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Galloway troubled by new plan for Atlantic City alternative high school

Atlantic City’s school district got a lot of attention at the Galloway Township Committee meeting Tuesday night.
That’s because the latest version of Atlantic City’s alternative high school is set to take root there.
This was news not only to many township residents, but Police Chief Donna Higbee said she only found out after a “friend of the township” reached out to her.
“I have no problem with the school coming here,” Higbee stressed. “My problem is there’s been no cooperative effort with the business owner, with the school district, with the subcontractor whoever they are.”
There also has been no time to prepare for the influx of troubled students who accounted for 71 police reports during the last 18 months while the high school was housed in Mays Landing’s Atlantic County Institute of Technology, she noted as she held up the stack of crime reports.
“If I read them to you, you would actually fall out of the pews right now,” she said. “We’re talking assaults, aggravated assaults, sexual assaults, terroristic threats, weapons, drug possession… things being thrown from school buses, seat belts being cut out of school buses and thrown at windshields on the way to school. I could go on and on but I’d rather not.”
Residents were horrified to learn of the plans to move the school to 313 E. Jimmie Leeds Road, just across from the Police Department and the chambers where Tuesday night’s meeting was held.
Imagination Station Playground is nearby as is a daycare, along with a gymnastics and tumbling center.
Higbee said she believes this will be the first business, much less school, to have a metal detector in the township’s history.
“This is a burden being put on the taxpayers, which should not be put on the taxpayers,” resident Anna Jezycki told the committee.
She worried about having to make “kids with police records” go through metal detectors to ensure they don’t bring knives and guns into the school.
“The locks are on the outside,” she said, noting the public can’t come in but the students can come out at any time.
She asked if the application by owner Kevin Dixon was honest.
“Was this disingenuous? Was this deceitful?” Jezycki asked.
The solicitor told her many on the committee were quiet on the issue because some of them sit on the Planning Board, which still must approve a site plan.
“We’re being told as board members in Atlantic City that this is a done deal,” said board member John Devlin, a Galloway native.
He came to the meeting to try to offer a little insight. Although he admitted he didn’t have much information himself.
“There is no transparency in the Atlantic City School District either,” he told the committee.
He said board members were only notified last month, after the district ended its agreement with the Atlantic County Institute of Technology.
“There was some kind of friction between their superintendent there and our superintendent,” he said of ACIT’s Phil Guenther and Atlantic City’s Barry Caldwell.
It’s not clear what that was.
There were five Atlantic City district administrators who picked the new alternative education program services provider, Camelot Education Resources.
One of them is Caldwell’s wife, Director of Elementary Education Gabrielle Caldwell. Another is her cousin, Director of Secondary Education Donald Harris.
Devlin said the board was first told the new school would be at the Hamilton Mall, but that fell through.
Again citing lack of transparency, he said there was word Hamilton Township police were against it.
Galloway Township already has an alternative high school program for its own students that have been removed from the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District, Higbee noted.
Atlantic City and Pleasantville are the only two municipalities in the district who don’t have their own alternative high school within their municipality, she said.
“I know because I reached out to all of them,” the police chief told the committee.
She also reached out to Atlantic County Superintendent Robert Bumpass “who refused to return my calls,” Higbee said.
Instead, he had his secretary call to find out who it was who alerted the police chief to the situation.
“On our end, we have 50-some plus kids that need an alternative program,” Devlin said. “Whether it’s in Galloway Township, whether it’s in Hamilton Township or it’s back in Atlantic City.
“I apologize that there’s no transparency here,” he added. “There’s none on our side either.”
Dixon, the property’s owner, did not return a call from BreakingAC on Tuesday.
But he wrote in his application to the Zoning Board that “he was very proud to finally bring a socially responsible and noble use to Galloway Township in this building,” Higbee read to those at the meeting.
She noted that it was for Atlantic City, not Galloway.
The chief said she wanted to make clear she has no problems with Atlantic City’s students.
“They’re kids,” she told BreakingAC. “Kids are kids.”
It’s the lack of information, she said.
“We’re a very diverse community,” she said during the meeting. “I have kids from all over that come here. We have cooperative relationships with every superintendent, every principal, we have officers assigned to schools.
“I am in our schools nonstop,” she added. “I did not get one call about this.”
Devlin suggested that Atlantic City’s school administration have a sitdown with the Galloway Township Committee. It was not clear how that would come about.
Regardless, Higbee promised her department will prepare for the new school.
“Not the way that I would prefer to prepare for it,” she said. “Not the way you pay me to prepare for it but because I have to prepare for it because no one wanted to tell me and no one wants to cooperate with public safety planning.”

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