NEWTON, NJ—On Tuesday, March 28, Jeff Waldron, Principal of Newton High School led a tour of the facility before the board of education meeting, in conjunction with the “school facilities plan” that the board has been proposing.
Along for the tour were board members, Ed Caffrey, John Jackson, Anthony Neggers, AnnMarie Cooke, Vice-President Jessica Eigner, Superintendent Dr. Ken Greene, Business Administrator Donna Snyder, Deputy Mayor Wayne Levante, Christ Community Church’s pastor Frank Leon, and two residents of Newton.
The original building which was built in 1954, has not been renovated aside from "little tweaks here and there since then," according to Waldron.
The tour began on C level which houses the library, history classes, the band room and the choir room. Last year the choir room was extended into the storage room next door to make more room for the students.
“Since the school is now teaching Advanced Music Theory as a class in the choir room,” explained Waldron, “the students needed more room in order to be able to fit a full class inside.”
The band room, as well as the restrooms at the end of the hallway, are too small to accommodate the high school students. it was noted on the tour.
“As you can see,” chimed in Greene during the tour, “there is not even enough room in the band room for all the student’s instruments to be able to be put away at the end of the day.”
There are approximately 750 students in the high school currently. Snyder showed the group one of the bathrooms in the C level hallway that has not been renovated since it was built in the 50’s, in comparison to one next to the gym that was renovated and made handicap accessible.
The next stop on the tour was the auditorium, which is home to the plays and musicals as well as some club meetings, presentations, back-to-school nights, and more.
“Anytime we do a production, we have to rent a sound and lighting system because we currently do not have our own sound and lighting board,” said Waldron.
Greene told the group that the board of education has included a special project in next year’s budget that will affect the auditorium. Money will be put into getting the auditorium equipped with the most up to date technology for lighting and sound.
Newton High School has many “Walls of Honor” all around the school, highlighting the achievements and accomplishments of many residents and alumni. The first, the “Newton High School Hall of Fame” began back in the 90’s and is organized each year by the Newton Pride Foundation.
“There are so many incredible graduates and our alumni population is so strong. There is a remarkable collection of people,” said Waldron. “We have such a long proud history.”
Snyder remarked that “there is a lot of generational pride here too." Jackson noted “Newton has the most wrestling championships in the entire state.”
Lower E Level, which houses the World Languages, is also home to the old computer lab, which is now primarily used for Yearbook or programs which are too large to work on the school's Chromebooks.
This year, the school began a one-on-one initiative where each freshman received a Chromebook to use throughout the year, while the sophomores, juniors, and seniors share the laptops that are available in various locations in the school. In two years’ time, every student will have their own Chromebook.
G level, an exact replica of Upper E Level, houses the English classes, while upper E is home to the mathematics classes, as well as the gymnasium at the end of the hallway.
The gymnasium, which seats at maximum capacity 500 people, is used for physical education classes, indoor sports practices, sports games and other activities. It is also used by the community.
The lobby has been upgraded with a new state mandated water fountain that can be used to fill water bottles and even counts how many times it is used. The lobby is also used, much to Waldron’s disliking, for storage due to the limited amount of space the school has for sports equipment as well as physical education equipment.
“Our gym lobby doubles as our storage. We are a bit short on storage and the one closet in the lobby is really the only space that we have. We don’t even have the ability to store the physical education equipment that we use and we end up having to leave it in the lobby,” said Waldron. “It is one of my least favorite things with regard to presentation but in terms of functionality, it is necessary.”
The gym is currently having work done on a portion of the basketball court that was damaged during Winter Storm Stella. Snow was blown in through the vents on top of the building and while the maintenance and custodial crews were working on clearing the snow from outside, water was getting underneath the court inside.
The small portion of the court that was affected is being replaced, repainted and sealed for the time being until school is out, when the entire gym floor can be refinished. It has not been done in at least five years, according to Snyder and Waldron.
Outside the gymnasium, in the lobby as well as wrapping around and down to the boys’ locker room is the second wall of accomplishments for Newton High School. There are individual accomplishments as well as team accomplishments.
The athletic director, Ryan Hashway, is working on a new layout for the athletic awards so they can be placed in the lobby for all to see.
Inside the gymnasium a large, wooden, separator is housed in the middle, unless not being used, in which case it is pushed to the sides next to the bleachers.
“The sliding doors are one of the things identified on the inadequacies list that we would like to be able to replace at some point,” commented Greene.
“Nowadays," Levante said, “they have a tarp that is rolled up and hangs from the ceiling that can be used as a separator.”
Next stop, nearing the end of the tour, were the locker rooms, which have only had minor improvements with the removal of center benches at the request of the coaches. The modification allows for better visibility and room for team meetings.
The D and F levels are home to the science rooms for the students as well as the Agricultural Department and special education classrooms.
“We produce some of the finest scientists in the county and state and our kids are always number one and number two in the county in science leagues," Waldron said.
At the end of the hallway is the life skills class. The classroom was renovated, according to Snyder, about five years ago.
Waldron said the main goal of the class is to “get them ready to leave high school and go into the work force. The program is designed as a work study program, so our students come in as freshman and they learn the basics and experiences and then as they get older, they go out and have partnerships with local businesses, like Tri-County Rental and participate in a vocation of sorts there.”
The final stretch of the tour led through the agricultural building. The computer lab, which will no longer needed due to the use of the Chromebooks, is the back part of the Ag. Shop.
Classes in the shop range from floriculture or flower study, aquaculture, the study of fish, landscaping and more. Officers and students who participate in the Future Farmers of America group have the opportunity to go to state conventions and competitions and even national competitions. They consistently win awards for identifying certain fruits and vegetables to identifying land graphs and more, as is evident by the plaques that line most of the walls in the upper level.
The lower level of the building is home to many fish; primarily tilapia. Students involved in the aquaculture class are able to take the classroom lessons that they learn about fish and theories that go along with it and apply it and experience it first-hand.
“The agricultural building is one of the first pieces (buildings) of the high school,” said Waldron. “In fact, when the high school was in the Halsted school building, the agriculture shop was here and the football field, to my understanding, was farm land. So the Future Farmers of America were conducting business here long before the high school ever came here. We’ve kind of built around them and they are still a vital part of the school without question.”
The final part of the tour of the Newton high school facility was the cafeteria, which as Waldron put it “is smaller than it needs to be to house three lunches. We are only able to do so because we support off-campus lunches, students can leave campus for lunch."
Greene, who was took lead discussing the shortcomings of the building, agreed the cafeteria was on that list as well.
“This was another one of the inadequacies identified in the facilities assessment, in regards to the size of the room, in addition to the kitchen. The kitchen here cooks the meals for all three schools. We make do with what we have, but it’s still not adequate.”
The tour ended back at the library in time for the board of education meeting, which had on its agenda for the night, the Enthusiastic Readers awards, the Mock Trial Team’s overview of their season, and a resolution “authorizing certain actions in connection with a proposed school facilities project."