Parents Bring Up Concerns & Questions At February 17th ECC Meeting

Last Thursday night, a group of parents met with Roselle Park School District (RPSD) representatives to discuss the proposed future of the pre-kindergarten program currently housed at the John Adase Early Childhood Center (ECC). Superintendent Pedro Garrido – along with Board Of Education (BOE) members Chris Miller and Joseph Signorello, Jr. – as well as ECC Director Hipolita Paula Sicignano and Special Services Director Marie Mormelo, were on hand to provide information.

Superintendent Garrido addressed parents by explaining about the February 7th BOE meeting when information was first made public on plans to vacate the ECC in June due to a breakdown in negotiations. The plan is to have temporary modular classes in a modernized double-wide trailer next to the Roselle Park High School (RPHS) where the basketball courts are currently located.

Mr. Garrido stated, “One of the things that I wanted to clear up from last week [is] I don’t think the information was clearly delivered. It really wasn’t the intention not to deliver or answer your questions. It’s just that some questions we just – at this point – cannot answer and at that meeting, we could not answer. We do have some real information that we have for you tonight that I think is going to make it a little easier for you to start seeing that this is going to work.”

The superintendent went over the proposal to have the pre-kindergarten program for legally eligible students move from the ECC to modular trailers by September of this year. One point he corrected had to do with a statement he publicly made a week before regarding the length of time temporary classrooms are allowable by the state. He previously said the duration was two years but at the ECC meeting, he said, “We can’t be in modular classrooms for more than, actually the state allows it for five years. We don’t want to be there for more than two years as we transition to, hopefully, a home of near home for the ECC.”

He stated, before opening the floor for questions, that neither he nor the BOE could not comment on anything regarding rental or any possible negotiations, including whether or not the district is considering buying the property outright. Mr. Garrido added, “We will be meeting with you on a monthly basis to make sure that you have the latest information and you’re updated as we go along with this process. So next month, when we come back, we may have additional information for you in terms of what the classrooms will look like, maybe pictures of the classrooms, what the program is going to be like, which right now it looks like it’s going to be identical to what your children have here.”

At the February 7th BOE meeting, it was mentioned that tuition-based students would not be at the modular trailer units but on February 14th it was stated that tuition-based students are expected to remain at this point but new students will not be accepted unless there is a large demand for new enrollment. It was also revealed that the extended school year program and summer ESL (English as a Second Language) program – at this point – is set to be at Aldene School.

After the presentation, parents were allowed to comment and ask questions. One mother remarked, “As far as the playground, I’m assuming it’ll be fenced in? Do we have to be on high school property? I’m not exactly thrilled about my… four-year-old on the grounds with 15, 16, 17-year-olds. I hate to say it [but] I don’t care what anybody says, the kids smoke. They curse.”

She was told that logistics are being addressed to make sure high school students are in before ECC students are in. Mr. Garrido responded, “The reason they have to go next to the high school is that, by code, we don’t have any space in any of the other elementary schools without taking playgrounds away.”

Another question asked had to do with whether children who attend classes in the morning for special education will still be able to remain in the afternoon as a tuition-based student. Ms. Mormelo replied, “Yes.”

Another parent remarked, “The act of moving . . . it’s a huge undertaking. So, the time horizon for this seems incredibly short and the two years seems really optimistic to me . . . I understand that it’s only two years but then what happens if it’s three or four or five? Then we have to rethink about it again as a community. It seems it’s all very much ‘we have to do this now because of the economic situation right now’ and then [in] two years, we’re going to be in the same spot.”

“Everything has to be explored, but I cannot go into detail about any future plans,” said Mr. Garrido, “but there is a plan for the future. Not only is it going to be in the best interest of the students but also in the best interest of taxpayers and the citizens of Roselle Park. There has to be a vision, and I understand the optimism. I’m a very optimistic person.”

Resident and father Robert Domanski addressed his concerns, saying “A lot of people in this room just do not want this to happen . . . You can frame this however you want in terms of mods . . . The bottom line is you’re moving our kids into trailers, we don’t know what they look like, and we don’t like that idea, period.”

Mr. Garrido recounted that in his former school district, Guttenberg, modular trailer units were required to address overcrowded and, according to him, “They are beautiful.”

“Let me go a little further,” Mr. Domanski stated, “We keep hearing that the program will be identical. You can say that but environment matters in a school setting. When you move kids into a trailer, that environment is so drastically different . . . To say that in any shape way or form [that] the kids will have an identical experience is unbelievable. That’s not even remotely going to happen.”

Mr. Garrido responded, “It’s a change.”

“That’s the very nice way to put it,” said Mr. Domanski, “Is it a change for the better?”

Mr. Garrido offered an example, commenting, “Most of the children, when they age out of here, where do they go? To another environment.”

“Not a trailer,” replied Mr. Domanski.

Mr. Garrido remarked that by the next ECC meeting, a sketch or rendition of the modular units would be available to better show what the classroom will look like.

Mr. Domanski continued, “I appreciate that. It still won’t be the same. I also want to say [that] we also keep hearing that you’re trying to reassure us this is temporary. It’s temporary from the point of view of the Board of Ed. This is a two-year plan, but for our kids, this is a one-time shot. This is the only chance they have at pre-school. This is not temporary from the point of view from everyone in this room. So, you can stop saying that because you’re basically saying your kids’ pre-school experience will be in a trailer and we’re not happy about that.”

“I understand,” said the superintendent.

“I know you can’t on the negotiations as well but if there’s any way you’re allowed to indicate is it a done deal?” asked Mr. Domanski, “Are the negotiations absolutely over or is this still a possibility that we might be back here next year?”

Mr. Garrido stated he could not comment on that.

Ms. Mormelo interjected, “The environment where they’re coming from – a nice cozy building here and a really nice playground – I understand that is a part of their experience as well and so that is hard to take. I understand that. But I do feel that the teachers will do an amazing job of making your kids feel that the environment that they’re going to create for them will be a great experience and as good as it can be in a modular classroom.”

Another mother spoke, “I know we talked a lot about transparency, but you have to understand that from our side there’s really nothing transparent about this. It was only last week in which all this was fleshed out. This is happening soon. I can’t speak for everyone else [but] it doesn’t feel transparent to me. Maybe now in this discussion but we didn’t receive any notification . . . We keep talking about how great it is and it just reminds me of [a] campaign in politics. Always things are great but we don’t get any details.”

Other questions were brought up including whether a nurse would be in the temporary classrooms, how would security be handled from cameras to protocol, what would be the pick-up & drop-off times, where would occupational and physical therapy be held, and how would fire and other emergency drills be conducted. Mr. Garrido stated that these logistics have been or were being worked out. It was clarified during discussions that two classrooms would be in one double-wide type trailer and if a third classroom were added, it would be a separate unit.

Ms. Mormelo provided enrollment information and the projected number of future students. She said, “Currently, what our projections are for next year in the integrated classroom in the morning [is] there will be four special educations students and seven general ed students . . . In the afternoon there are four special ed students and seven general ed [students] as well . . . [a] total of 11.”

She said that currently there are about nine (9) early intervention referrals pending so those numbers might increase.

A mother asked, “If some of the tuition based kids decide to drop out . . . is there a chance that you would scrap that program totally if you don’t get enough numbers?”

Stating that if tuition-based parents start their children out of pre-k, then the district’s projections would be affected, Ms. Mormelo said, “Our hope is to – obviously – always have an integrated program for our children.”

BOE member Joseph Signorello contributed to the conversation, “I hope we don’t have to leave this building, but I pledge to you because time is [imperative], that we will be up and ready with a nice playground and fenced-in yard so on and so forth by the first day of school . . . You guys are right, it’s not going to be the same, but we’ll make the best [of it]. That’s why I’m here tonight. I’m part of buildings & grounds. I asked to be part of buildings & grounds. I’ll say I’m a little cocky, I can move mountains. I plan to make sure we go from here to there. You’ll see a little difference on the outside, but inside it’ll be warm and fuzzy.”

Mr. Garrido concurred, “I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not the same as being in a permanent location . . . but you will be pleasantly surprised . . . For us, five to ten years from now it’s a permanent location that we’re looking for, and it’s going to be a beautiful thing for the district long-term.”

At the end of the meeting, the date of March 16th was given as the next ECC meeting at 7 the Early Childhood Center. At that time, the district planned to have some graphic renditions of what is being proposed.