Cherry Hill’s Coles Alternative High School Moves to East High Amid Pre-k Boom


The Cherry Hill school board’s decision to relocate its Alternative High School from the Lewis Administration Building to Cherry Hill High School East was not widely supported by the public, according to comments made at the Tuesday school board meeting.

Lauren Giordano, the alternative school’s principal, told the board that the student population includes people who have experienced trauma, have a transient school background, have difficulty managing their emotions, or require academic recovery and acceleration. The district reports that there are approximately 38 kids enrolled.

Caitlin Mallory, the district’s director of special education, told the board that discussions about relocating the Alternative High School had been ongoing for at least a decade. However, the timing of the shift now appears to be ideal, she continued.

“You have to have the right leadership, staff, and group of students to endure a transition like this,” she said.

The district intends to reserve the B Wing of Cherry Hill High School East solely for Alternative High School pupils.

That space will be known as Coles Alternative High School and will keep the current Alternative High School’s academic core team, two full-time certified mental health professionals, a full-time counselor, a secretary, and a principal, Mallory said.

The relocation will also allow Alternative High School students to take electives alongside Cherry Hill High School East students, boost alternative school student extracurricular options, and provide new fundraising opportunities, according to Mallory.

Acting Superintendent Kwame Morton described the shift, which would begin in the autumn, as a “tremendous opportunity” and “the right thing to do.”

Public comments at the school board meeting indicate that not everyone shares the district’s perspective.

“East is extremely busy between class periods (while commuting between classrooms). Matt Rentezelas, Cherry Hill High School East’s representative to the school board, stated that transferring a portion of the building to the alternative high school may increase overcrowding difficulties.

Jim Neary, the parent of a child with special needs, described the relocation announcement as “a slap in the face to wake up (to) the morning after we were marching on Trenton with you by your side, banging your drum.”

Laurie Neary added, “The most disturbing behavior that I have seen is from the adults.” She claims that some people refer to alternative school kids as prison inmates.

Pre-kindergarten Programs Are in High Demand

The district can only handle less than one-third of the free all-day pre-kindergarten pupils whose parents sought open spots in the district’s program.

Morton said that 526 families applied for 150 open slots. He explained that letters will be sent to the parents of the chosen youngsters on April 22 notifying them of their school places.

In another pre-kindergarten subject, the school board unanimously voted to file for a classroom size waiver for the district’s present and expanded preschool programs at Malberg Early Childhood Center.

According to Gina Winters, a school board member, the waiver is required since the center’s present classrooms are smaller than the 950-square-foot usable space required by the New Jersey Department of Education. Winters stated, “The classrooms meet the waiver requirements of 700 square feet of usable space and have bathrooms in the classroom or within line of sight.”

Assistant Superintendent Lynn Shugars stated that it is usual for older institutions to obtain a waiver. Malberg was erected in 1959. Shugars stated that the yet-to-be-built extensions to the preschool expansion will meet the space requirements.

New Job Descriptions

The majority of school board members accepted job descriptions for directors of elementary and secondary education. Renee Cherfane abstained, while Benjamin Rood and Sally Tong did not attend the meeting.

Several members of the public pressed the board to defend their move in light of the $6.9 million state aid loss and potential changes to district operations.

Morton stated that confidentiality about human resource choices prevented him from revealing the job descriptions in detail. He stated that the roles are “budget neutral” and that a restructuring of the district’s organizational system is planned.

Board President Miriam Stern stated that some of the cuts mentioned by the public will affect positions rather than individuals.

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