Here's a rundown of the ongoing academic achievements in your local private and public schools, as well as the new facilities and improvements.
For those seeking the alternate route of private education, many possibilities are available, as well as new initiatives in the public schools.
North Bergen and Guttenberg
North Bergen, which has six elementary schools and one high school, celebrated rising test scores over the past 12 months.
Last May, Horace Mann Elementary School earned the distinction as a State Benchmark school for the third year in a row from the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. North Bergen High School was recognized for the first time this year.
The State Benchmark distinction is awarded based upon demographic information, enrollment, and state test scores over a three-year period.
"We are proud of our students and staff," said Principal Jorge Prado of Horace Mann. "It's a great honor to be recognized for a third straight year."
In 2006, almost every school in the district saw an increase in the number of students passing all sections of the state standardized tests.
On the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), which students must pass to graduate, 66 percent of North Bergen High School 11th graders scored 12 percentage points higher than the year before in the math portion, and 74 percent of students scored 9 percent higher than the year before in the language arts portion.
As far as new facilities for North Bergen, the long awaited kindergarten annex at Lincoln School was completed and ready for the beginning of the last school year.
Also, after a 46-year career in education in North Bergen, Superintendent Peter Fischbach has been scheduled to retire at the end of this school year, effective June 30.
Guttenberg also experienced a change in leadership this 2006-2007 when Superintendent Dr. Robert Penna, who resigned his position last May after six years, left to take a superintendent position at Waldwick in Bergen County. Robert Tholen was made acting superintendent.
Tholen was made Chief School Administrator in June, combining both the position of superintendent and principal of Ann Klein School, which is Guttenberg's only elementary school and serves pre-k though eighth grade.
In September, Weehawken celebrated the completion of renovations and major construction projects.
Weehawken has three schools in the district including Webster (pre-k through second), Roosevelt Elementary School (third through sixth), and Weehawken High School, which also houses seventh and eighth grades.
Last year, the relatively small Weehawken High School was ranked as the No. 109 high school in the state out of 320 schools listed by New Jersey Monthly, and ranked No. 3 among Hudson County's public high schools, along with Secaucus and McNair Academic in Jersey City.
One of the latest programs is "College Knowledge," which is a college prep course for ninth and 10th graders.
"They will learn about the application process, what to look for in a letter of recommendation, and writing the right essay," said Weehawken Superintendent Kevin McLellan.
Among the construction projects was an addition to Daniel Webster Elementary, which currently houses the district's all-day pre-kindergarten program; the refurbishment of the gymnasium at Weehawken High School, and several other upgrades throughout the schools including handicapped accessibility.
In 2006, the school district learned that all three schools are meeting the federal requirements of the "No Child Left Behind Act," and their test scores in math and language for the third, eighth and 11th grades all met the national standards.
One of the biggest changes in Secaucus this school year was the implementation of their school uniform policy last October. Union City, West New York, and Bayonne also saw that policy implemented in the past two years.
Initially, there was some resistance in Secaucus, but the policy was passed.
The uniform consists of khaki or navy blue slacks paired with red, white or maize colored polo shirts with the logo of their perspective school, which are supplied by Uniformity, Greene Uniform Company and online retailer Lands End. Secaucus has a high school/middle school complex and two elementary schools.
Recently, Secaucus Assistant Superintendent of Schools Ralph Merlo stated that despite the initial problems, the uniform supply situation is now under control.
"All of the orders from Uniformity have now been filled in recent weeks," said Merlo.
Secaucus is the most suburban of Hudson County's school districts, and last year was ranked by New Jersey Monthly one of the top three Hudson County's public high schools, along with Weehawken and McNair Academic in Jersey City.
Two years ago, the district saw a new auditorium at the High School/Middle School complex.
There has been discussion about televising the Board of Education meetings, as well as Town Council meetings.
Last February, Secaucus Board of Education member Eleanore Reinl agreed with the televised meetings, saying that Secaucus residents need to see what happens at municipal meetings whether at home or in person.
Jersey City continues to be under state control, which it has been for the last 18 years since 1989.
Legislation has been passed to give control back to the city within a couple of years.
In 2006, Jersey City saw the opening of two new schools.
Elementary School No. 3 and the new Middle School No. 4, which are both located on Bright Street in downtown Jersey City, are on a 5.5 acre campus. The official grand opening for the schools took place on March 25 of last year, and prepared for a September opening.
The new schools feature a variety of modern-day components from automatic facilities to classrooms (namely at No. 3), which function as a "Reading Recovery Center" as part of a new program to help first graders who need extra help in learning basic reading skills through an intensive five-month program.
All classrooms were equipped with LCD projectors and electrical outlets for computer hookups for PowerPoint presentations.
No. 3 School also has its own outdoor amphitheatre. The new elementary facility will replace the old No. 3 School built in 1909.
At the new No. 4 Middle School, there are state of the art computer labs, art rooms, and the main feature, which is a two-story library. There is also a reading terrace right outside the library, as well as a garden area.
The New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation, which aims to infuse millions of dollars into urban schools, also acquired a 2.8-acre property along Summit, Jefferson and Laidlaw avenues to build Early Childhood Center No. 9, which will cater to 3 and 4-year-olds. The old Davey Paper Company currently still stands there.
Last September, the entire Jersey City school district was awarded the Broad Prize for Urban Education, which is presented to the top 100 urban districts across the United States that have improved student academic achievement.
"We were quite proud," said Dr. Adele Macula, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "Every time we are given a recognition like this it gives us [encouragement] to continue to make students succeed."
Of course, Jersey City is the second largest city in the state, and has the problems that all urban districts face. One shining star is the school for top achieving students, McNair Academic High School, which consistently receives top rankings from New Jersey Monthly magazine.
The district also has several charter schools.
Last June, Jersey City closed down Public School No. 42 on Newark Avenue after 30 years. The students were relocated to No. 6 and No. 11 schools.
Among the school restructurings are schools No. 14 and No. 15, which currently has pre-k through 6th grade, and will house pre-k through fifth grade the following school year.
School No. 41, which currently houses grades seventh and eighth, will include sixth grade in the following school year.
There have been some frustrations, though. The Board of Education announced two weeks ago that it would sue the state over incomplete construction. The opening of the new Middle School No. 7 in the Heights has repeatedly been delayed, and as of last week it is still not known when it will open.
The school will house about 969 sixth, seventh and eighth graders, which will come in from School No. 6, 8, and 25. The school includes 36 classrooms, an auditorium, a gymnasium and an education/administrative wing. Additional design features include on-grade parking, athletic field and basketball courts, and an entrance plaza.
The main event in Hoboken is the long awaited naming of a new superintendent of schools, since it was announced that current Superintendent Patrick Gagliardi would be retiring on June 30 of this year.
An appointment to the position has been anticipated for the following Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, Feb 28.
The city has a mix of young professionals and long-time residents, both of which are very demanding in Hoboken's tense political climate.
The district has one high school, two middle schools, and three primary schools, and two public charter schools.
This year, a two-school system was implemented for Hoboken High School students, in which they could choose to follow a more rigorous program at Hoboken High School if they wanted to pursue higher education, or a program at A.J. Demarest Middle School that would prepare them join the work force immediately after graduation. Both also still follow regular core curriculum and pass the High School Proficiency Exam to graduate.
"Our eighth grade students [throughout the district] are one of the top in the state standardized tests, and our third and fourth grades are third in the state," said Charles Tortorella, principal of Wallace Primary School. "We're not only starting to see tests scores go up, but passing scores are going up."
The reason in part for improvement in test scores are initiatives such as the federally funded Reading First Program, which has been incorporated into all three elementary schools this school year. Wallace School was the first to attempt this pilot program last year.
"The program is a 90-minute uninterrupted literacy block [implemented in the three elementary schools], and the kids are tested three times a year," said Tortorella.
In addition to the program, literacy coaches work with students from kindergarten through third grade, and following the testing period teachers address the strengths of individual students. As a result the idea is to regroup kids into classes, where they can receive the appropriate attentions, for one period a day in addition to regular curriculum.
Regrouping is something that has been widely practiced in Wallace School in both literacy and mathematics, and now has been trickling its way down to the other elementary schools. The regrouping structure is in place for students in first to fifth grade.
In addition, this year students from all three elementary schools have the opportunity to be eligible for a gifted and talented program that works with John Hopkins University.
There was a plan in place several years ago to eventually build a new high school in the northwest section of town with state funds. Because of problems in the state funding process, those plans are delayed.
Union City and West New York
As far as what's happening in Union City and West New York, it's all about the new schools, and for Union City this will also pave the way for grade structural changes within the schools in the future.
With the anticipated September 2008 opening of the new Union City high school, which still has no official name, currently under construction on Kennedy Boulevard, the high school will actually serve students from 10th through 12th grades. The two existing high schools (Union Hill and Emerson) will be converted into junior high schools for grades sixth through ninth, as will the existing Jose Marti Middle School.
Currently, the school administration is preparing for these upcoming changes through a committee that has been meeting since the beginning of February.
"We have formed the School Restructuring Committee [made up of school administrators and educators] to develop a specific plan designing a program to allow a smooth transition to the one high school and the junior high schools," said Superintendent Stanley Sanger. "The school change will bring a 25 percent shift in the population [per school]."
Another component in Union City's high schools is the individual "learning committees" for the freshman class. The learning communities are meant to allow for personalization and individualization in education.
Union City has also continued to improve in state testing throughout the district, and has had state Benchmark Schools for the last three years.
Next year, Union City will open its new Early Childhood Center on Kennedy Boulevard, which is about 60 percent complete.
In West New York, there was an unexpected leadership change in the middle of the school year. After seven years, Superintendent Anthony Yankovich officially retired after the holiday break. Although it seemed abrupt, the plans for Yankovich's retirement had apparently been in the works for some time.
In his stead is acting Superintendent Dr. Robert Van Zanten, who had also begun his career as an educator in West New York before moving to other districts.
"It's wonderful to be back and to see the people that were here during the first twenty-something years of my career," said Van Zanten.
The district is also anticipating the completion of the new Public School No. 4 this coming spring, which is to replace the current No. 4 School that celebrated its 100th anniversary at the close of the last school year.
Recently, West New York was also awarded a $38.2 million contract by the New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation (SCC) for the construction of Public School No. 3, which was among the SCC's final 59 approved school construction projects under its original funding. The school is scheduled to be completed by August of 2008.
Private schools and post-secondary education
In addition to the variety of public school options, other parents also still opt to go the towards private school sector.
While staying true to their missions, the parochial schools in Hudson County continue to succeed by keeping up with the changing educational times.
Jersey City's Our Lady of Czestochowa, more commonly known as OLC, a pre-k through 8th grade school, is one of the most thriving schools in the county.
"I have seen a wonderful upsurge of enrollment and a big future in enrollment because of all the development [and families moving in]," said Principal Mary Baier.
Enrollment for OLC's elementary school keeps increasing, especially with their pre-k program Little Harbor Academy, which is already filled up to capacity for the next school year with 175 students.
One of the unique things about this program is the use of the Montessori method, where children work at their own pace on specialized lessons of mathematics, literacy, and even art. Although Montessori schools integrate all age levels in one class, Little Harbor Academy is separated by age groups.
"It has been really beneficial for our students," said Baier. "It gives them a sense of independence and accomplishment."
Montessori components are also implemented in the younger grade levels as well, and next year Little Harbor Academy will become a its own school with OLC.
Other parochial high schools continue to thrive, such as St. Joseph's of the Palisades in West New York, and St. Dominic Academy in Jersey City.
St. Joseph's welcomed a new principal this year, Bruce Segall, who has introduced new programs focusing on instilling students to take on more leadership roles.
"We went with the concept of a leadership academy, so that we challenge every student and teach them what it is to be a leader in their area [of study]," said Segall.
Since the beginning of the school year, students have been training in what are known as the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Leaders," and have focused those habits around the core curriculum.
In addition, subject departments were asked to identify leadership modules they would be teaching, and promoting faculty professional development.
Alumni leaders have come back for "Lunch Talks," where they share their experiences with current students.
This year, St. Dominic Academy also had a new principal, and for the first time a president of the school. They continue their successful Freshman Holistic Program, which implements academic and social components, helping to ease the transition to high school by pairing freshmen with a faculty mentor.
After graduation from high school, there are numerous post-secondary education programs.
Hoboken's Continuing Education Program offers interested students a variety of courses, whether to learn a new skill for employment or to just take something of interest.
Course prices range from $40 to $360, and there is ongoing registration throughout the school year.
In addition, the program also offers GED and ESL courses for free to Hoboken residents with proof of residency. All courses, except for real estate, are also free for senior citizens.
For more information visit www.hoboken.k12.nj.us, or call Charles Tortorella, director of Adult Education, at (201) 356-3651.