schools

Staff Writer

 Michael Salvatore Michael Salvatore Long Branch Superintendent of Schools Michael Salvatore has announced the restructuring of district schools to alleviate overcrowding and improve continuity at the early-childhood and elementary-school levels.

Changes include closing the West End School and realigning grade levels for at least six other schools.

Salvatore said during a special meeting of the Board of Education on Aug. 22 that the plan will go into effect at the start of the 2014-15 school year, and it will see almost all district students attending school in a newer facility.

“Almost every single elementary student will go through a modern or contemporary school with this plan,” he said. “Every elementary kid, for the most part, will go through a school built in the 21st century.”

The district operates 10 schools and has an enrollment of approximately 5,500 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Currently, the district educates approximately 1,150 preschool and kindergarten students.

Long Branch is one of the state’s 31 former Abbott districts, which receive increased state funding based on a 1985 court ruling that identified the state’s poorest districts based on poverty and educational inadequacy. For the upcoming school year, the district received approximately $52 million in state funding toward the approximately $80 million operating budget.

According to Edye Maier, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Schools Development Authority (SDA), the price tag for the George L. Catrambone Elementary School, which is under construction, is $40.1 million, paid for with SDA funds.

Maier said construction of four other district schools was funded using SDA monies. This included $27.6 million for the Amerigo A. Anastasia School; $28.5 million for the new Gregory School; $62.2 million for the Long Branch Middle School; and $81.2 million for Long Branch High School.

The changes announced on Aug. 22 include adding kindergarten classes to both the Joseph M. Ferraina Early Childhood Learning Center and the Lenna W. Conroy School, both of which currently educate preschoolers ages 3-4.

The plan also calls for the Morris Avenue School, which currently houses students in preschool through third grade, to join the Ferraina and Conroy schools as a third, full-time, early-childhood school.

“Morris is a one-story, flat school. We just spent almost $1 million last summer renovating it,” Salvatore said. “You have [self-contained] classrooms and state-of-the-art technology.”

With the addition of kindergarten to the three early childhood schools, that grade level will be eliminated at both the Gregory School and the Amerigo A. Anastasia School, which will house grades one to five next fall.

“Right now, we have roughly 740 students at Gregory and Anastasia,” Salvatore said. “With this, we look to be around 680. The original [Gregory School] was built for 550, and we have been working at a capacity of almost 800,” he added. “You can see we can certainly alleviate that.”

The district’s newest facility, the Catrambone School, which is under construction on Park Avenue in the Elberon section, will become the district’s third elementary school, with students in first to fifth grades. Salvatore said the school, which is expected to house about 850 students, would be the largest elementary school in the district. He said the plans call for about 57 classrooms.

Students currently in first through fifth grade at the West End, Morris Avenue and Audrey Clark schools would compose the first class of the Catrambone School.

The district’s elementary bilingual and special education classrooms will also be split equally between the Catrambone, Gregory and Anastasia schools.

A casualty of the plan will be the West End School, built more 100 years ago. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade will attend the school during 2013-14.

“We recently went out for an appraisal, so we are looking to sell the West End School,” Salvatore said. “There is high interest in West End School because of the location. Not only is it three blocks from the ocean, it is also within walking distance of stores and restaurants.”

Salvatore said one of the major benefits of the plan is that pre-kindergarten students would no longer change schools when they enter kindergarten.

“From a parent’s perspective, nothing is better than walking your child to school on the first day of school and knowing they are going to be there for three years,” he said. “You know the school, you know the faces in the school — and that is what we were trying to create there.”

At least one parent at the meeting agreed.

“As a parent, I would really like my child starting school to be pre-K to kindergarten in the same school. I think that creates more stability for them,” a Long Branch mother said.

Currently, the district is renting space at Holy Trinity School on Prospect Avenue for the alternate school program, which educates students who perform better in a smaller classroom setting.

Salvatore said the Audrey W. Clark School, which currently educates students in third through fifth grade, would become a full-time alternate school next year.

With the added space for the alternate program, Salvatore said the district might try to enroll students from outside the district, providing a revenue stream for the district.

According to Salvatore, the district will have an enrollment of approximately 5,500 students in the upcoming school year. Class size is factored into the restructuring plan for the schools.

“Our incoming 4-year-olds are one of the largest 4-year-old classes we’ve ever seen in this district — we have more than 450 4-yearold students,” he said. “In planning a big move, you have to look at how many students [are] in each classroom, how many students [are] in each grade level, and then you have to say how many are going to be there next year.”

Another reason the district is realigning the schools is new housing developments that are expected to generate students.

Salvatore said district officials still have to work out issues involving transportation and timing, and will do so over the next year.

The district’s restructuring plan is subject to approval by both the state Department of Education and the county superintendent.