Education and attendance remain top concerns for Trenton (LA PARKER COLUMN)

Trenton Central High School. (Trentonian file photo)

A personal conversation with a former Trenton resident provided this significant revelation.

“When our child turned five, we decided to move because there was no way we could send him to school in Trenton,” the parents confessed.

Similarly, my friend's relatives moved to West Windsor to provide a more successful education for her two children. Good education in practice offers wonderful perspectives.

We were in Princeton on Sunday to attend HomeFront's annual ArtJam. I had about 25 minutes to kill before the art gallery on Hulfish St. opened. A freshly baked scone with currants from the Jammin Community Cafe next to the Princeton Public Library sweetened the time.

The library opened at 12 noon and people started lining up about ten minutes before a metal gate opened. Nearly 40 people, mostly young students, streamed in when the library opened.

While politicians and learning leaders rarely discuss education, most people know that schools, combined with successful learning, determine the future of individuals and cities.

A 10-second elevator ride with Senator Shirley Turner…

…to the second floor of Trenton City Hall to hear Mayor Reed Gusciora's State of the City address as she sounded the alarm about education in Trenton. Turner sounded like rocker David Lee Roth asking, “Have you seen the juniors' grades?” in Van Halen's “And the Cradle Will Rock.”

Turner asked me for my opinion on the school performance reports (for the 2022-2023 school year) released in April by the New Jersey Department of Education. Trenton students' math and language arts grades are considered dismal.

A worrying problem is absenteeism. Trenton has nearly 15,000 students and 42.2 percent miss at least 10 percent of scheduled school days. By comparison, 19.1 percent of Hamilton Twp.'s nearly 12,000 students. miss at least 10 percent of school days. The national average is about 16.6 percent.

Typically, a school year in New Jersey is 180 days. Do the math. Exactly. Nearly 6,000 city students missed at least 18 days of the school year. Of course, COVID-19 plays a role in the apathy that is gripping many aspects of life in Trenton. Since those terrible days, we still have not addressed the mental health side of the pandemic or inquired about the well-being of our children.

Finally, a state measure tracks the percentage of 11th and 12th grade students enrolled in one or more Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. Essentially, these results assess whether students are ready for college and a career.

The West Windsor-Plainsboro School District recorded a score of 79.6; Princeton (72.5); Hamilton Twp. (24.8); Ewing Twp. (16.2); and Trenton (3.8).

Gene Bouie, a Trenton school board member, supported an alternative metric to assess student learning.

“Most urban school districts have seen an influx of Latino students. Trenton High is more than 50 percent (probably more) Latino. Many of them have recently come to the United States. So their education was interrupted,” Bouie noted.

“It is not a fair assessment to include their test scores in the school’s overall score. A more acceptable way to determine educational growth would be to set a starting point for each student and then measure from there. There has to be a metric that calculates growth.”

Bouie agreed that absenteeism and truancy are seen as major problems. He said Superintendent James Earle has spoken on both issues and launched initiatives to make progress.

Stoned at 8am/School Dizziness or If you want the high, you've got the high

If a coffee klatch sees itself as a gathering of people to talk, then a cannabis klatch? Exactly. About a dozen Trenton Central High School students light fires across from their school on Chambers St. every day before the school day.

Before proponents of this behavior cause an uproar, it is common knowledge that almost every high school has its stoners. According to the CDC, in 2022, 30.7 percent of 12th graders reported using marijuana in the past year and 6.3 percent reported using marijuana daily in the past 30 days.

About 28 percent of 12th graders drank alcohol in the last 30 days. The concern here is that minors could consume both substances. Surprisingly, the reactions differ between students who arrive at school with the smell of vodka and those who experience the pungent smell of refrigerated containers.

Education could influence teenagers' behavior in these matters. There’s the word education again. A revitalization of Trenton requires that our school system produce successful, educated students who are ready for the world and eager to learn for life.

As Dave “Poppy” Sanderson, athletic trainer at Trenton High, testifies: Education prevails (all athletic activities). So, sports fans, name how many times Mayor Gusciora mentioned education in his speech.

LA Parker is a Trentonian columnist. Find him on Twitter @LAParker6 or email him at

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