Get Thee to the Suburbs

GA just happened upon a thread over at Hoboken Moms that's kicked up quite a stir.

It has to do with a new school district policy:  Early Childhood programs will be assigned by proximity to the child's home and not by choice.

This change hasn't received much attention, but here was one parent's reaction:
We were just informed by Adriana Coppola, Director of Early Childhood, that the school district is doing away with the ranking system to place our kids in the public school system. This year they are placing new students based on where you live. In our case this means the closest school to where we live (downtown) is Connors.

Unfortunately, we have heard nothing but bad things about Connors and I refuse to send my daughter there. I'm not sure if this is because of its location to the "projects" on Harrison Street but I assume it is. In out case our 5yr old would be going to school with kids that live there. I am appalled at this change and are quite honestly thinking of moving to the suburbs just so she doesn't' have to go to school there.

I wanted to get other peoples opinions in this matter. Please feel free to speak your mind.
Well, others sure did- speak their mind.

Some were brief:
I will speak my mind - I find your post absolutely appalling!  Please do consider moving.
Some not:
There have been posts in the past on this board that have shown poor taste in it's content, but I have to stay that your post is absolutely the most ignorant post yet!

How dare you insult those that live in the projects, their CHILDREN, and assume that the conditions in Conners which you feel are poor are due to these individuals? You don't know any of these people, and it's obvious with your pretentious comments that you have no desire to get to know any of them. You are no better than anyone living in the "projects", I don't care who you are, what you do for a living, or where you are living. In fact, you are no better than anyone else on this board or in this town.

DID YOU EVEN FOR ONCE WHILE YOU WERE WRITING SUCH AN IGNORANT POST THINK THAT THERE MAY BE PARENTS ON THIS BOARD WHO LIVE IN THE PROJECTS AND SEND THEIR CHILDREN TO CONNERS? HOW DO YOU THINK THEY FEEL READING SUCH INSULTING COMMENTS? The one good thing about this board is you can say what you want and hide behind your computer, but I challenge you to stand in front of these families at a BOE meeting or even in front of Conners. I'm sure you wouldn't do that. Only a coward would make such comments as you did.

If you had an ounce of class you would post an apology to those you may have insulted. Those living in the "projects' may not be "YOUR KIND OF PEOPLE", but they are people, they have feelings, AND THEY DESERVE SOME RESPECT!

Many of those individuals who live in that area will remain in town after you move your family to the suburbs. And if you have moved here recently, many of them were here before you came to town. People like you are the reason there is such a disconnect in this town among many of it's residents.

Shame on you for insulting those in your own community!
Here's one that resonated with me... I agree with the author's sentiment.
Last week it was announced that Connors was getting the funding for the much-needed renovation, so I'll be interested to see how the renovation will affect all the building changes that Superintendent Toback talked about at the last Board of Ed meeting.

I attended the last Board of Ed meeting, and Sup. Toback talked about moving the administrative offices to Demarest, and the creating some type of early childhood autism program at Wallace, as well as getting rid of the really old trailers that have been outside Wallace too long. They all sounded like positive changes and a much better use of space, however now that Connors will be getting renovated, it may all change -- just two years ago, Connors was supposed to temporarily move to Demarest while they were doing the renovation, and then the funding was pulled, and it never happened.

I'll be interested to see how this all pans out. I think it's a great opportunity for the families of southwest Hoboken to all go to Connors School if they do decide to use addresses to assign schools to children.

This is how it works in the are assigned to your neighborhood school, and if you don't like it, well then, send your kid to private school or move. I view this new policy (if in fact it is true) as only a good thing, especially if Connors goes through a renovation.
Yes... imagine that.

Imagine if all the families in the Hoboken's southwest started USING their local school, and I say that to all families everywhere in Hoboken within the sound of my voice... if we USE our schools, bring our vigilance and our expectations with our children, the schools will rise to be as we want them to be.

GA believes in public school education.  My 9 year-old goes to Wallace. She's an A+ student, made First Honor Roll, won a Johns Hopkins Honor Award, got an 1187 and 900Q+ respectively on her reading (SRI) / math (SMI)- wow... and I am BRAGGING about this to let you know that she's a PRODUCT of public education in Hoboken.  

So am I (in NYC).

GA grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens and was bussed to a school in East Elmhurst- the school population was very ethnically (and economically) diverse.  Kids are not wired to think about such things, so I have to say in hindsight that spending those formative years there was learning beyond books.

The kind of learning you don't realize you've gotten until you grow up and notice there are people who avoid diversity.

Some of them flock to the suburbs and some find niches where they feel protected.  Of course fear is not the only reason folks move out of the city, or choose alternative schooling.  But as the parent who initiated the thread expressed, it was the thought of her child mingling with children living in the HHA that had her "thinking of moving to the suburbs".

And frankly, there are others similarly reluctant to use their local public school. For that reason.

How to change this?


  1. I'm glad that some mom's gave it to the bigot. The most important factor in any child's education is their parents. If the parents believe that education is important and take interest in ensuring their children do their homework and behave they will thrive in any environment.

  2. This mother is "appalled" by her perceptions of her child's zoned school? Her thinly veiled disdain reveals much more about her own insecurities & fear of "the other."

    How sad for her child(ren)to be mothered by someone so seemingly lacking in humanism!

    If her post accurately represents her values, chances are any attempts to "enlighten" her will only be received as further offenses to her already fragile & unfortunate sensibilities.

    Better for the rest of us to pray that her children (& the children of others similarly inclined) find better adult role models in their midsts---and perhaps good therapists too!

  3. 'Race relates to a person's appearance - chiefly the color of their skin. It is determined biologically, with genetic traits such as skin color, eye color, hair color, bone/jaw structure etc.
    Ethnicity, on the other hand, relates to cultural factors such as nationality, culture, ancestry, language and beliefs.'

    Now, let's not kid ourselves into believing that racism doesn't exist. It does, and in this country in particular is very strong. I was the victim of 'reverse racism' many times (of course an oxymoron) for no good reason. It's very naive to live in denial, but go to any country you want, and you'll notice the same behaviour. People from certain regions believe that they are better and smarter than those from the adjacent regions. It's systemic and it's only human nature. We just don't like to acknowledge it. The mom heard bad things about the school, so why chastise her? Give her a break or tell her about the good things about that school if there are any.

    1. Underneath all your parsing of race & ethnicity, it's still about individual insecurities & at the heart of it, fear. That's the saddest part for everyone involved.

      Overcoming fear is the nexus from which any meaningful change can occur.
      It's that simple & that difficult. Working on openness & compassion can be a good place to start.

      MBB is curious about your last statement, relative to your own take on Hoboken's public schools: "Give her a break or tell her about the good things about that school if there are any."

      No one disputes that Hoboken's public schools (& public education most everywhere) have room for improvement, as understatement.

      How about approaching the dilemma as a half-full vs. half-empty glass?

  4. I don't think that the mom in question here was afraid of ethnicity (which is not the case here) integration. Often people confuse the term ethnicity with race, and there's a certain amount of overlap with these terms in my opinion. I just wanted to make it clear that blending with ethnic groups may be a good thing, but i won't expand on that. I think she's afraid of low standards. Why is Ramos' child in HOLA if not for the same reason? The child is Spanish, why is he enrolled in a program meant to teach Spanish to the non-Spanish speaking kids? The distribution of the kids should be based on grades, not where one resides. What bothers me is the attitude of some people: let's gang up on this mom, how dare she not want to put her kid in a school with bad reputation? It's not my problem, I really don't care, but denial is the norm of this society, and hiding that fact under false pretense is worse than this mom wanting the best for her child.

  5. hadenough, here are my 2 cents.

    The socioeconomic demographic of that neighborhood has shifted radically in the past couple of years. If all of these involved and concerned parents use the school, they will demand better and get better, the school performance (test scores) will improve. Connors can be a great community school- with the will and vision to make it that way. It's got to start somewhere.

    The reaction to the mom was her statement that she didn't want her kids to attend school with kids from the "projects"- not the school's reputation. Which may be semantics, to some. I agree, what she said is what others think, perhaps many- but not all.

    I did speak to a parent earlier who was sympathetic toward the apprehensive mom, strongly supportive of her sentiments.

    As a point of clarification, the policy to have kids attend the closest school geographically is LIMITED to early childhood programs, not K-8.

  6. That's in important clarification, that it is only for the Pre-K program. While the quality of a Pre-K program is important, let's remember it is a free perk and a privilege particular to living in Hoboken, not the same as K-12.

    I agree with you that were all parents to participate in the local BoE schools the quality would rise dramatically and would also be much more equal from school to school. The problem is that the system overall, LA's excellent experience notwithstanding, has been allowed to decline to such a low state that the problem of non-enrollment feeds on itself.

    Based on my tours of Connors, Callabro, and Wallace two years ago, when our child was four, the quality and facilities were not equal. Wallace was the clear winner in my estimate. Heck, they were the only school that bothered to hold an open house that year!

    To accomplish what you suggest would take many years, and either new resources (which will anger tax payers) or a realignment of resources. Families who have the resources to move to the suburbs or opt for private education want the best possible school NOW.

    Let's call this situation a Catchment-22.

    As alluded to above, about all I can think of is some kind of huge and meaningful infusion of resources into Connors that creates an incentive to attract families to its doors. The renovation is great, but it will require much more than that. The BoE needs to make Connors the coolest, bestest school in Hoboken, so good that you'll want to line up to transfer LA. Of course the families with children at Callabro and Wallace may not be happy about that sort of special treatment. See paragraph above.

  7. So essentially we are talking about a kindergarden glorified as a preschool which is free in Hoboken. My question is: Is this a perk or is it a state law? I'm just curious, as I am not familiar with the system.

  8. I guess I'm going to answer to myself: Connors is a federally funded kindergarten by HOPES Inc. It is supposed to help low income families with kindergarten age children. Adriana Coppola, the director, states on the official site that all children that are age appropriate will be admitted? The federally funded preschool programs were designed to help those in need, but it seems that anybody's child who could afford a mortgage in Hoboken could attend. Odd.

  9. Just to make sure you are clear, the Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K, ages 3 and 4) program is distinct from Kindergarten (age 5). All New Jersey school districts must provide free schooling starting at the Kindergarten level (though compulsory enrollment comes only at the 1st grade level), though I believe it does not need to be for a full day.

    The Hoboken Pre-K program comes out of Abbott v. Burke, which ruling forces New Jersey to send special funding to a particular set of districts determined to have been underfunded. Hoboken is an oddity in that while (now, though not so much at the time of the original ruling, 1985) it is not exactly a poor demographic overall, it is so when you only look at the enrollment of our public schools. However, there are certainly other non-Abbott districts that are currently poorer than Hoboken, probably by any measurement, that are not receiving this funding. The ruling did nothing to address removing or adding districts as conditions on districts changed, though how the funding is distributed each year is based on a particular district's need relative to others that are eligible.

    To say that Abbott is controversial is putting it mildly; governors and legislatures, Democratic and Republican, have fought it for decades.

    However, for now Hoboken isn't likely to start returning the Abbott money. In any case, it does not currently get a very large portion of the Abbott funding on a per capita basis (because of its relative wealth), and how it can spend the money is limited, with early education being a particular emphasis.

    Thus, we have a Pre-K program for 3 and 4 year olds (and all-day Kindergarten). More than likely there is no option but to offer that to all residents regardless of need.

    The programs in Hoboken are outsourced to organizations like HOPES (the others are Catapult and Mile Square) as to staffing and operations. However, the program is administered by the BoE's Early Childhood Program and the curricular content is the same Tools of the Mind program that is used in Kindergarten by the BoE. The teachers receive considerable training (Pre-K and K). There are things I liked about "Tools" and things I didn't, but it is a serious curriculum and has won many plaudits nationally. Its focus is teaching children to self-regulate. I found its downside to be that it was quite regimented and did not afford the teachers to take on the sort of fanciful and creative content to which our child responds best. But all of his teachers were excellent and are fondly remembered.

    The Connors school houses the HOPES-run Pre-K program (ages 3 and 4), but it is operated independently, answerable directly to the Early Childhood Program rather than the Connors principal. The Kindergarten (age 5) at Connors is operated directly as part of the BoE, and is no different from the other local BoE Kindergartens, and is under the aegis of the Connors principal. There are Pre-K classrooms in Wallace and Brandt that function in the same way.

    I believe HOPES also runs a program for younger children (under age 3) which is needs-based.

    1. Excellent post, thank you HD.

      To your point earlier, I don't believe it would take years; Wallace has been transitioning to a true community school, with an involved parent community.

      When I sent my daughter there, Raia had the School Board majority. Remember the Kids First audit from 2009 showed how much rampant thievery happened under Raia and Old Guard control. Extra principals, extra janitors, a guy to call for AC repairs, a guy to drive around a make print copies, dedicated school monies for school programs siphoned off for...? So I can tell you how I've seen transition both in leadership and demographic at Wallace, been there since my daughter's PK4, Mile Square.

      It's all been positive.

      More 'newcomers' have dipped their toes into the water and stayed. A good thing. The student body is more representative of the community- excluding the highest income demographic who send their young to private school. BnRs, non-BnRs, some from the HHA... a mix.

      So, it doesn't take that long- in my view. It takes a caring and involved community- activists and decent elected officials. Our district is amply funded, so the disparity in materials, etc. at Connors is a matter of neglect. Perhaps in some cases, fear. I know that HHA residents who go against 'the grain' have been threatened/ intimidated into silence. Who knows.

      As for Wallace being perceived as 'better'- in my view, Calabro is its equivalent, only minus the playground.

      Of course, nothing happens until the repairs/renovation happen, and no one knows how much Christie will deliver for that since Connors made the list of 20 most in need of repairs.

      Anyway, this a good conversation to have.

  10. That's heartening, and of course I can't predict how long something so complex would require. I do think it would be harder with Connors because it likely starts from a more challenging place in terms of the needs of the students and their families. Wallace's sheer size may also work to its advantage; you can do a lot of things in a setting like that because you can always find a group of students or families interested and committed. There are advantages to a small school, too, but for example Callabro could never reasonably be expected to have a school orchestra, while that's not impossible with Wallace. (Of course Callabro students could be part of an all-city orchestra, but that's harder.)

    I have heard wonderful things about Callabro, but somehow the feeling we got there didn't match what we experience at Wallace. That no doubt has a lot to do with the now former principal, who made an excellent pitch (which is of course not the same as the product being good - I know, being a salesman myself).

    For sure everything needs to be done to accomplish - and continue to accomplish - what's happened at Wallace. You are certainly right that it can be done at any school, any size. There is a cascade effect with these things, and it is just a matter of priming the pump (which the ranking system may help) alongside doing the hard work of building communities in the schools.

  11. Just to expand a little further, I wanted to say that I think it's likely that offering families a ranking system played a part in developing the community you describe at Wallace. Ironically, I think it's possible that it makes a lot less practical difference than may appear to be the case given how Wallace dwarfs both Connors and Callabro, by which I mean that the majority of families will be at Wallace under any circumstances. In addition, the chances for a new family to get into Callabro are limited, due to what is in effect a limited gene pool there as the result of sibling preference; there are simply not that many available slots. (I'm not saying that policy should be changed. And this issue is just as significant at all the charters; I know that at HoLa more than half the K slots for 2012-2013 were claimed by incoming younger siblings of current students, meaning only about 20 new families had any chance of getting in.)

    But even the illusion of control - "I got my first choice!" even though it was your only choice! - can be very powerful medicine, and I do suspect many families that might have turned away from the system in misplaced despair decided to give it a go because they could have their offspring at the school they picked. And THEN they did the REAL work of making the school better. But they had to be there and invested first. (I can't say the degree to which the ranking system fed this process. It's the kind of thing that should be investigated, otherwise you never know if your policies contribute to success or cause failure. Something tells me no one has bothered to try to apply any metric to the ranking system's efficacy.)

    In our now-daily conversation about Jekyll and Hyde this morning, I spoke to my son about the problem of unintended consequences. I also used other examples of how drugs can be very useful to healing or very destructive when used the wrong way - and how black powder was first used to make fireworks and only later to propel bullets. An unintended consequence (I hope!) of the ranking system is that it has possibly made the challenges faced at Connors greater by making it more segregated, and in turn causing parents like the one whose post you quoted irrationally fearful. That's the negative side of the cascade.

    I do not mean to imply there are no involved families at Connors, no doubt there are many who are strongly devoted to the work of educating their children. But too many families with children there lack the resources of time and money to do what many of us are so lucky to be able to do. Not that it's easy for anyone, but it is easier for those who are well-educated and have better economic resources.

    I believe that there is strong substantiation that one of the most effective ways to improve the academic performance of children from lower economic demographics is to mix them with children from families who are economically better off; at the same time this can expand the minds and experiences of the wealthier children.

    The trick is to get the mix to happen without scaring families away, even if their fear is utterly misguided.

    1. "The trick is to get the mix to happen without scaring families away, even if their fear is utterly misguided."

      Bingo, HD!

      And as GA noted earlier, it's the children who are often blessedly oblivious to some of these fears that can lead to misjudgments.

      MBB is reminded of that Shirley Jackson short story, "After You, My Dear Alphonse."

  12. I just found that story on line, where it doesn't belong per copyright, but I read it anyway. I know Jackson only for "The Lottery" (which I also just reread), and of course this story is very much the product of the same author. Very powerful - and apt MBB. Thank you.

    Interestingly, the lines "After you, my dear Alphonse. No, you first, my dear Gaston!," are also perfect for the situation of struggling with getting families into the schools so they can make them good, while trying to make the schools good so the families will sign up. No coincidence that Jackson chose this catchphrase for her story (and left out Gaston).

    Though I didn't know Jackson's story until today, I know the catchphrase from an early 20th century comic strip by Frederick Burr Opper from which she borrowed it.


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