Desperately Seeking Schooling
By JIM TOSONE
Tornados usually don’t have names, but you can call the one that touched down in June the “New Jersey School Construction Act.” It’s a force-five twister fueled by $8.6 billion in state taxpayer money. Moving at fearsome speed, the Act leaves school districts only until December to figure out how to grab hold of its money as it passes through our communities.
One thing, however, is already clear. The School Construction Act, designed to provide better school buildings for public school students, plowed through the non-profit Village School for Children in Glen Rock on September 18, leaving 264 school-less children in its wake. That Monday evening, the Glen Rock Board of Education decided that the state taxpayer money provided under the Act could let them do what their community had been heretofore unwilling to do—reclaim for the Glen Rock school system the building it leases to the Village School for Children.
The first task the parents and teachers of the school faced was to tell the children that this would be their last year in the only building most of them have ever known. The older children wanted lots of details when there weren’t many to give. The younger children simply needed reassurance that there would still be a VillageSchool for Children. They were given plenty, but the comfort was based solely on hope and determination.
A year’s notice may seem like a reasonable amount of time to find a new location. But in fact the school has only until the end of the year to find a suitable, affordable building and finalize a deal. Enrollment for the 2001-2002 school year begins in January, and parents need to know where the school will be, so they can figure out if they will be able to continue sending their children there.
Everyone associated with the school is now out scouring Bergen county for leads and talking to friends, neighbors and business associates who might know of a possible site. Parents are driving around noting possibilities, hoping that the school’s new home lies just over the next hill. Like a river delta in reverse, the leads flow back into search central—otherwise known as Marilyn Larkin, the school’s co-founder. Larkin is following up on each lead.
Every person who believes that diversity in educational approaches is a strength of schooling in New Jerseyhas a stake in the Village School for Children. The school, which has served Bergen county for twenty-three years, is one of only two in New Jersey certified by both the American Montessori Societies and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. And the Village School is one of the relatively few that offers a comprehensive Montessori education from pre-school through eighth grade. Montessori is more than a just successful program for pre-schoolers. It is a comprehensive set of educational principles and programs designed to encourage children to be active learners, to show them how to acquire the skills to answer their own questions and maintain a high level of intellectual curiosity. Montessori students learn to manage freedom with responsibility and to work independently, as well as in groups.
The classroom environment is expressly designed to complement the educational program, which is why everyone is working so hard to find a new home for the school. An additional year in the current building would make it possible for the Village School, which has been a model tenant, to properly plan and make such a move. Sadly, the Glen Rock Board of Education, facing its own challenges, has not been receptive.
When the current building reopens as part of the Glen Rock school system, I wouldn’t be surprised if Governor Whitman or a state legislator shows up at the opening ceremony to take some of the credit. I would be surprised if they come to the Village School on moving day to say goodbye to the teachers and children, and help them pack a book or two.