EDISON — The first order of business for Jerry Shi, the new president of the Edison Township Public Schools Board of Education, is to address student overcrowding in schools and to find a way to implement a full-day kindergarten program.
“Overcrowding is the most significant challenge that has reached a crisis level and requires immediate action,” Shi said during a meeting on Jan. 17.
To deal with the issue, Shi announced the formation of a task force to examine student overcrowding and to make recommendations about how to address the problem.
The district has two high schools, four middle schools, nine elementary schools, one intermediate school, one primary school and it operates a preschool program.
During the summer, 1,015 new students registered and the district started the 2017-18 school year with 16,609 students. As of Dec. 22, the enrollment was 16,464 students, according to Business Administrator Dan Michaud.
Superintendent of Schools Richard O’Malley has said John P. Stevens High School started the 2017-18 school year with one of the school’s largest freshman classes – 701 students.
Two elementary schools — Woodbrook and Lincoln — have more than 30 students per class. The construction of an addition at Woodbrook is expected to be completed in the spring.
Board member Ralph Errico will co-chair the task force with Township Council President Ajay Patil. School board members Shannon Peng, Richard Brescher and Falguni Patel will join them.
“The task in front of us is not easy,” Shi said. “It requires resources and input from many stakeholders, including representatives from the state, county and local governments.”
Shi said the task force will include representatives from different backgrounds, each of whom can add new ideas and embark on the challenge of alleviating the crisis that has been troubling the school district for years.
“I requested that the task force meet over the next 60 days and create a usable plan of action this board can implement,” Shi said. “I am also asking the committee to create a plan of action for a full-day kindergarten program.”
Shi said recommendations made by the task force will not sit in a binder collecting dust.
“Ideas and strategies this group comes up with will be incorporated by this board,” the president said.
Errico said the task force will solicit input from school board members, the superintendent, the business administrator, principals, PTO members and members of the public.
He said the suggestion of building new schools is an easy solution, but not the easiest approach when it comes to locating land, finding funding and working with government representatives at various levels.
“It is going to be a big task … to create ideas, because this problem [is] now,” Errico said. “We are in the middle of it now and it is only going to get worse.”
Council President Ajay Patil said he applauds Shi’s effort to prioritize school overcrowding and full day kindergarten issues and appreciates the opportunity to serve on the task force.
“It’s high time for [the] Board of Education, mayor and town council to work together along with other important stakeholders including the open space committee, library board, county and state elected officials for the common cause [of planning] to build the infrastructure for the quality education,” he said. “Overcrowding is the most critical issue that is already impacting students, parents and teachers.”
Anyone interested in serving on the task force or offering ideas and suggestions may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.