Year ahead for Cherry Hill’s school districts

New year for schools will include talk of redistricting, start times

The Cherry Hill’s school district tackled big projects in 2022 that included a bond referendum, middle-school redistricting and school start times. In the new year, there will be more of the same. 

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An initial $300 million in bonds were sold on Dec. 8 to J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, at an interest rate of 3.721 percent. Interest rates of the seven bids submitted ranged from that number to 4.325 percent, so the district can now begin posting requests for bids. 

“We expect that we’re going to do about $70 million worth of projects that we’ll put out to bid after the first of the year,” said Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche.

Construction projects include roof replacements, the building of APR rooms at each elementary school, new playgrounds and new lights and bleachers at East’s high-school stadium to accommodate under-the-lights games as early as fall of 2023.

The upgrades to HVAC systems will also help with the district’s sustainability goals. 

“There will be a dramatic impact on all of our schools with the work that’ll be done as part of our referendum,” Meloche said. “Just the HVAC work, improving the systems, replacing the systems original to the building will dramatically impact our energy usage and the quality and flow of air that are in our classrooms and in our buildings, so I’m very excited about that work.”

The district is attempting to form a sustainability committee to be made up of administrative and instructional staff who will identify basic principles and ideals and work toward certification from   Sustainable Jersey Schools.

Come September, new middle-school redistricting will go in place for incoming students. Current middle-schoolers will be grandfathered in so they can remain at their present schools.

Conversations around a school start time continue. Last year, the district made it a goal to meet with more than 20 families of students with special needs to understand their school experiences and how they could be improved. In the new year, Meloche and school board members will focus on meeting with Hispanic and Latino families.

Another item up for consideration in the new year is the possibility of applying for the Preschool Expansion Grant provided by the state and the federal Department of Education. The grant would allow for the expansion of preschool programs for non-classified children, or kids without IEPs (Individualized Education Plans).

Meloche explained that the board is looking at whether the district could expand its preschool program by adding additional classes and finding a place for more children, or for more classrooms that will allow any 3- or 4-year-old child who lives in the community to attend.  Space has been the biggest challenge.

The money that comes from the state is in a grant cycle of five years, and by the end of five years, “they want you to have 85 percent of that preschool universe, of all the 3- and 4-year olds in town to be enrolled in the preschool,” Meloche explained. 

“So for us, the round numbers, that’s about 1,600 children,” he added. “So we’re looking right now at ‘Where do we go from a very small program to a place where we need to have room for 1,500 or 1,600 kids?’”

Both East and West high schools recently applied for a grant to support their theater programs.

“I’m always excited for the new year, excited to see opportunities to come before our children and our staff members,” the superintendent noted.

 

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