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$120,000 donation helps Teaneck restart literacy program


TEANECK — A $120,000 donation from the Puffin Foundation will allow the school district to reinstate a summer literacy and math program that was eliminated this year because of budget cuts, officials said.

“I think it might be one of the largest donations – without a grant attached to it – that we have had,” Schools Superintendent Barbara Pinsak said.

The district has already received $60,000, said Gladys Miller-Rosenstein, executive director of the township-based Puffin Foundation, and Perry Rosenstein, the foundation’s president. The remaining $60,000 will be donated in 2012, in time for the program’s start in July, Miller-Rosenstein said.

“We thought it was a really needed program, and they have proof that it had been successful,” she said. “They have had this program before and it had been very helpful to the youngsters. … From listening to what they told us, we thought it was exactly what we would like to do for the school this year.”

The program, which will run for four weeks, will be open to students in Grades 1-8, said Vincent McHale, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. He said he expects about 300 students to participate.

Federal assistance

In the past, the district paid for the program with federal Title I funds, which are given to districts with large numbers of students from lower-income families who are at risk academically and qualify for free and discounted school lunches, McHale said. The federal money was supplemented by state aid and money from the district’s operating budget, he said.

“Often, we found that students, over the summer months might have some regression in their reading skills because they are out of practice,” he said. “This would give students the opportunity to continue practicing reading, writing and math, and to stay on track. It’s also for the student who might be struggling at the end of the year and may not have met the grade-level benchmark in reading or in math. This would give that student the extra remedial support to get up to the grade level by the end of the school year.”

The Puffin Foundation has been a longtime supporter of the Teaneck public schools and the township’s children in general. The foundation has funded after-school programs in the township, donated computers for video documentary classes at the middle schools, and provided buses for students to visit the Teaneck Creek Conservancy, McHale said.

Miller-Rosenstein, who taught for 25 years in New York State, said she and her husband have a “deep affinity” for public education. Rosenstein said he also has a teaching license but has never taught.

Rosenstein, who attended New York City public schools, co-founded Brighton-Best Socket Screw Manufacturing Inc. Proceeds from the sale of the company in 2008 allow the foundation to support interests, such as public education, that are important to the Rosensteins, he said.

The Puffin Foundation provides grants to artists and art organizations, and also maintains a gallery and performance space at its offices near the Teaneck Creek Conservancy. Rosenstein said the foundation will have fewer plays and shows this year because it is using money from its activities budget to give to the school, he said.

Rosenstein said he hopes the foundation’s gift will inspire others.

“It sets an example for the business community to get involved in supporting the public school system,” he said.

The entire summer literacy and math program costs about $160,000, McHale said. He said he hopes that another business or foundation in the community will contribute the remaining $40,000

Pinsak, the school superintendent, marveled that such a large gift came unsolicited.

“They came to us, and they wanted to do this,” she said. “I just think they are incredible people.”

It all happened by chance in September when McHale met with the Rosensteins to discuss an unrelated matter.

McHale mentioned the summer literacy program, which the district had offered for many years but had to cut because of budget constraints. The Rosensteins told him to find out what the program cost and get back to them, he said.

“We are just so grateful to the Puffin Foundation for really being passionate about helping our students in any way they can,” McHale said. “They have been so generous to the district in the past, providing support for enrichment classes, after-school classes, access to the Puffin Foundation and the rich diversity of artists that they have there,” he said.

“They have really been a blessing to us to be able to enrich our students’ learning, and we are grateful. They are superstars.”