By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
For decades, the Asbury Park school system has produced its fair share of painters, sculptors, singers, writers and poets but as the years passed and state and federal funding dipped, programs were eliminated.
Now, the school district is taking steps to see arts offerings resurrected.
Dr. Michael Penna, a recently elected Board of Education member, wants to see the artistic decline halted. Penna campaigned to re-establish an arts curriculum in Asbury Park. Earlier this month, the district took initial steps to see such offerings resurrected.
In his other life, Penna teaches drama and English at Toms River High School North in Ocean County. Penna is a professional actor and has performed professionally for more than 20 years. He is a board member for The New Jersey International Thespian Society and for the National English Honor Society. He is the recipient of the 2022 NJ State Teen Arts: Educator of the Year Award, the 2022 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award: for Outstanding Educator, the 2022 Monmouth Arts: Arts Education Award and the 2019 Montclair State University Foxy Award for Excellence in Theater Education. He is an advocate for the arts, education, the disabled and is active in the LGBTQ+ community.
“It is a beginning,” said Penna of the arts curriculum in Asbury Park.
“It is a great first step,” agreed Board Member Joe Grillo, whose daughter, an arts student, begins this fall as a freshman in Asbury Park High School. She had attended Deal schools since the beginning of her educational career. “Now let’s bring back the marching band.” Grillo said. “And musical theater,” Penna said.
Schools Superintendent Dr RaShawn M. Adams recommended the hiring of curriculum writers in various areas, including some arts categories.
Curriculum will be written for journalism, yearbook, holocaust and genocide, marketing, entrepreneurship, fitness and nutrition, rock history, jazz history, career explorations, materials processing, visual and performing arts, statistics, physical education and health, concert choir, vocal workshop and unified arts.
For unified arts and visual and performing arts, these will be updates to the curriculum. In statistics and physical education and health, these will be core classes.
These offerings may comprise up to four units of study. Teachers will be paid $41 an hour, eight hours for each unit. Those hired will be required to attend online curriculum training for up to two hours, and not to exceed $1,312 for each subject.
“We are finally taking the arts seriously,” Grillo said. “We are Asbury Park. Our students should have a robust arts program. It is fantastic that we are writing a curriculum for this.”
Grillo explained his 12-year-old daughter, Leonora, is graduating from eighth grade in Deal so family members met with officials at Asbury Park High School to help the tween decide. She was particularly interested in Asbury Park’s dual enrollment program, her father explained.
“We got it,” Grillo said after multiple meetings with Asbury high school educators and administrators that led Leonora to opt for participation in Asbury Park’s Dream Academy.
“She is going to be in good hands,” Grillo said.
He said programs that Asbury Park offers are superior to alternates including its partnership with Stockton State College for engineering.
In the following areas not directly involving curriculum writing, the board authorized Debra Gulick to provide professional development lessons in “Building K-5 Problem Solvers’ for incoming Teacher Academy participants to help elementary school teachers to identify problem solving in curriculum. Teachers also will be provided with resources.
The district also is appointing school counselors who over the summer will conduct transcript audits and summer school credit recovery not to exceed 14 days each and paid based on the negotiated contract with the Asbury Park Education Association. This is somewhat significant because last fall, the high school football team had to forfeit its first game because not enough students were qualified to play the sport, based on a shortfall of credits that officials failed to notice before the start of the season.
Students over the summer also will be permitted to participate in the New Jersey Virtual School program for use in summer credit recovery and credit acceleration for students in grades 9 through 12. Total cost is not to exceed $70,000.
Also approved is the position of teacher of cosmetology, who will work no more than 100 hours between June 21 and August 25 in preparation for a career academy endorsed by Adams.The hours will be used to review curriculum, order materials, organize classroom space, manage inventory, prepare lessons and perform any other duties assigned by the building principal. The board approved the new program to help students enroll in a new career-oriented program, particularly when the allied health program encountered problems. Other critics pointed out there is a cosmetology career academy in neighboring Neptune and perhaps the board should consider future-oriented career academies such as cyber security or drone piloting.