In a recent TAP letter Mr. Reinstein stated the BOE has taken an objective view that benefits all students in our district by implementing full-day K; and I agree that full-day Kindergarten would benefit many future kindergarten students and families in our district. But the reason families are concerned about redistricting is not because of full-day kindergarten. I believe there are steps we can take to open full-day kindergarten while preserving the qualities that make our neighborhood elementary schools distinct.
Families with young children impacted directly or indirectly by this change, who disagree with the solutions being offered, are concerned about the quality of our school district. They are not brash or far-reaching for doing this. They like everybody have other things they would like to focus on like moving on with their lives after COVID. But they are the families with so-called “skin in the game” so they cannot (and should not) be ok with this. They have children who might be uprooted from their schools and, given the close proximity of a walkable elementary school being sold to them when they purchased their homes, they are worried their real estate might plummet.
These families moved here for the same reasons as families who preceded them. They saw in Berkeley Heights a community with highly competitive schools that are unpretentious at the same time. Sports teams are rooted in time-honored tradition; theater and the arts flourish; and our academics are top-notch, no-nonsense rigorous. They did not see that same balance of rigor and irreverence anywhere but here as that is for many of us something that makes Berkeley Heights special and unique.
Our town is diverse, increasingly so, and that is a wonderful thing. This richness is growing because of so many hard-working volunteers who dedicate their energy to expanding on a special combination of kindness, toughness and veneration for those who are different. That character affords communities like Woodruff, Hughes and Mountain Park the potential to flourish and be exceptional. And it is that element of exceptionality that our town needs to preserve. Our neighborhood schools are great because of their uniqueness not in spite of it.
Our teachers know best how to envision and design optimal classrooms because that’s what they were trained to do. They understand how to teach students with different needs. They have mastered how to design classrooms that will nurture all students; and by that I also mean the whole child. Our principals, teachers and mental health staff are well-equipped to advise on best practice so their views must be included in decisions that will impact their students. We do not have to defer to outside sources that cost too much money or superintendents of other school districts to know what is best for our students.
When a third party is sited as an expert that does not necessarily mean they know what’s best for our school district. Ideas should be vetted. Going from three elementary schools to two will result in larger class sizes not smaller ones. If we want small schools then we should keep the elementary schools we have and leave them where they are. Redistricting would not reduce the student population at MKM if you are adding full-day kindergarten as those additional students would offset the number of children leaving. That said we absolutely need to support full-day Kindergarten in the fall and make that happen since that’s what families were promised. Further we cannot minimize the dangerous drop-off/pick-up conditions, which are currently abysmal and would not change with redistricting. So that and full-day Kindergarten need to be addressed simultaneously.
We should implement full-day Kindergarten at MKM in the fall by working with the community and Township officials to mitigate potential unintended impacts on student schedules and traffic. Taking these steps would enable us to preserve the closeness and personality of our neighborhood elementary school communities while providing families of kindergarteners a comprehensive full-day Kindergarten schedule and curriculum. Please vote NO on all proposed solutions tonight but allow full-day Kindergarten to go forward as promised.
Thank you for your time and consideration.