Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 48
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
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School Board Hails Local Heroes; Opposes Future Charter Schools

Ellen Gilbert

Congratulations for achievements in sports, community service, and pedagogy were the order of the evening at last week’s Princeton Regional School District’s Board of Education meeting.

First, the Princeton High School Varsity Boy’s Soccer State Group III championship team was recognized with a proclamation citing their “teamwork and perseverance” in an unbeaten season.

President Alan Hegedus then announced that Board member Walter Bliss has been awarded one of Princeton’s “most meaningful and prestigious” awards: the Humanitarian of the Year Award, presented by the Princeton Human Services Commission, in recognition of Mr. Bliss’s several decades of service to the community.

Superintendent Judy Wilson followed by introducing Princeton Regional School District World Language, English as a Second Language (ESL) and Bilingual Supervisor Ms. Russel, who gave an overview of PRS’s ESL program, noting that despite having “many aspirations for the program,” they are “not always fulfilled.”

Explaining that the acronyms ELLS (English Language Learners), ESL, and LEP (Limited English Proficiency) are often used interchangeably. Ms. Russel reported that as of October 15, there were about 135 ESL learners in grades K through 12 in the district. Although the ball park figure hasn’t varied much over the last five years, she said, the numbers “change every week,” with the constant arrival and departure of students. PHS accounts for the largest group of ESL students, with about 40 currently in the program. She reported that students who exit the program are monitored and offered any services they may subsequently need.

Describing the numerous languages spoken by Princeton’s student population, Ms. Russel noted that there are currently four students who speak Sara Chad, a language spoken by only about 4,000 people in the world. Unprepared for it as a language option, the state advised them to “put down French” when reporting on these students.

Ms. Russel, who participates on a team that evaluates other ESL programs across the state, noted that perhaps her greatest aspiration for Princeton’s program was to achieve a “shared sense of responsibility. These English language learners are everybody’s children.”

She said that she was “thrilled” with the district’s pre-K program for four year olds, describing it as “a nice start,” but adding that “we need to get three-year-olds, and then we need to get two-year-olds.” Board member Dorothy Bedford reported her own sense that the pre-K program was “impressing families whose children are in it with the importance of education.”

Budget Blues

Ms. Bedford spoke again in her capacity as chair of the Finance Committee, reporting that although expenses are currently “on track,” it’s too early to say what the impact of the gubernatorial election will have on public schools. She described the outlook for the 2010-2011 budget as “dismal,” adding that the committee will seek “responsible solutions” in developing it.

The importance of parental involvement was evoked again in liaison Timothy Quinn’s report on a recent meeting of the Minority Education Committee, where Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Bonnie Lehet gave a presentation on how the district is meeting the mandates of the Federal government’s No Child Left Behind program. Mr. Quinn noted that “parental involvement is of particular interest to the committee,” and that their January 16 meeting would be the first of several to solicit feedback from parents on how they experience the district’s work with their children.

Other agenda items at Tuesday’s board meeting included the approval of a request for “additional services” by A & J Consulting Engineering Services, for “the space efficiency and rehabilitation project at the Valley Road site, for an amount not to exceed $10,500.”

Charter Opposition

The board also unanimously approved a resolution to “direct and authorize the Superintendent of Schools to express the Board’s opposition and concerns regarding current application(s) and future applications made to the Commissioner of Education for the establishment of charter schools that target Princeton Borough and Princeton Township school-aged children.” The resolution noted that “the basis for this opposition is to protect the Princeton Regional School District’s fiscal ability and organizational capacity to maintain programs of excellence for all public school students in our community.” Ms. Wilson said that “we will be very specific in our opposition to charter school applications,” noting that “each differs in the target populations it proposes to serve.” There is currently an application for a Mandarin language, International Baccalaureate-granting charter school in the district.

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