HoLa, Hoboken's dual language charter school, has made several changes to the Hoboken Boys and Girls Club building since it moved onto the second floor almost two years ago. The school has cleaned, painted, renovated existing classrooms, divided a large space into new classrooms, and added fire escapes at 123 Jefferson St.
But not everyone in the community is happy about it.
HoLa has been accused of taking over space and time from the Boys and Girls Club that uses the first floor of the building to serve mostly underprivileged children with an afterschool program. The school has also been blamed for an alleged reduction of services at the club.
The school board president said some members of the community are wrongfully blaming HoLa for whatever might be happening at the Boys and Girls Club.
"What people don’t seem to realize," wrote President of HoLa’s Board of Trustees Jennifer Hindman Sargent in a recent email, “is that we utilize the space during the portion of the day that the building was entirely unused previously because the Boys and Girls Club students attended their own respective schools during the day, and the building was only used for afterschool programming prior to HoLa."
Both Hindman Sargent and the Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hudson County Gary Greenberg have said the school and the club have a good, mutually beneficial relationship. And if Greenberg ever asked the school not to use space the club needed, Hindman Sargent said, HoLa would certainly comply.
“It’s not an elitist school like they are trying to make it out to be,” she said. She added that some people have just wanted to discourage HoLa from the start.
HoLa opened its classrooms for kindergarten through second grade in September 2010 with plans to grow by a grade each year until the school reached fifth grade.
This year, HoLa has two new third grade classrooms, and construction is already underway for two new fourth grade classrooms. Hindman Sargent said the challenge now is figuring out where the school will put the fifth grade in 2013.
Multiple parents have said that school representatives told them HoLa will eventually include sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. But the school’s current lease with the club is “for a full-time public elementary charter school serving kindergarten through fifth grade.” Hindman Sargent said that in two years, when it is time to renew HoLa’s charter, the school will apply for the state’s approval to extend through the eighth grade.
Besides regular classes, HoLa offers two different programs after school. Its aftercare program is from 2:30 to 6 p.m. and parents pay up to $325 a month per child, depending on how many days a week the child attends. And its other program, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., offers extra help and enrichment classes, some of which parents have to pay for, Hindman Sargent said.
Two of HoLa’s enrichment classes are held on the first floor (one in the kitchen and the other in the gym) one day a week and overlap with club hours, which begin at 3 p.m. The overlap—as well as the fact that the school has to turn over classrooms to the club when club hours begin—has caused some tension.
One parent who has had a child in the club in recent years, but wanted to remain anonymous, said that the transition is awkward for club staff. For their afterschool activities, club kids used to be separated into groups by age, she said, but now they are all crammed into a single classroom. “They are losing space and being pushed aside,” said the parent, who said she is close to staffers at the club.
Hindman Sargent said HoLa turns over five of the six original classrooms to the Boys and Girls Club at the end of each school day. And so, she added, HoLa uses two of the new classrooms the school planned for and one of the old rooms. “It’s not like we are usurping space,” said Hindman Sargent.
She added that the club kids have priority in the entire building from 3:30 p.m. until the evening.
There is limited space at the Boys and Girls Club and in Hoboken in general, Hindman Sargent said, "the ideal scenario is to have your own building." She said that while the board was planning the school, one of its members suggested that the school just ask the Boys and Girls Club to share its space, and the club agreed.
“The building was literally empty until 3 p.m.,” said Hindman Sargent. “It was just so underutilized.”
A charter school must apply to the state for approval, and applications must include a plan for location. HoLa’s charter application states that it plans to be located at the Boys and Girls Club for a minimum of two years, not a maximum. The school’s lease with the club allows the school to renew the lease “for 10 one-year extension periods through June 30, 2022.”
Hindman Sargent said that last year, the school paid $48,000 in rent and $12,000 in utilities and more than $100,000 for improvements, which included creating two new classrooms, recombining two classrooms that had been divided, pulling up industrial carpeting, and making repairs. She added that donations paid for a lot of the cost. HoLa was also required by the state to adapt the facility to code and had to spend about $36,000 for the installation of two new fire escapes, Hindman Sargent said.
Hindman Sargent said this year, HoLa will pay $180,000 in rent and utilities and that as more space is created, the school will pay proportionally higher rent to the Boys and Girls Club.
Greenberg has said that HoLa has helped the Hoboken branch of the Boys and Girls Club balance its budget. So, the club needed the income and the school needed the space. But what really matters, said Hindman Sargent, is the children.
"Everyone is trying to do their best to serve them all with very limited resources in terms of both space and funding," Hindman Sargent wrote. "Pitting them against each other is a false dichotomy and is not in anyone’s best interest."
Hindman Sargent added some of HoLa’s students stay afterschool for the extra help or aftercare program, some go downstairs to join the Boys and Girls Club, and some go home. HoLa students, she said, are no different from any other students in Hoboken.