In the new year, the Cherry Hill Public School District is implementing several big changes that include redistricting the three middle schools and approval of a $400 million bond referendum in the fall for building improvements across the district. While neither of these will take effect physically until the next year, discussions have been underway and will continue in the upcoming months.
Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche addressed both when looking ahead to the new year.
“There are significant needs within our buildings throughout our district,” Meloche said. “The only way to address the HVAC, electrical work, number of rooms, masonry work that needs to be done is by borrowing money.”
Meloche noted that the last time a referendum passed was in 1999, though the district also went out for a bond referendum in 2018 and failed.
“(If it fails again,) the board and community would have to regroup because as a district, we’ve identified close to $400 million worth of work that we believe needs to be done,” he said. “ … We’ll have to regroup and have another discussion about putting it back out.”
If the referendum passes, there likely would be a tax increase. In 2021, district improvements agreed on included a roof replacement at Stockton Elementary School; a redo of exterior window walls in the cafeteria at Cherry Hill East High School; and an ongoing project to upgrade the tennis courts at that school, all projects that have been slowed by nationwide supply chain issues.
In curriculum updates, Meloche announced that the 2021-’22 school year is the first for African American studies that are part of graduation requirements. The district will update its standards for computer literacy and computer application and reassess what it will look like across the curriculum.
The new school year will also have a new consistent master schedule at all three middle schools that the district has worked on over the past few years. The district has also acquired new podcasting equipment that will potentially be part of the broadcasting class and is expected in late winter or early spring.
While COVID was disruptive to student learning in the earlier half of 2021, Meloche acknowledged that it has led to better discussions regarding health and wellness in the community, both physically and mentally. In the last year, the district has partnered with Care Solace, a mental-health service for students, family members and staff that offers support 24/7.
With all the new changes coming to the district, Meloche noted that one of the goals in the new year is to get back to a sense of normalcy.
“It feels like we’ve been in a constant state of transition from March 2020 to today,” he acknowledged. “So we’re looking to re-establish some of those routines, build on the comfortability and understanding of what’s taking place and who’s doing what and how it feels to go through a school year again.”
“Uncertainty causes frustration for people, anxiety for people, so we want school and the school experience to go back to being one of those things everyone can count on as a regular day-to-day thing,” Meloche added.
In the new school year, the board of education will swear in three members at its annual reorganization meeting: Jennifer Fleisher, Benjamin Rood and incumbent Sally Tong.