Murphy Tours Jamesburg pre-k program

Governor Murphy gestures during the April 9 tour of John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Jamesburg, with local legislators and acting state Department of Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet.

Touting a proposed $58 million in additional funding to support universal full-day pre-K in New Jersey, Governor Murphy toured John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Jamesburg earlier this month.

In September, after acquiring a $950,000 state grant, the Jamesburg School District launched a full-day dual-language program for 4-year-olds and 3-year-olds in October. The district already had a half-day program for 4-year-olds, but it was not dual-language.

“Investments in our youngest students are investments in the future of our state,” Governor Murphy said. “Schools like JFK Elementary show us that there are vast benefits to improving opportunities for pre-K students and that these investments are a critical part of creating a stronger and fairer New Jersey where families want to live and grow. The opportunity here is what our continued commitment to and investment in pre-K can provide every child.”

While campaigning for governor, Murphy pledge to provide universal pre-K in New Jersey. The funding would be phased in over the years, but paying for it would likely come through tax increases. Last year, under then-Gov. Chris Christie, the Legislature approved $23 million in pre-K funding.

“We truly believe in the quality of what preschool programming and curriculum can do and how it can have a life-changing affect for students,” said Jamesburg Superintendent Brian Betze on Friday. “It changes their entire life. If you can get them in the schools early enough and start to teach them their letters, sounds and math … it can have lifelong implications … so we jumped on the chance to expand the program.”

The dual-language program, he said, will expand to second-graders next year and then ultimately up to the fifth grade. It is already in the kindergarten and first-grade programs.

A welcomed surprise

Jamesburg was just preparing to begin its spring break when the call came from the Governor’s Office to tour JFK Elementary School.

“We were ecstatic and surprised,” Betze said. “We had to get everything ready, while none of us would be here.”

Credit goes to the school’s principal Pamela Hernandez and Supervisor of Early Childhood Kristy DeFazio.

“They worked tirelessly over [spring break] week and prepared the school and moved furniture around and worked with scheduling with the Governor’s Office,” Betze said. “A lot went into a very short period of time.”

Prior to the governor’s visit, Betze said the April 9 date was originally an in-service day for the preschool staff members and would be closed to the students. The parents were notified of that, but then were later notified that the preschool would be open because of the governor’s scheduled visit.

“The parent’s didn’t bat an eye, they were happy the kids were going to be back in school,” Betze said.

While the grant to fund the full-day program is not guaranteed for each year, Betze said it was renewed for the 2018-19 school year and the district will keep applying for it.

“All the studies and research have shown the importance of high quality pre-K, where children who have attended early childhood education programs show reduced need for remediation, improved achievement overall and greater rates of high school graduation,” said state Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-14, who serves on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.”

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Correspondent

Christopher Lang is a freelance correspondent for MonroeNow. Previously he was part of The Record-USA Today Network and served as an editor for a decade at NJMG.