MANCHESTER – Having some java with John Berenato has helped bring parents and the office of the school superintendent a bit closer together.
During his first weeks in the role, he initiated the “Java with John” forum as a way to get to know parents in the school district and hear their concerns, answer their questions and to sip a bit of coffee. He just celebrated his one-year anniversary as superintendent and is still holding these events.
A recent session held at the Whiting Elementary School was filled to the brim with attendees eager to impart their views and to hear his updates on school district news. Locations for the event rotate around the schools of the district.
In speaking with The Manchester Times, Berenato noted, “I did a lot of listening and observing and meeting people around the community and within the district and to really take the time to understand where Manchester has been in the past and where we are and where we were a year ago.”
“It was important for me to build rapport along with my leadership team, staff, the teachers, parents, the community and really put myself out there to let them know what I needed to do to keep this school district in a great place,” he said.
As to the challenges ahead, the superintendent said, “there were three areas that were identified in some of our chats that required my attention right away such as declining enrollment of K to 12. In terms of the amount of students that we had previously and looking at that trend of declining enrollment,” he added.
“We also have an increase of students who received ESL (English as a Second Language). We also had the increase in families that received (transportation) aid-in-lieu), families that utilize a non-public school. It is a requirement of the state for us to either provide transportation or provide the family with aid-in-lieu with transportation money per child,” Berenato added.
He noted that with each challenge “we look at what we need to overcome and be solution oriented. A big positive for us was that we were awarded $3.1 million through the pre-school expansion aid that was available for Manchester which it was eligible for, for quite a few years. Coming from my previous district, we already had the pre-school extension and actually had it since 2006.
“I was familiar with the requirements, what it entails and some of the pieces of the program that had to be in place and that was something that I and the director of special services put together in the application and we were awarded. That money is a nice offset because as our enrollment is declining we are repurposing that space to accommodate families who have three and four year olds and that increases our enrollment,” Berenato said.
He noted that like the Jackson School District, Manchester passed a resolution to support 12th District Assemblyman Alex Sauickie’s bill A-4461 which asks for the State “to provide us with some aid for the aid in lieu because it has such a substantial impact on our budget.”
“We are seeing some familiar challenges (with Jackson’s School District) and I think for Manchester we have a lot we can learn from has happened in Jackson and how we can be proactive,” he added.
Java with John may have started initially as a way to meet members of the community and as an introduction but it has proven to be a good communication vehicle in a more low key, conversational setting beyond a Board of Education meeting.
Berenato said the next Java with John will be held on March 27 at 6 p.m. at The Barn on Route 70.
He reminded the public that on March 16, the school district will host its strategic plan event at 5:30 p.m. at Manchester High School. This event will “engage the community and is planned to solicit some feedback on the direction they want us to take the district in.”