HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ -- Hasbrouck Heights Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Helfant held a Superintendent’s Roundtable on Monday, May 20, to get residents’ feedback on the idea of realigning the two elementary schools so that all students in any particular grade would be in the same building.

If this change were made, all students in Kindergarten through second grade would attend Euclid School, and all in third through fifth grade would attend Lincoln School. Several residents, primarily parents, attended the forum and voiced their opinions, both pro and con. Teachers in the district also weighed in on the subject.

If implemented, this idea – which is not a new one – would eliminate the current “neighborhood school” configuration, with students from one section of Hasbrouck Heights students attending one school, and those in another section attending the other. If approved by the Board of Education this year, it is anticipated that the change would be made beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

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Helfant squelched the growing rumor that the Board had already voted on it and that it was a “done deal.”

“This is just the beginning stage of the conversation,” he said. He also emphasized that at this stage, he was not trying to “sell” the idea, but merely to obtain feedback from parents.

Helfant said that this would not be a referendum question for the public to decide, but that it is something that the Board would vote on. He explained that following the roundtable, the issue would go to the Board for discussion, after which would be held a much more elaborate public presentation of the idea before the Board would vote on it. As of now, he said, the Board hasn’t been given a comprehensive presentation on the idea of realignment.

Helfant acknowledged the pros and cons of making such a move.

He noted what he said would be the educational benefits of this change – there would be collaboration between all the district teachers for a particular grade level, resulting in more consistency in instruction. He also said that it would lower the cost of professional development programs and special-education programs, as there would be less travel time for specialists.

Discussing the cons of realigning the schools, Helfant acknowledged that “the biggest headache would be for the parents.” He noted that it would result in a farther commute for some students, many of whom walk to school. “That is a definite con,” he acknowledged.

He also said that, in fact, some students already have a long commute. Because Lincoln School is full, some students who would normally attend Lincoln are attending Euclid.

Even for those families who drive their children to school, this move would mean that they would need to drive to as many as three different schools – Euclid, Lincoln, and the Middle/High School.

“One of the biggest things that always sinks this topic is transportation,” Helfant said.

The topic had actually been “sunk” years ago, when Joseph Luongo was Superintendent of Schools. He had been strongly in favor of making such a move, but because of the acutely negative reaction that he encountered from the public at that time, he had never gone forward with the idea. Then as now, the inconvenience of having to travel to different schools was one of the big negatives.

For this reason, Helfant said, the schools would have staggered start times if the plan was implemented, so as to make the travel time less harried. The school day at Euclid (K-2) would be from 8:25 a.m. to 3:08 p.m., and the Lincoln (3-5) school day would be from 8:10 to 2:53. The start and dismissal times of the Middle/High School would remain the same, 7:55 a.m. to 2:39 p.m.

Helfant also acknowledged that in the beginning, there would be significant changing of school buildings from year to year for some students.

As part of his presentation, Helfant also answered some questions he thought might be asked. He said that crossing guards’ hours would not be altered. There would be KEYS after-school care in both schools. He also noted that, according to his projection, that some class sizes would slightly decrease, some would slightly increase, and that the size of the first grade classes would remain the same.

In determining the right principal for the right school, Helfant said that reading is a crucial issue for K-2. “I would want someone in the K-2 level who has a very strong background in reading,” he said.

Helfant said that a survey of parents had been conducted around December and January, and that they had received 238 responses. On a scale of 1 through 5 – 1 being the most favorable and 5 being the least – the rundown was this: (1): 34.8%. (2): 6%. (3): 19.5%. (4): 22.3%. (5): 17.4%. A few parents, however, noted that they never received any survey.

The difficulty in moving from one school to another was one of the issues audience members had with the idea. It was stated that moving to a new school is difficult enough for those students entering middle school, let alone younger children. One audience member said that she had done research and had found that children who are shifted around a lot have many difficulties.

Another parent said that her family lives a block from her child’s school and that this move would result in quite a long walk.

One parent who was in favor of the realignment said that she would make the sacrifice of a more challenging commute because of other benefits, notably, that her daughter would be able to mingle with all members of her grade level, and that assemblies would be more uniform. Another expressed the view that special-needs kids would benefit from the change.

Another parent said that it “almost feels like two districts” in town because when the students get to middle school, there is a rivalry between those on the Euclid side and those on the Lincoln side. “Let’s eliminate that,” he said.

Another parent saw it differently, saying that she believed there was a benefit to being in a smaller group, comparing it to “a little family.”

Others who were in favor of the realignment noted that there are different activities in the two schools; one parent said that when she was in grade school, she would have liked to have taken part in jump-rope, but that her school didn’t have it while the other did. Another, who was against the move, asked: why not just have jump-rope in both schools?

One audience member said that when she told her young son the topic that would be discussed at the roundtable that night, he “nearly jumped off the couch” and said, “Can we start tomorrow?” Another expressed the view that special-needs kids would benefit from the change.

One person hoped that perhaps this change would result in more services for the students; for instance, she said it would be good if the district brought back library time for the children, which she said they would enjoy more than just grabbing a book to take out.

As Helfant had noted that the realignment may result in the reduction of staff – who may be then reassigned to the pre-school – teacher Michael Warren said that the district shouldn’t be so quick to eliminate a position, that there have been some years in which there was a spike in the student population.

Lincoln School teacher Danielle Reynolds said that, in her educational experience, teaching fourth grade is much different from teaching the younger grades. She said that the schools would benefit from being centered on either the younger or the older students, with assemblies, programs, and Field Days all geared toward the same age groups.

“The whole school will be centered,” Reynolds said.

Asked if a traffic study had been conducted in regard to this issue, Helfant said that there had not. One audience member said he was intrigued by the lack of scientific data presented at the meeting, Helfant said that even some Board members were surprised that he was going before the public with no data. He said that it was not his intention to try to sell the idea strongly at this stage of the conversation, but that he only wanted to go before the public and get their feedback.

He noted that it would be a natural for him to present facts and figures to prove his case, but that he didn’t want anyone to get the idea that he was trying to ram the concept down people’s throats. The data would come later in a more elaborate presentation, he said.

Helfant said that two administrators had offered to come out that night and make the case to the audience, but that he didn’t want to start that yet.

Asked if the Board of Education might be influenced by the results of the survey, Helfant said that they would never decide based on that. He said that, in fact, the Board is mixed on the issue; and revealed that two Board members had already told him that they didn’t think it was a good idea.

One Board member who is in favor of the realignment is Pat Caruso, who was in the audience that night. She said that she bought a house in town twenty years ago, and that if the schools had had the K-2 and 3-5 configuration then, she didn’t think that would have changed her mind about moving into town.

“This is far from settled,” Caruso assured, adding that she was glad to see a lot of people showing interest. “I thank you for coming out,” she said.


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