Asking each principal ‘What’s new at your school?’ coming school year?’

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — With Bloomfield schools scheduled to reopen Wednesday, Sept. 5, its principals have been getting everything in order. As in every September, students will encounter changes. Hopefully for them, making those changes part of a familiar and fruitful experience will be a memorable exercise.

All Bloomfield principals were asked to speak about what is new at their school for the coming year. All responded, and the answers from some of the principals are in this story, while the balance of the interviews will be published in next weeks’ paper.

At Bloomfield High School, Principal Chris Jennings said that while only ninth-graders had Chromebooks last year, a big change this year is that all BHS students will have them. The computers, he said, were available this summer for reading, math and social studies work, some of which was mandatory.

New bleachers were installed at the main gymnasium. Unlike the wooden ones they replace, which had to be pulled out and pushed in by hand, the new ones are aluminum and extend or retract electrically.

The front lobby will have a new TV monitor displaying news on BHS activities and events. The media center has been renovated, too.
“We don’t need the lab format any more with Chromebooks,” Jennings said. “We’re making the media center into a small space for students to work interactively. It’s a collaborative work space.”

There will be a new STEM-based course in electrical engineering. It is being taught by Katina Kalfa. A business teacher and a music technology teacher are also being added.

“There’s a personal finance requirement for students,” Jennings said.
The music technology teacher will give a behind-the-scenes look at the music industry.
In addition to new flooring in the student counseling area, BHS crisis counselors have created a new webpage and app for mental-health awareness.
“We’re having more of an open dialogue on mental health to destigmatize the topic,” Jennings said.

There will be a new student group on mental health with the school planning on participating in a suicide prevention walk at Brookdale Park on Saturday, Sept. 15.

There are about 10 new staff members including Assistant Principal John Pierce who is returning after a two-year absence. He will oversee counseling and the master schedule for teachers and students.

Jennings said there will be a new special-education supervisor, for grades seven to 12. This is Suzanne Abendschoen. A former child study team member, Latrel Dortch, will be the new dean of students at the high school.
As of late last week, Jennings said 1,916 students were enrolled at the school.

“It’s a little slower than normal,” he said of the new enrollments. “At this time last year, we had 100 more students.”
Jennings is beginning his 13th year at BHS. On his office computer monitor, he showed off the new website for the district. It has overhead camera footage of facilities which have been recorded by a drone.

“Our goal here is to always provide students with multiple opportunities for success through personal connections and having students open to discussion,” Jennings said.

He cited BHS as one of the most diverse high schools in the state.
“We know who we are and celebrate that diversity,” he said.

At Bloomfield Middle School, Principal Alla Vayda-Manzo said a number of new teachers were joining her staff, including social studies, orchestra, language arts, and mathematics instructors. Greg Murray will be leading the Gifted and Talented Program.
“We’re looking forward to an elective,” Vayda-Manzo said. “It’s an introduction to computer science.”

There will be eight classes for this course with about 20 students per class. It will be taught by three teachers.
“This class emphasizes coding,” she said.

Coding is the first step in learning to program computers.
The middle school is a facility for Bloomfield seventh- and eighth-graders. And the beginning of this past summer was the first time that rising eighth-graders had Chromebooks.

“It was used for summer reading projects,” Vayda-Manzo said. “It was a requirement and keeps the students engaged. There was a list of books, but choice is important.”

Another first will occur on Friday, Oct. 5. BMS sixth-graders will participate in the first annual “Bengalthon,” which is a walkathon to raise funds for the Bloomfield Educational Foundation. The walk is sponsored by the BEF.

Vaydo-Manzo is beginning her seventh year as BMS principal. She said the student population is currently 956, about the same as last year at this time. On the first day of class, the school will have an assembly for the students to offer encouragement for the coming year.

At Fairview Elementary School, Ginamarie Mignone, who is entering her second year as principal, said the focus for the coming year will be using data to drive instruction.

“I want the teachers to analyze all data and be more specific and hone in on the individual child,” she said.
The data used will be various assessments, some are standardized and some are an instructor’s assessment.

“It’s not rocket science,” Mignone said. “We do it already, but we can do it better. It’s working smarter rather than harder. We started it last year.
“We’re also going to implement Writers and Readers Workshop,” she said. “The workshops have several parts and now we can bring it all together. We had a lot of workshops on this last year and we worked on what the teachers needed. Now we have everyone on board. Now we’re going to implement it.”

A new position has been created at the school and that is of mathematics interventionist. This will be Dara Gima, a kindergarten teacher last year. She will work with students who find math difficult.

Another teacher moving is first-grade teacher Melissa Stepojyi, who will be the new media specialist. Suzanne Mateyka, a kindergarten teacher last year, will be the new resource teacher.

Going from fourth to sixth grade, and from to fifth to sixth grade, will be Angelo Locantore and Vicki Ratta, respectively. Mignone said last year there were three, fifth- and sixth-grade classes, but this coming year there will be four of each. Going from sixth to fifth grade will be Jeff Rider. The number of both the second- and fourth-grade classes will be decreasing from four to three. Brauna Layman will be a new first-grade teacher.
“It’s going to be an exciting year,” Mignone said. “I’m most excited by the data. But we had to work on the workshops. The next logical step is diving into the data.”

She said there are currently about 550 students enrolled at Fairview Elementary.

Principal Linda Colucci, of the Early Childhood Learning Center, at Forest Glen, said her school will be continuing the Reggio Emilia approach to education which is child-centered learning. To this end, the school has expanded its outdoor dramatic play area to include a kitchen center. Children are not taught how to play in the area. Instead, it is whatever the child thinks to do.

“We as the teachers facilitate the language of what they are doing,” Colucci said. “We ask them what they are doing, why they are doing it. We create thinkers.”

Each established indoor class also has a dramatic play area.
The school has two daily sessions for pre-kindergarten students with about 200 children attending. There will be two new teachers. One is to be announced and the other is Alyssa Kahwaty, an inclusion preschool class teacher. Andrew Cupolo will be the new head custodian, replacing Sharifa McMillian, who is become the Bloomfield School District custodial supervisor.

Colucci was excited about the Dec. 5 regional meeting, at her school, of NJ practitioners of Reggio Emilia. The organization is called New Jersey Educators Exploring the Practices of Reggio Emilia Inc.

“For a public school, that’s a huge honor,” she said. “We get to show off our building.”

Carteret Elementary School Principal John Baltz said there is not much new happening at his school this coming year, but there will be a new mathematics teacher, Alexandra Tuorto, who is replacing a retired teacher. Baltz said he will be looking forward to continuing the after-school program, the Saturday Academy and kindergarten ice cream social. The social, for parents and children, was scheduled for last night, Wednesday, Aug. 29. Baltz said it is an opportunity for parents to ask questions and for kindergartners to meet their teachers, visit their classrooms and meet classmates. Baltz said there are roughly 400 students enrolled at Carteret, but he expects that number to increase this week.

On Tuesday morning, Sept. 4, he said all teachers and principals meet with Superintendent of School Sal Goncalves at BHS. In the afternoon, they go back to their respective schools to finalize getting classrooms ready for school the next day.