New Jersey’s public schools will take a big step forward today, as three quarters of school districts are expected to be welcoming students back, many for the first time since Hurricane Sandy.
Gov. Chris Christie devoted the start of his daily press briefing yesterday at a Westwood school to urge districts to get teaching again as quickly as they can — and it appeared that most were heeding the call.
According to unofficial tallies released by the state Department of Education late yesterday, 77 percent of districts and 69 percent of individual schools were slated to be open today – both big increases from Monday, let alone last week.
All but three counties are seeing a vast majority of districts open. The exceptions are Monmouth, Ocean and Somerset, where still only a fraction of schools are opening due to heavy damage and power outages in the aftermath of the storm.
Eight counties will see all their districts opening, including Essex, Camden and Mercer, according to the state’s numbers. Bergen County, the state’s most populous and among the hardest hit last week, will see 70 of 76 districts open on Wednesday, up from just 16 on Monday.
“Getting kids back to schools is an important part of our return to normalcy in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” Christie said yesterday before a bleacher full of students at Westwood’s Berkley School.
“None of it is easy, but we want schools to do everything they can to be creative to get children back,” he said. “That’s good for children, to see their friends. And it’s also good for parents, to get the kids out of the house.”
It hasn’t been easy for any school to get back on track, with schedules adjusted and extraordinary circumstances accommodated. For some, it was dual purpose yesterday as many hosted polling sites for Election Day, something for which New Jersey schools are typically closed.
Livingston’s Collins Elementary School was open for its second day of the week yesterday, cordoning off its cafeteria for the public to vote while its 400 kindergarten through fifth-grade students attended classes and ate lunch instead in the gym.
“We’re getting back into the groove,” said Principal John Leister. “The students were actually excited to get to eat in the gym. Some wanted to run around, and we had to remind them it was lunch.”
Out of a total enrollment of 425 students at Collins, about 45 students were out yesterday, a slight increase from Monday. The principal said he knew of some families that had made vacation plans for the week, given that schools were to have been closed Thursday and Friday for the New Jersey Education Association convention, which has since been cancelled.
Leister said just four of his school’s 67 teachers were out, some of them still grappling with Sandy’s aftermath in their hometowns, and he was looking forward to the full week of classes.
“We are excited to have a full week in November, something we don’t usually have,” he said, referring to a school calendar typically broken up with the convention, Election Day and parent conferences. “We’ll actually now have two solid weeks (before Thanksgiving).”
“Being out for even a week is not good for kids,” Leister said. “As resilient as they are, many of them were on play dates or their video games, not exactly reading and writing.”