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As another school year has gotten underway, updates are forthcoming on the work of the Superintendent’s Future Planning Committee, convened last spring to address the issue of declining enrollment in Hopewell Valley Regional School District elementary schools. MercerMe has covered the progress from the inception HERE.

The Future Planning Committee met over the summer in July, took the month of August off and met again September 10 in a closed session. During their recent meeting, the group continued the process of narrowing options to address the issue of declining enrollment.

The committee also discussed the impact of the proposed high-density, mixed-use development in the Scotch Road/Merrill Lynch area of Hopewell Township, and how a potential population increase brought about by the development could affect the school district.

Pennington resident and Future Planning Committee member James Creegan is giving an update on the group’s progress at a Toll Gate Elementary PTO meeting this morning. A member of the subcommittee focusing on adding a full day Kindergarten option, Creegan said the overall committee also will recommend the Superintendent consider redistricting and expanding magnet programs in the elementary schools as ways to address projected declining enrollment.

Creegan said two other options under consideration, moving 5th grade out of the elementary schools and over to the middle school and moving the Administration from its current location on Main Street in Pennington, were rejected for further consideration by the committee. The committee previously formally rejected closing any of the current schools and leaving things at status quo or “doing nothing” to address the declining enrollment issue.

A slide deck available on the school district website includes additional details about options still under consideration, and those rejected by the committee for further exploration.

“None of the three recommendations are dependent on the other, but all are designed to balance the population at each school,” Creegan said.

“The full committee is in the process of preparing the final written proposal regarding each of its recommendations, which will contain the specifics about the recommendation to implement full day Kindergarten including costs, facilities and curriculum,” he said, noting that the October 20 school board meeting will feature the complete recommendations of the Future Planning Committee. The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Timberlane Middle School, and is open to the public.

“The declining enrollment issue presents a great opportunity to make a move to full day Kindergarten with minimal impact on the budget and existing schools,” Creegan said.

He stressed his subcommittee is making this recommendation with a focus on how it will be of primary benefit to district students.

“This will help provided needed instruction in reading, writing and mathematics and allow for socially appropriate development that still includes play time, which is important at that age and has been reduced due to time constraints,” Creegan said. “This will also help Kindergartners be more prepared to make the transition to first grade. The popularity of the Kindergarten extension program is an indicator that the district is ready for this move.”

Elaborating on why full day his subcommittee is recommending the district explore a full day Kindergarten option, Creegan said the curriculum is essentially already in place and the schools all have necessary facilities like the required number of bathrooms to accommodate a full day option.

While the Future Planning Committee will make recommendations to the Superintendent, the final decision on how to proceed in addressing the issue of declining enrollment ultimately lies with the Board of Education.

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Andrea Fereshteh has been writing for as long as she can remember. An avid journal-keeper as a child, she dabbled in dramatic notes to her parents and designed her own stationary. With a zest for small talk and meeting new people, she pursued journalism in college and worked for nine years in PR, writing and media relations for the higher ed and nonprofit sectors. She has a mousters and ducktorate from Disney University and is a mother to two lively boys who inspire her to just keep writing, just keep writing.

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