More science and technology in the classroom, college classes in Verona High School and no fifth graders in the middle school: That was the vision of Verona’s public schools presented by new Superintendent Steven A. Forte at a special meeting on Wednesday, March 20.
Some of this vision is already reality and some of it is in progress. But some of it may never come to pass. Forte conceded that moving fifth graders out of H.B. Whitehorne Middle School, where they have been for almost 20 years, will be difficult. “I’m not crazy about fifth graders in the middle school,” he said. “If I had my choice, I would do it.” Verona moved 6th graders to the middle school in 1969 and fifth graders in 1994.
Forte noted that some New Jersey districts have returned to a K-5 model, and that others, in urban areas, have extended it to K-8. Indeed, with the exception of Cedar Grove, which also has a middle school for grades 5 to 8, Verona is pretty much surrounded by school districts that keep fifth graders in elementary schools, including Caldwell, Montclair and West Orange. Glen Ridge has grades K-2 at one school, 3-6 at another, and 7th graders and up are in the high school. Our Lady of the Lake’s school in Verona is a K-8 model.
Forte is moving quickly to implement something that he had instituted in his previous job in Hasbrouck Heights–so-called dual enrollment classes. In this program, college classes will be offered at Verona High School at a cost per credit that is far below the usual tuition charge. Some classes will be held during the school year, and some over the summer. The first three classes will begin this summer: a writing class and a session on the history of the Vietnam War from Caldwell College and a culinary arts program from Bergen County Community College. But Forte said he expects to add more Caldwell College courses, as well as offerings from Syracuse University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The latter will be part of his build-up of Verona’s STEM curriculum, the science, technology, engineering and math work that today’s kids will need to succeed in the future. And Forte dangled the possibility that that Verona’s partnership with NJIT could also bring in a LEGO robotics program in the lower grades, something that would almost certainly be popular in LEGO-mad Verona.
The remarks on the future were capped with a quick view of the immediate prospects for Verona’s school. Forte walked the small audience through the 2012-2013 budget, which is available for all to peruse online. But Forte indicated that he is already beginning to work on the 2013-2014 budget and that it could include a few new revenue streams, like tuition-paying students from other districts. Verona currently garners about $30,000 a year from a handful of outsiders. Forte has placed an ad in neighboring newspapers inviting more to enroll in Verona. The offer is for general education students only, and any students accepted would have to reapply each year.
“We won’t take everybody Forte said. “We won’t take people who will cost us money.” That latter point is key: Verona had an ill-fated experiment with recruiting out-of-district special education students under a former superintendent a decade ago.
Here’s what Forte had to say about how a new STEM curriculum might play out in Verona.