Residents and school board members discussed the post-secondary educational options available to Lacey students after graduation at a meeting Tuesday night.
During the public comment session, resident Tim O’Connor said that he attended a recent meet-and-greet event with Lacey’s Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Sandra Brower, where the Creative Studies Charter School was discussed, a proposed facility whose application was .
O’Connor said he's in favor of a "variation" on the type of school , which would incorporate music, art, drama and movement more heavily into the academic curriculum.
“In one of the articles I read, 40 percent of the students in Lacey have gone on to a two- or four-year school. That basically leaves 60 percent of the students that don’t go to college,” O’Connor said.
Martenak explained that 77 percent of Lacey Township High School students went on to attend a two or four-year school last year, as opposed to the 40 percent quoted by O’Connor, and that an additional percentage of students also entered the military as well.
“The gap you’re talking about is much smaller, I just wanted to clarify that for the public.” said Martenak.
O’Connor continued by saying that college is not an option for every student, and that instruction in various trades would instead be a valid choice for those students.
“I see the vocational program as more a program for after high school, or is as they are in vocational school and attending high school, it’s still heavily-geared in a college preparatory direction,” O’Connor said.
“Whether it comes under the guise of industrial arts or a charter school, when you hear me talk about this, I want to qualify something important to me. What I’m proposing is under the direction of the school board and superintendent, using union teachers. I’m not talking about moving the students out of the school into another building,” O’Connor stated.
O’Connor continued by saying that he believed that the district is currently creating “false expectations” for students to whom college may not be their most viable post-secondary education option.
“What are we doing to prepare them,” he asked.
Board of Education President Jack Martenak said that there were “many tangents” involved in O’Connor’s proposal, and invited him to speak on the subject in more depth at a later time.
O’Connor said that this issue was something that could be addressed within the school district instead, and advocated that the district find a “middle ground” between the current system of education in Lacey and that which was proposed by the charter school.
“For our economy to turn around, we need to get back into trades and manufacturing,” he said.
On a separate note, resident Regina Discenza later said that despite its denial, she thinks the charter school application will return in some form.
“I believe that arts-based curriculum could have some merit in our classrooms,” she said, referring to her past experience in teaching C.C.D. and music to young children. Discenza said that when she taught, she noticed that children responded differently to interactive lessons than they do to books.
“Children learn at different paces,” she said.
Discenza said that rather than having a charter school established outside the district, it would be “worth a try” to incorporate some of those same art-based curriculum concepts into the district.
Board member Frank Palino later commented that he agreed with O’Connor about the mood in society today being college-driven “to an extent”, but that such a feeling comes from the homes and not necessarily the school district.
Palino pointed to the Ocean County Vocational-Technical School as an example of opportunities available to students, and said that an apprenticeship program could be an option that the district explores. However, he did maintain the board’s opposing position to the idea of a charter school in Lacey.
“I don’t necessarily think that placing a charter school here is going to increase anything for our children,” and emphasized that the Lacey Township School District is “not failing.”
Board member William Quist launched into a passionate response regarding vocational education in Ocean County, and labeled the Ocean County Vocational-Technical School as both a “gem” and the “best-kept secret” in the county.
“They have tough, challenging, state-of-the-art programs. If you go through these programs, you’re going to hit the ground running (when it comes to finding a job),” said Quist.
Quist said that Lacey taxpayers are financially supporting the Vocational-Technical School’s state-of-the-art programs and excellent teachers, and that they should take advantage of those opportunities.
“I see it every day,” Quist said.
“There is so much good stuff that’s already here, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Let’s take advantage of what we have here in this county,” said Quist.
Board member Maureen Tirella said that this conversation is “not a new dialogue,” and that the county has been providing these opportunities for years in as cost-efficient a way as possible.
“There are opportunities for every student, whether it’s child care, graphic arts, etc. Every child’s interest could be satisfied,” said Tirella, adding that perhaps more could be done to raise public awareness of vocational-technical programs.
Board Vice President Eric Schubiger said that in the nine years he’s served on the board, he thought that the current issue being raised was an example of things “coming full circle.”
“I thought our goal as a board was not to make sure that students go to college, but to make sure that they become positive people when they graduate and contribute positively to society, and I still believe that,” Schubiger said.
“Our job as a board is to provide opportunity. The opportunities are there; it’s incumbent upon the students and their family support to make sure those opportunities are taken advantage of. That’s what our job is here. Whether they go to college, whether they become a plumber or go into apprenticeship – no matter what they do, we have the opportunities here for them to succeed,” Schubiger said.
Martenak continued the discussion by saying that starting a dialogue on this evening was “10 or 20 years too late”, and that the Lacey Township School District has adjusted course offerings over the years based on the interest levels of both students and parents.
“We are also interested in ensuring that we provide our students with the opportunities to go to college, and pursue even graduate school or professional school, if that’s what they want to do,” said Martenak.
“We’re always striving to find better ways to prepare them to get into college, and better ways for them to succeed when they do get into college – and help them and their families find ways to pay for college,” the Board President said, referring to district support of both college and vocational-technical programs as a “balanced approach.”
Later, O’Connor emphasized that the school board needs to adapt to the changing times in society, explaining that progress has been made in the past by exploring different paths then arriving at a balance.
“It’s because we find a middle ground, that’s what I’m proposing right now. Just because we’ve done something for 10 years, doesn’t mean it’s going to be useful in the future,” O’Connor said.