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    March for Our Lives follows student walkout

    The T-shirts stand like tombstones in the Montclair churchyard.

    In the past weeks, snow collected on top of them, just as it did on the marble and limestone grave markers in local cemeteries, and the winds of those storms made the cotton shirts flap and shudder.

    Charlie Hoggard, the sexton of the Episcopal Church of St. James, would wipe the snow off, straighten the sleeves and make sure the PVC pipe supporting each shirt remained firmly in the ground. The message of those shirts had to withstand the force of nature.

    The shirts are divided in two groups, split by the walkway to the church entrance.

    On one side are 17 large shirts, each with the name of a student or teacher shot and killed last month at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

    Carmen Schentrup, 16, a National Merit Scholarship finalist ...

    Nicholas Dworet, 17, headed to the University of Indianapolis on a swimming scholarship ...

    Alaina Petty, 14, a member of a Mormon group called "Helping Hands" that went to aid in the cleanup after Hurricane Irma ...

    Peter Wang, 15, a member of the school's ROTC program, shot holding the door so others could escape ...

    And all the others, special in their own way, irreplaceable in their families.  

    On the other side the church walkway, the shirts are smaller. They represent the 20 children shot and killed in December 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Twenty names ... Charlotte Bacon and Daniel Barden and Olivia Engel ... all the way through the alphabet to Avielle Richman and Benjamin Wheeler and Allison Wyatt.

    None were older than 7. Most were 6.

    They would all be 11 or 12 now, at the town's Reed Intermediate School or the Newtown Middle School. In five or six years, the survivors of that shooting will graduate; the media eye will be on them that day, remembering for a news cycle what those children will live with forever.

    The names on the T-shirts at St. James ask this question, "What kind of civilized society chooses to not protect its children?"

    And this: "How do we balance the Second Amendment with the fundamental, universal right to live?"

    This question was posed Wednesday in national student walkouts and will be again next Saturday at March for Our Lives events all around the country.

    One will be held at St. James, 581 Valley Road in Upper Montclair, at 5 p.m., which will invite people to stand among the shirt ceremony to hear the words of those impacted by gun violence and pray for the enlightenment that will reduce further such episodes in this country. 

    MORE: Recent Mark Di Ionno columns

    "We wanted to do something here, in our community," said the Rev. Audrey Hasselbrook, the assistant pastor at the church.

    The church put a red notebook on a stand in front of the T-shirt memorial; notes left there will be sent to Parkland through an Episcopal church in Florida. The pages are almost full, and more will be added.

    "It has been very well received by the community," Hasselbrook said. "People stop and reflect; some sign the book. I think it gives people pause."

     The first visitors were the kids from Buzz Aldrin Elementary School around the corner. The childlike scribbles of "Be Safe" and "We love you" are accompanied by drawn hearts and smiley faces - a reminder that we live in a country where first- and second-graders know schools like theirs are susceptible to the gunfire of a lunatic.

    Those of us who remember the heightened days of the Cold War now laugh about "bomb drills," which sent us to the school basement to hide under cafeteria tables, as if that would protect us from nuclear obliteration. For us, there was anxiety, but the concept was abstract. There was no evidence of it ever happening.    

    The children we are raising today have the anxiety and the evidence.

    In Montclair, the kids are too young to remember when a mass shooting erupted in their town, but their parents do.

    It was 23 years ago at this time of year, when a former postal employee opened fire at Montclair's Watchung Plaza post office and killed co-workers Ernie Spruill and Scott Walensky and customers George Lamoga and Robert Leslie. A third customer, David Grossman, was shot but survived.

    In 1995, the year of the Montclair attack, the term "going postal" was wryly used in a string of workplace shootings across the country.

    After 12 students and a teacher were murdered at Columbine High School four years later, and the modern era of multiple shootings began, nobody was making jokes anymore.

    So, here we are, Virginia Tech, Newtown and Parkland later, and the truth is, this movement is gaining momentum because all those kids who walked out of school last Wednesday will soon be voters.

    "They're the ones that can change things," said Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo as he watched a demonstration by the full student body of St. Vincent Academy on the courthouse steps Wednesday. "The adults have failed them."

    Princess Sabaroche, a senior at North Star Academy in Newark, is a student organizer of the March for Our Lives event that will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at Military Park in Newark.

    "We feel this violence is spreading, in the suburbs and the cities, and we young people have to stand up to it and have our voices heard," she said.

    The Military Park event is being organized by 19 student leaders from suburban and city schools, that come from a spectrum of North and Central Jersey towns, geographically and economically. Newark, Princeton, Toms River, Ridgewood, the Oranges, Howell and Marlboro, to name a few.

    "One March, one day, won't necessarily solve this issue, because it is so complex," said Sarah Emily Baum, a senior at Marlboro High School and a student organizer. "But if kids see other kids taking action, and other people see all these kids taking action, things can get done.

    "We want the next generation of voters to be the most active, educated and engaged voters in the country," she said.

    What we adults should want is for them to be the safest.

    Mark Di Ionno may be reached at mdiionno@starledger.com. Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook.  


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    As a possible contender for Amazon's HQ2, and increasingly home to top brands like Whole Foods, who should lead Newark for the next four years?


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    "They're paying for their past sins some of them," said Anthony Ambrose, Newark's public safety director.


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    A 28-year-old Elizabeth man is in critical condition after a shooting on U.S. Route 1&9.

    A shooting erupted along a busy stretch of an Elizabeth highway early Saturday morning leaving one man in critical condition, authorities said. 

    The 28-year-old, from Elizabeth, has not been identified.

    Gunfire began after 5 a.m. Saturday along U.S. routes 1 & 9, acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan said Sunday. Someone inside a dark-colored SUV or pickup truck began shooting at a white BMW SUV near McClellan Street near the border with Newark, Monahan said. 

    A passenger in the BMW was injured and taken to a local hospital by the driver of the BMW, according to a press release.

    The prosecutor's office is asking for information from anyone who saw the shooting. Those with information can all the Union County Prosecutor's Office Detective Nicholas Falcicchio at 908-721-8186 or Elizabeth Police Department Detectives Luis Demondo or Jose Martinez at 908-558-2052.

    The Union County Crime Stoppers are offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to an arrest. To leave an anonymous tip call 908-654-TIPS or visit www.uctip.org.

    Karen Yi may be reached at kyi@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook

     

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    Dogs and cats throughout New Jersey await adoption.

    Here is this week's collection of some of the dogs and cats in need of adoption in New Jersey.

    We are now accepting dogs and cats to appear in the gallery from nonprofit shelters and rescues throughout New Jersey.

    If a group wishes to participate in this weekly gallery on nj.com, please contact Greg Hatala at ghatala@starledger.com or call 973-836-4922.


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    Firefighters found the homeowner unresponsive inside when they arrived.

    Investigators are probing the death of a 61-year-old homeowner following a fire at his house in South Orange Sunday, authorities said.

    Firefighters found Weyman W. Watson unresponsive on the first floor of his house at 360 Warwick Ave. when they responded around 2:15 p.m. to an active fire at the home, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office and South Orange authorities said in a joint statement. Watson was later pronounced dead at Saint Barnabas Medical Center at 3:24 p.m.

    Nobody else was injured in the fire, which the prosecutor's office said remains under investigation. Authorities have urged anyone with information about the fire to call the prosecutor's office's tip line at 877-847-7432.

    Thomas Moriarty may be reached at tmoriarty@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips

     

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    She pleaded guilty after years of maintaining the two were in love.

    Former Rutgers-Newark professor Anna Stubblefield admitted Monday that she had criminal sexual contact with a disabled man who was unable to speak.

    Her guilty plea in Superior Court in Newark comes after years of maintaining that she and D.J., 29, a man with cerebral palsy, were able to communicate and had fallen in love.

    Stubblefield, 48, pleaded guilty to third-degree aggravated criminal sexual contact as part of a plea deal that has the Essex County Prosecutor's Office recommending a four-year prison sentence. She will get credit for time already served.

    She was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in a 2015 trial, but an appellate court overturned the jury's decision, ruling that she did not get a fair trial.

    She was heading for a second trial when she accepted the plea deal that was finalized Monday.

    At her 2015 trial, prosecutors relied on expert testimony that D.J.,  who could not speak but did make sounds, had an impaired mental state in arguing that he was not able to consent to sex with Stubblefield.

    Stubblefield's attorneys maintain that she and D.J. communicated through a method called "facilitated communication," in which a facilitator assists the person with typing on a keyboard. 

    Critics say the method allows facilitators to influence the users' messages.


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    Find out who landed on 1st, 2nd and 3rd Team All-State.


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    Essex County College's accrediting agency will issue its preliminary findings on Tuesday as the college braces for what's to come in its battle to hold on to its accreditation.

    Faced with a steep drop in student enrollmentEssex County College will eliminate 34 positions by next year as it remains under close watch -- and probation -- by its accrediting agency.

    The layoffs of 20 full-time staff and elimination of 14 vacant positions will save $2.76 million, college officials said. Included on the list: A top-ranking administrator who was placed on paid leave after a vocal group of clergy called for her ouster.

    Joyce Wilson Harley, vice president of administration and finance, lobbed allegations of wrongdoing against President Anthony Munroe, who in turn, accused Harley of undermining his authority. The internal infighting sunk the college into further chaos and several members of the Board of Trustees stepped down. 

    Harley remains on paid leave earning $205,000. She told NJ Advance Media her dismissal, effective June 1, was "pure retaliation for reporting wrongdoing."

    "This is a hit list," she added. "More than any response to fiscal exigency." 

    Munroe declined to comment on Harley.

    The job cuts come as the college is scrutinized by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which accredits area colleges. The college's ongoing issues with governance and finance prompted the agency to place it on probation. The college has until November to meet the two standards or else lose accreditation. 

    Being stripped of accreditation is rare but without it, students would not be eligible for federal grant money which would likely lead to the college's closure after 50 years of operation. 

    Enrollment decline

    These days, Essex County College enrolls 25 percent fewer students than it did five years ago, data show. Nationally, enrollment numbers at community colleges have also dropped.

    Last fall, 8,997 full-time and part-time students were enrolled. In 2012, there were 11,979 students enrolled

    Fewer students means less money for the college.

    "This plan is our attempt to get our expenses in line with our revenues," Munroe said. "In some cases, the annual loss was a couple of million dollars ... that's not sustainable."

    The layoffs are part of the college's "fiscal exigency" plan that also calls for a hiring freeze on non-critical positions, increasing enrollment hours and modifying some programs. In April, the college declared fiscal exigency, which allows additional measures such as eliminating tenured staff in dire financial situations.

    College officials said more than 80 percent of the institution's budget is related to staffing costs. State funding (which makes up about 19 percent of the budget) has also decreased. 

    In 2012, there were 125 full-time faculty and 608 part-time faculty. In 2016: 111 full-time faculty and 519 part-time faculty, the latest numbers show. 

    Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. increased the county's contribution to the college to $13.9 million, the highest it has ever been. County funding is about 22 percent of the college's budget. 

    Eileen De Freece, an associate professor of English at the college, said her department was upset by the elimination of one of their humanities instructors, who had redesigned and built up remedial courses for students. 

    "I don't think firing faculty is the right thing to do simply because we have so few faculty now," she said. The concern is the college is moving toward an all-adjunct faculty."

    College officials said the layoffs did not include any tenured staff and were based on who was hired last, not performance.

    "I understand that mentality, get rid of the last hired but the individual cases should be considered," De Freece said. "I hate to see anybody lose their job, of course, but when it comes to faculty, we are the strength of the college. Middle States is not targeting us, we're doing what's supposed to be done."

    On probation 

    Middle States placed the college on probation in November, citing it for not meeting two accrediting standards: finance and governance. 

    Peer evaluators from Middle States are visiting the college this week and on Tuesday will present their preliminary findings on whether to move the college off probation or sanction the institution with a "show cause," the last step before full revocation of its accreditation. 

    DiVincenzo, who appoints a majority of the trustees, said "a great deal of progress has been achieved in a very short period of time to set the college back on the right course."

    "We remain strong in our support of the President and the Board, and are confident the turnaround will ensure that ECC will continue providing the academic foundation for our students' future successes," he said in a statement. 

    [Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the enrollment decline.]

    Karen Yi may be reached at kyi@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook


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    The ribbon is officially cut at The STEM Innovation Academy of the Oranges.

    ex0318schoolorange.jpgSTEM Innovation Academy of the Oranges student Sophia Estape gave tours of the school after the ribbon cutting ceremony.

    ORANGE -- School is finally in session at The STEM Innovation Academy of the Oranges, which celebrated its grand opening March 6 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

    Late last month, 45 ninth-graders began attending class at the newly renovated facility at 445 Scotland Road in South Orange, the site of the former Marylawn of the Oranges Academy. The students attended class at space provided by NJIT and then at the district's Scholars Academy in Orange while the South Orange property was undergoing renovations.

    The STEM Innovation Academy of the Oranges is a 4-year program for grades 9 to 12 that is a joint collaborative between The City of Orange, the Orange Public Schools, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, The College of New Jersey, and Montclair State University. All of the students will earn college credits in one of three majors: Computing sciences, mechanical engineering or biomedical engineering.

    The ceremony included introductions by principal Robert Pettit, a reading of the School Narrative by the STEM students,  remarks by interim superintendent Ronald C. Lee, and student-led tours of the new school.

    "This is a proud moment for the Orange Public School District," said Lee.

    To submit school news send an email to essex@starledger.com.


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    Jeffrey Adams, 21, must serve 85 percent of his term before he is eligible for parole

    A Union Township man who killed his own father and then tried to cover-up the crime by setting his house on fire was sentenced Friday to 25 years in state prison.

    Jeffrey Adams, 21, must serve 85 percent of his term before he is eligible for parole, Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan said in a statement Monday. He was sentenced by Superior Court Judge William Daniel.

    The Irvington and Union Township fire and police departments responded to a report of a house fire on Van Ness Terrace in Union at about 11:45 a.m. on May 8, 2017. Responders found the body of Michael Adams. 59, inside the home. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

    According to relatives, Adams lived in the home with his father and mother, Guerlande Adams, and a younger brother and sister.

    Marvin Mentor, who previously identified himself as Michael Adams' nephew, said Jeffrey argued with his parents often, and threatened them.

    An investigation by the Union County Homicide Task Force, the Union Township Police and the Union County Sheriff's Office Crime Scene Unit found that Jeffrey Adams stabbed his father to death following a verbal dispute, set the house on fire and fled the scene. 

    Adams turned himself in to authorities several hours later. He pleaded guilty on February 5 to first-degree aggravated manslaughter. 

    A call to Adams' attorney was not immediately returned.

    Allison Pries may be reached at apries@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @AllisonPries. Find NJ.com on Facebook 


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    50 of the new officers are from Ocean and Middlesex counties Watch video

    The N.J. Department of Corrections added 150 officers to its ranks during a graduation ceremony Monday morning at Patriots Theater at the War Memorial in Trenton.

    The graduates of Class 242 come from 17 of New Jersey's 21 counties, with 27 of them from Ocean County, and 23 from Middlesex County.

    The rest of the officers and their county of residence:

    Atlantic, 4; Bergen, 14; Burlington, 7; Camden, 5; Cumberland, 2; Essex, 18; Gloucester, 3; Hudson, 9; Mercer, 4; Monmouth, 11; Morris, 3; Passaic 10; Somerset, 1; Sussex, 3; and Union, 6.


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    Dr. E. Alma Flagg, a trailblazer in Newark public school history, has died. During her 43 years as an educator, she paved the way for future teachers.

    As a child at Hawkins Street School in Newark, Deborah Terrell was in awe of E. Alma Flagg.

    It wasn't because Flagg had a doctorate in education from Columbia University or that she was the district's first African-American female principal at their integrated school in 1964. 

    Terrell knew nothing about that. What she saw in Flagg was her intelligence, grace and commanding presence, an enduring image that would be the catalyst for the grade school girl to take up the same profession.

    "I wanted to be just like her," Terrell said. 

    Terrell became a teacher, vice principal, principal and interim superintendent in the district, holding many of the same positions as Flagg.

    She wasn't the only one to walk through the doors that Flagg opened in a 43-year career as an educator. There were many others, some of whom shared similar anecdotes Saturday when family and friends gathered to celebrate Flagg's life during her funeral at the Elizabeth Avenue Weequahic Presbyterian Church in Newark.

    MORE: Recent Barry Carter columns  

    Flagg, 99, died on March 10 in Cherry Hill, but Newark is where her fingerprints remain.

    Students, teachers and administrators said Flagg represented a high standard to follow, making her a trailblazer during a time when African-Americans were not in leadership positions in Newark education.

    "Everything for her was about excellence," said Lu Foley, her daughter and a retired teacher. "She was highly principled and tough as nails."

    The school system did not hire Flagg when she graduated in 1940 from Newark State College, now Kean University.  So the East Side High School graduate, who was a member of the National Honor Society and voted most likely to succeed, started her teaching career in Washington, D.C.

    Flagg returned to Newark in 1943, taking a teaching position at the Eighteenth Avenue School and holding a master's degree from Montclair State. In 1955, she earned her doctorate from Columbia but still encountered obstacles.

    Flagg challenged the district in 1959, when she and two other African-American teachers filed a discrimination complaint against promotion practices in the Newark school system. After passing the vice principal's exam, they charged that their rank was lower than what it should have been.

    A state investigation found math mistakes were made on the oral portion of the exam and results were not recorded. But the report concluded there wasn't discrimination, a result she didn't accept.

    "I maintain that discrimination against Negroes in the area of promotions in the Newark school system has existed and, to this moment, has operated to the detriment of the complainants and others," Flagg wrote in 1960 to the Newark Board of Education.

    Three years would pass before the board approved Flagg's appointment as vice principal of Garfield Elementary School in 1963. A year later, she became principal at Hawkins Street.

    Flagg continued her professional climb and was appointed assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum services in 1967, a post she held until retirement in 1983.

    As Flagg pushed forward, she was known as a community matriarch who reached back to help others, making sure those she mentored did their best. They said she was no-nonsense and didn't believe in half-stepping.

    "She was about getting things done," said Joan Henderson, a friend of 60 years.

    Henderson, 80, now of Chesapeake, Virginia, remembers Flagg tutoring aspiring Newark teachers, including herself, at her dining room table when they studied for the teacher's exam. Henderson wound up working under Flagg, who was her principal at Hawkins Street School.

    Flagg was the benchmark for current and former school administrators, showing them how to recognize talent. Anzella Nelms, whom Flagg encouraged to be an assistant superintendent, discovered Terrell and tapped her to be an administrator.

    "In terms of paving the way for us, it was Dr. Flagg," said Marion Bolden, a superintendent for nine years. "I was such a big fan."

    Roger Leon, the district's current assistant superintendent of administration, said Flagg laid a solid foundation of instruction that he felt 10 years after she had moved on from Hawkins Street School.

    "The level of rigor that she required of the teachers was still in existence when I was there as a student," Leon said.

    Passionate about education, Flagg was just as generous and thoughtful to family, friends and Newark's community, say those who knew her. It could have been a card during the holidays, a cookie tin stuffed with school supplies or treating church members like royalty when she served them homemade soup in china bowls. When Henderson couldn't afford bus fare to Kean College in Union, Flagg would leave $5 in her locker.

    Born Sept. 16, 1918 in City Point, Virginia, Flagg, with her four siblings, was moved by her parents, Hannibal and Caroline Williams, to Newark when she was 8 years old. As she ventured into teaching, Flagg married J. Thomas Flagg Jr. in 1942, a union that lasted more than 50 years until his death in 1994. He was a Newark schoolteacher for 20 years, a college professor and track star.

    Their children were destined to be educators. Foley taught high school Spanish in Cherry Hill and her late brother, Thomas Flagg, was a college professor.

    MORE CARTER: Newark residents and PSE&G power station work to get along | Carter

    Beyond the classroom, Flagg was dedicated to service. She was twice president of the Beta Alpha Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., which serves Newark, Irvington and Hillside. She was active in the church, where her funeral was held, and sang with the Newark Choral Society. She found time to write poetry and publish three books.

    In retirement, Flagg stayed busy, taking up yoga at 80, said Della Moses Walker, her neighbor at Society Hill, a townhouse complex in Newark. She made her own soap and edited the newsletter at the development.

    Flagg established the E. Alma Flagg Scholarship for Newark students to attend college, and her organizational memberships included the Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee and New Jersey Historical Society.

    Two years after she retired, an elementary school in Newark was dedicated in her name. A street sign on the same block will, too. Since September, students at the school had been doing monthly projects, hoping to present Flagg with gifts on her 100th birthday this year.

    Pastor Doris C. Peterson said children were close to Flagg's heart, but she asked mourners to think about this question after the dust collects on Flagg's proclamations and the phone calls of condolences wind down.

    "Are you allowing God to use you and your gift to serve others?" she asked.

    That's what Flagg did, and it's the central lesson we all should take from a life well lived.

    Barry Carter: (973) 836-4925 or bcarter@starledger.com or 

    nj.com/carter or follow him on Twitter @BarryCarterSL


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    What to say, and not say, to your kids about the school shootings protests may surprise you.

    It may never be clear why the Parkland, Fla. school shooting finally jolted so many Americans into action, but some 817 "March For Our Lives" demonstrations are scheduled nationwide for Saturday, including more than two dozen marches around New Jersey.

    But should you bring your kids along to what's being dubbed "the children's march"?

    Experts are as conflicted as are many parents and teachers, and offer varying opinions.

    When the Women's March occurred last year, Monique Fineman didn't hesitate. She packed up her car -- and her kids, now ages 7 and 9 -- and drove them to attend a local march in Trenton. Indeed, her kids won't even eat Kraft macaroni and cheese because it reminds them of Trump supporter and New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, she said.

    Yet the March for Our Lives is giving her pause.

    "I was all set and ready to take my now 7 and 9 year old to Newark to the March (For Our Lives) with me," said Fineman, an educator in Newark's schools. 

    But Fineman said she's hesitating because she fears speakers at the march may be more graphic in their descriptions of gun violence than she's prepared to explain to her kids.

    "That gave me pause," said Fineman. "We share a good bit of politics with them. But they do not know about school shootings...This is not what I want my children to think of when they think of going to school."

    Experts says parents like Fineman are right to think twice about taking young grade schoolers along.

    "Whether its appropriate to take them is all about what the topic of conversation has been up to this point," said Maurice J. Elias, a pediatric psychologist who teaches at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

    "If, in fact, your child doesn't know about this, you have to ask yourself, 'Is this for me or them?' And if the answer is you, then its a better idea to get a babysitter, because this is not the way or the time to introduce a topic like this."

    This creates a Catch-22 for parents seeking to find out if their grade schooler knows about school shootings without unduly alarming them.

    "The concern is: Are we exposing them to something they weren't aware of and as result making them feel unsafe whereas before they felt perfectly safe?" explains  Gary Rosenberg, MD, a pediatric psychiatrist in Boonton and the medical director of population health services at health insurance provider Optum.

    "Hopefully, the parents know their own children," said Rosenberg. "But unless your kid is bringing it up already," Rosenberg recommends not broaching it unless they're already in fifth grade or middle school.

    For some Garden State parents like Laura Wood, the topic has been impossible to avoid at home. Wood, a South Orange mother of two boys -- a second grader and a fifth grader -- is also a public school teacher.

    "My husband and I are absolutely planning to march as a family on 3/24," wrote Wood in an email to NJ Advance Media, adding that President Trump's call to arm teachers in the classroom shaped the family conversation and drove her into action.

    "My older son looked at me dubiously and said, 'Do you even know how to shoot a gun?'" wrote Wood. "My younger son then said, 'But the question is, would she ever want to?'"

    Still, experts caution that even for parents whose families have made the threat of gun violence at schools a regular topic at home, the March for Our Lives still may not be very useful.

    Ankur Desai, a pediatric psychiatrist in Freehold, agrees, noting that children between the ages of 5 and 8 aren't likely to understand much about what the protest was about.

    "The thing is that their understanding of why you're marching is limited," said Desai. "Kids in first, second or third grade have what we call 'concrete operational thinking.' So even at age 8, they don't have a well-rounded perspective about what's going on with other people because, conceptually, they don't have that ability yet."

    Rosenberg said for parents who are determined to take younger grade schoolers on the March, the most important thing will be to frame its purpose in the simplest terms possible.

    "They aren't going to understand the difference between all guns and (just) assault weapons," said Rosenberg. "I would say it's about keeping the world safe. And I wouldn't necessarily over-emphasize the 'dangerous' part. Say, 'Most people are safe, but we want to make sure everyone is safe, and that people who have problems get help.'"

    Equally important is to prepare students that they'll be "going to a place with a lot of people, with a lot of noise and confusion" -- particularly if parents are considering taking them to the Washington D.C. march, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of attendees.

    And finally, Rosenberg says, even more important than the preparation before attending the March is the debriefing of your kids afterwards, to get a sense of what they think of what they experienced.

    "Let them do most of the talking," advises Rosenberg. "If they seem to have mis-perceived things, you can address it then. It's the discussion afterward is probably more important that the one before."

    All this leaves many parents with some hard choices ahead of next weekend.

    "We may take them, we may not, but this is definitely not as easy as when it was the Women's March," said Fineman.

    Claude Brodesser-Akner may be reached at cbrodesser@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClaudeBrodesser. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.


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    The final boys basketball Top 50 for the 2017-18 season


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    Peer evaluators from Essex County College's accrediting agency issued preliminary findings on the college's accreditation status. The Middle States Commission will vote in June on what action to take.

    Essex County College can breathe easy, for now. 

    Representatives from the college's accrediting agency on Tuesday delivered news the institution has been hoping to hear for months: Essex County College is in compliance with two accrediting standards that had led to its probation

    It was a huge sigh of relief for the college that for months has sweated out the possibility that it could lose its accreditation and with it, the opportunity for students to earn federal grant money.  

    The college is a lifeline for its 8,900 part-time and full-time students, most of whom are black and Latino. Half of the student body receives some form of financial aid, officials estimate. 

    "It feels great, a lot of hard work, tough decisions, great support," college President Anthony Munroe told NJ Advance Media outside of the meeting, sharing the preliminary findings. "It's been a labor of love and it is who we are: Essex County College, exceeding expectations."

    The initial findings were presented by a group of peer evaluators from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The group visited the campus this week and shared their observations during a meeting at the college.

    A peer evaluator said press was not allowed inside and a reporter with NJ Advance Media was escorted out of Smith Hall. Middle States did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

    The findings by the Middle States evaluators are preliminary; the college remains on probation until the Commission meets in June to decide its fate. 

    But the news was a boon to the college as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. And many expect the institution to be taken off probation come summer for meeting both standards: governance and finance. 

    "There's no question, we're moving in the right direction and I couldn't be more pleased," Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. said. 

    "This is continuous improvement, it's never over," Munroe said. "It's not a static thing ... this is a marathon, it's not a sprint. And we will always continue to stay focused on our mission."

    Governance

    A rotating cast of presidents has come and gone over the last few years at the college, each departing under a different controversy.

    The infighting among leadership continued even after President Munroe was unanimously hired by the Board of Trustees last year as a "turnaround expert."

    There were back-and-forth accusations of wrongdoing, allegations by a vocal group of clergy of political interference and collusion, and tense public meetings calling for the ouster of a high-ranking administrator and trustees who were blamed for interfering with the presidency. 

    Those fights have subsided.

    DiVincenzo appointed new trustees as others resigned or were not re-appointed. He pledged to work with Munroe to move the college to solid footing. 

    "We have a good president and a great board and they're working together," he said. "It was never about the president, it was never about the board, it was about the kids that go to this institution."

    "They needed to give this guy a shot, this is what (Munroe) does," added Rev. Ronald L. Slaughter, who was among the clergy members who supported Munroe and denounced "political shenanigans" at the college. "This is what happens when people work together, when government, community puts people first, when politicians and community put people first. This is the end result of it, positive things happen." 

    Munroe said peer evaluators commended the college for its new trustee training policies, their required self-evaluations and the revision of at least 20 board policies. 

    Finance

    During the last preliminary review in November that led to the college's probation, peer evaluators from Middle States found officials could not agree on whether it had a $17 million surplus or none at all.

    This time, peer evaluators cited marked improvements. The college passed a "fiscal exigency" plan that included 20 layoffs and eliminated 14 vacant positions; it's audit was submitted early and a interim Chief Financial Officer was appointed along with a deputy CFO. The college will have two deputy CFOs once a permanent CFO is hired. 

    "They cited a number of improvements and processes in place," Munroe said. 

    DiVincenzo said the county boosted its base funding for the college to $13.9 million -- the highest ever -- as declining enrollment at the school reduced revenues over the last few years.

    "No one person could have done this alone, you needed the administration, you needed the board and you needed us on the county side," he said. "I couldn't be more pleased." 

    Karen Yi may be reached at kyi@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook


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    Live N.J. weather updates: A major nor'easter storm packing up to 18 inches of snow, high winds and coastal flooding forced many school districts to announce closures and delays. Watch video

    With another significant storm expected to hit New Jersey with up to 18 inches of snow, high winds and coastal flooding, school districts across the state announced school closures and delays for Wednesday, March 21.

    The following Essex County school districts have made announcements for Wednesday, March 21:

    CLOSURES:

    • Belleville Public Schools
    • Berkeley College-Newark
    • Bloomfield School District
    • Caldwell University
    • Caldwell-West Caldwell Public Schools
    • Cedar Grove Schools
    • East Orange School District
    • Essex County College
    • Essex County Vocational Technical Schools
    • Essex Fells School 
    • Fairfield School District
    • Glen Ridge Public School
    • Irvington Public Schools
    • Livingston Public Schools
    • Millburn Township Public Schools
    • Montclair Public Schools
    • Montclair State University
    • Newark Public Schools
    • North Caldwell Public Schools
    • Nutley Public Schools
    • Orange Public Schools
    • Roseland School District
    • South Orange-Maplewood School District
    • St. Francis Xavier School
    • Verona Public Schools
    • West Essex Regional Schools
    • West Orange Public Schools

    DELAYED OPENINGS:

    If you know of any delays or closures not on this list, let us know in the comments.

    Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at tattrino@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Mayor Ras Baraka delivered his fourth state of the city speech Tuesday night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.


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    Rotary meal packaging marathon a lesson in real engagement

    Somewhere in Ohio, the truck with all the food broke down, so the Rotary Club volunteers gathered in the athletic center at Drew University had to go to Plan B, which was made up on the fly.


    Plan A was the third annual Madison Rotary End Hunger 3.6 Project, a community meal-packaging event.

    The Rotary chose the name "3.6" because "every 3.6 seconds someone in the world dies from being malnourished," said Ellsworth Havens of the Madison Rotary.

    The best way to describe the event is in Swiss-watch terms. A mobilized army of civic-minded volunteers works with assembly-line precision to package thousands of meals, using food purchased through personal donations and corporate sponsorships. There is a logistical ballet of trucks coming and going to get the meals distributed to places of need throughout North and Central Jersey. It's all done in two shifts over an eight-hour stretch, while the clock is ticking.

    The goal this year was to get 210,000 meals packaged and out the door in one workday.

    So, two Saturdays ago, the Madison Rotary Club -- with one eye on the weather and the other on the goal -- was ready.

    The hardwood floors at the Simon Forum at Drew were covered end to end with thick blue plastic, so the foot traffic from the nearly one thousand expected volunteers wouldn't scuff the surface too badly.

    One hundred yards of tables were set up, with scales and funnels to measure the ingredients of the dry meals to be distributed to area food banks, shelters and schools.

    Everything was "a go" for the marathon event.

    Then came word that the truck bringing the food was stuck in Ohio. Tons of vitamin-enriched meals of macaroni and cheese, rice and beans, and oatmeal, and other dry, nonperishable staples were stacked in the trailer, held hostage to the mechanical failure of the tractor.

    In came Plan B.

    Calls had to be made; arrangements undone. All the work that had gone into the planning had to be scrambled.

    To carry forth that metaphor, what do you do when an egg yolk breaks? You look on the sunny side and make scrambled eggs.

    So, while the Saturday volunteers were sent home and the food distribution trucks left empty, there was still Sunday.

    "In the end, we ended up packaging 158,112 meals, which isn't bad, considering," said Carmela Moeller of the Madison Rotary. "We were a little light on volunteers

    Sunday morning, but we put out an emergency call to other clubs and churches, and by the afternoon (packaging shift) we had 500 volunteers."

    Resilience is something all civic groups must have to survive and continue fulfilling their missions. We've heard it all before: Aging population. Declining interest.

    Social media. Self-centered millennials.

    But before we bury the Elks, Moose, Lions, Freemasons and Odd Fellows, consider the words of Jen Pinto, of Florham Park, who joined the Madison Rotary last year after participating in the End Hunger 3.6 Project.

    "I saw how powerful the event was," said Pinto, 38. "I was overwhelmed by their generosity and how welcoming they were.

    "I wanted to get connected to the community," she said. "I wanted to have a sense of being grounded, being part of something, instead of being detached."

    Another new member of the Madison Rotary, Beat Barblan, 55, shared that view.

    "After the election, I thought I had to do something," he said. "I thought the election brought to light our differences, our lack of community. I think more and more people are looking to get involved, do something that is helpful, and connect with their community."

    Carla Matrisciano, 56, also was seeking a greater connection to the community.

    "With the kids out of the house, it gave me more time to participate in the community," she said. "I have time to give now, to give back, and do little things that can make a difference."

    For many, the in-town connections they make revolve around their children and the schools. When the kids go, the parents may flounder or flourish when it comes to staying connected. In high-tax, cold-weather states like New Jersey, many people head south when the kids fly the coop. But others remain ingrained in their towns and, like, Matrisciano said, can dig in deeper.

    "We bring people together," said Jeannie Tsukamato of the Madison Rotary. "For this event we had church groups, Scout groups and other civic groups all coming together."

    That web of group interaction fits the model Tsukamoto calls "involvement creating more involvement.

    "When we have that kind of involvement, we can create strong advocacy in solving societal problems," she said.

    For the Madison Rotary, which sponsored the event with 22 other Rotary Clubs from the region, the societal problem is hunger.

    "In a state of 8 million," Havens said, "1.5 million people are 'food insecure' and the average person has no idea."

    Havens said even the most affluent communities have people without enough food, especially the elderly, who try to meet rising property taxes on fixed incomes.

    "Some of the government social infrastructure is being underfunded and torn down -- and that's scary as hell," he said.

    The meals the Rotary packaged predictably went to the Salvation Army, the St. John's Soup Kitchen in Newark, and the MEND interfaith network of 17 food pantries in urban Essex County, but others were distributed to agencies serving people in towns such as Summit, Madison and Chatham.

    "This is what keeps us (the Rotary) relevant," Ellsworth said. "There's not a town in the six counties where this food is distributed that doesn't have need."

    Mark Di Ionno may be reached at mdiionno@starledger.com. Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook.  


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    See the final Top 50 teams in N.J. girls basketball this year.


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