Opinion: Let the PS 16 Schoolchildren Play Safely in Paulus Hook’s Four Corners Park

The contested southwest corner of Four Corners Park sits largely empty over Labor Day weekend on the morning of Sunday, September 5, 2021.

If you have ever walked by Grand St. and Washington St. during morning drop-off, mid-day recess, or in the afternoon after school, you have seen the scores of children playing in the only functional corner of Four Corners Park. The adjacent school, Cornelia F. Bradford Elementary School (PS 16), lacks an outdoor space, and its students need a large, safe place to play. Fortunately, this corner has provided this opportunity for years, and during school hours, it makes sense that the school should have exclusive use of this space. In the evenings, weekends, holidays, and summers, the space can be used by the entire community.

Our children recently graduated from PS 16, where they benefited enormously from the wide open, mostly flat space that allowed them to play soccer, tag, and football during recess, along with their classmates. Allowing the school the exclusive use of the space during school hours will ensure that hundreds of students will continue to enjoy this space safely on a daily basis for regular exercise. And the reality is that the vast majority of the child-hours spent in this park is indeed because of the school. During school hours, other children have access to a number of nearby parks and open spaces:

  • General Nathanael Greene Park by Essex Street Light Rail Station
  • Morris Canal Park
  • Morris Canal Square Park by the Marin Boulevard Light Rail Station
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial
  • Van Vorst Park

The Historic Paulus Hook Association (HPHA) opposes the exclusive use of this portion of the park by the school. To its credit, the HPHA has led various efforts in an attempt to improve the park; however, we have been disappointed by the results of these efforts. The introduction of the playgrounds was certainly an improvement, but the additional landscaping and impractical fencing also reduced the limited functional open space for sports and games of tag. The community already had three corners of landscaped, unusable park space, and the modifications further restricted the space in the most popular corner of the small park. Why has the southwest corner of the park always been the subject of discussion and dispute? Because this corner was the Four Corners Park’s only flat, open space that could be used for free play.

Instead of opposing the efforts of the school and the PS 16 Concerned Parents Association (CPA) to make extensive use of this open space, the HPHA should concentrate its advocacy on transforming the other three landscaped corners of the park into a more functional space for the community. The rest of the Four Corners Park is underutilized and could benefit from additional play spaces. Additionally, the HPHA can continue its work to improve the community’s use of the space near the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which is currently poorly used primarily as a parking lot. The paved entrance to the memorial has often served as a play space for the neighborhood, and with a little extra protection from cars, it could better serve the children of Paulus Hook.

But the HPHA does importantly highlight something we can all agree on: the need for school buildings with more classrooms, potable water, and safe play spaces. Perhaps we can build consensus around this demand and redirect the efforts of the various neighborhood groups toward this common goal.

PSAT Prep Classes Now Available

Parents looking to prepare their children for the PSAT 8/9, as required by McNair Academic High School and Infinity Institute, can sign up here for virtual PSAT Language Arts prep and in-person PSAT Math prep at Hudson County Community College.

The classes will run on various days between September 7, 2021 and September 18, 2021. Target audience is 8th graders, so we presume the class will focus primarily on PSAT 8/9 material. Instructors will focus on test-taking strategies and will use sample tests in class.

McNair and Infinity Admissions Policies Might Change for 8th graders in the 2021-2022 School Year

The Jersey City Board of Education voted tonight to review admissions policies for two of its top rated magnet schools, McNair Academic and Infinity Institute. JCBOE plans to hold two public hearings on the topic. The first is expected to be a virtual meeting to be held on Thursday, July 15, 2021. The second public hearing will be scheduled after the Board returns to regularly scheduled monthly meetings in August.

Stating that the policies have not been updated in decades, the board has decided to review them with the aim of maximizing fairness, equity, and diversity. The district promises to conduct an analysis of current policies, to compare them with other large and small school districts nationwide, and to deliver recommendations that would take effect for the class of 2026, thereby affecting students entering eight grade in the fall of 2021.

The current admissions policy at McNair aims to accept a student population that is 25% Black, 25% Hispanic, 25% White, and 25% Other. Applications are sorted into groups by ethnicity and then ranked. The top 50 students from each of four groups are chosen, and an additional 40 students are selected from the remaining applications, without consideration for ethnicity. Because Asian students as a group tend to outperform on standardized tests, Asian students are likely to overwhelmingly fill those 40 race blind spots. Thus, as of 2019-2020, actual enrollment at McNair skews more Asian (42.9%), while Black students make up only 13.7% of the population. Hispanic students (20.1%) and White students (19.5%) are enrolled at rates much closer to the target acceptance rate.

What does this mean for parents and students? Fairness, equity, and diversity are qualitative and subjective terms, so it’s hard to know exactly what the recommendations for change will be. Is it even possible to be fair, equitable, and diverse simultaneously? Stuyvesant High School in New York mostly recently made headlines again, this time for accepting only 8 Black students out of 749 total. The New York City high school relies solely on a single admissions test, and although Black students take the test in equal proportions to White students (18% each), White students make up 28% of those admitted while Black students account for only 4%. Jersey City magnet schools do not have such stark differences in acceptance rates by race as a direct result of the current admissions policies. So in comparison to New York, Jersey City appears to have a smaller diversity problem.

That said, any potential changes to admissions policies seem highly likely to be designed to increase the admissions rate of Black students, and necessarily decrease the admissions rates for Asian students. The problem is reminiscent of a major case that may be reviewed by the Supreme Court. In Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, Asian American students allege that Harvard’s admissions process, which incorporates race, puts Asian American students at a disadvantage. Harvard won the lawsuit and the decision was affirmed on appeal; however, the Supreme Court may hear an appeal filed in February 2021.

PS 16 Cornelia Bradford Gets a New Building with 13 Classrooms

Superintendent Walker confirmed at today’s board meeting that Cornelia F. Bradford Elementary School (PS 16) will add 13 new classrooms at the new building at 275 Washington St. at the corner of Christopher Columbus Ave. and Washington St. Currently, the average class size for K-5 students at the school is 33 students. It is still unclear which grades will make use of the new facilities, but families in and nearby Paulus Hook should be able to count on this new facility to reduce overcrowding starting in September 2021 for the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

Update 30-Jun-2021: the 13 classrooms in the new building at 275 Washington St. are expected to be used for Kindergarten and first grade. The existing PS #16 building has 14 classrooms that will be dedicated to 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. Finally, Danforth Avenue Early Childhood Center has 20 classrooms that will continue to be used for Pre-K3 and Pre-K4, with 10 classrooms for each Pre-K grade level.

Analysis of Latest NJ Assessment Data Now Available

The global pandemic precluded any standardized testing and the resulting data set from the Spring of 2020, so we have gone back to Spring 2019 to ensure we have analyzed the most recent standardized assessment data available. See how schools rank in testing performance in Math and English and Language Arts here. Teaser: We help to answer the often asked question: which AEP school is “better” – Academy I or MS 4?

JC BOE Replaces Lost State Aid with an Increase in the Local Tax Levy, Passing 2021-2022 Budget

Tonight the Jersey City Board of Education passed a fully funded budget for 2021-2022, replacing lost state aid with a major increase in the local tax levy.

Find here a detailed view of the Jersey City Public School District Budget.

And find here a quick view of the state aid and local tax levy changes over a three year period.

The district’s adequacy budget will be fully funded for at least one year, but the district will face the same challenge again next year as the state continues to decrease its aid to Jersey City, effectively forcing the local community to address the funding need using its own tax base.

As the state dialed back aid, Jersey City schools have been underfunded, until 2021-2022, the school year for which the JC BOE fully funded the adequacy budget with an increase in the local tax levy

Best High Schools in New Jersey for 2021, as ranked by US News and World Report

US News and World Report recently released its rankings of best high schools in New Jersey in 2021. Jersey City Public Schools has two highly ranked high schools on the list. McNair Academic came in at 5th and Infinity Institute ranked 11th.

But how do they decide which high schools are the best? According to their high school ranking methodology, these rankings are based on the following:

  • 30% College Readiness – Percentage of high school seniors who took an AP or IB course and/or earned a qualifying score on an AP or IB exam
  • 20% Math and Reading Proficiency – scores on state assessments like the PARCC
  • 20% Math and Reading Performance – scores on state assessments like the PARCC, adjusted for the racial and economic backgrounds of the student population
  • 10% Underserved Student Performance – scores on state assessments like the PARCC for Black, Hispanic, and low income students, relative to the state average
  • 10% College Curriculum Breadth – percentage of students who took more than 1 AP or IB course and/or earned a qualifying score on an AP or IB exam

As a result of this methodology, these rankings reflect the type of students entering the high school and the selectivity of the admissions process. And it is important to note that these rankings are thus not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the instruction, but are likely a reflection of the academic environment and the abilities of the student body.