Celia Colbert Elected Summit School Board President; Katherine Kalin Vice President

Celia Colbert, who servcd as vice president of the school body last year, was unanimously elected as the Summit Board of Eduction’s new president.
Past president Gloria Ron-Fornes (right) and new board appointee Debra McCann.

SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Board of Education on Thursday unanimously elected Celia Colbert, who served as vice president of the school body last year, as the board’s new president.

Colbert, a cum laude graduate of Harvard College and a graduate of Columbia Law School, spent 26 years in the legal department of Merck & Co. Inc. retiring in 2012 as senior vice president,  secretary and assistant general counsel.

In making the nomination of Colbert, board member David Dietze, praised her service as chairman of the school body’s education and policy committees and her commitment to equal opportunity as a member of the board of  trustees of the United Negro College Fund and the board of S4A, the Summit African-American Action Association.

Dietze also cited Colbert’s service as a member of the board of Colgate University. He also praised her dedication, hard work and fairness on the school board and said she always asked how the city schools “can stretch every student beyond their abilities.

Colbert then nominated Katherine Kalin as second-in-command of the education body.

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Noting they met each other when their children played together at a city playground, Colbert pointed out that Kalin, vice president of corporate strategy for Celgene Corp. of Summit, formerly was a vice president for Johnson & Johnson and led three businesses for that firm.

She added that Kalin graduated from the University of Durham in the United Kingdom and received her business degree from Harvard.  Kalin joined the Summit board in 2010, and was re-appointed in 2013.

Also at Thursday night’s board meeting, new appointee Debra McCann was sworn in for her first term.  McCann is a former member of the Summit Public Library Board of Trustees.

In her introductory remarks as president, Colbert noted that her first incursion into the Summit public schools began 18 years ago when she attended a board meeting as a parent during a controversy about a school redistricting plan proposed by then-superintendent of schools Dr. Michael Knowlton.

She said she admired the fact that those who discussed the issue were very passionate about their positions, yet were able to express their points of view without the discussion turning to anger.

The new board president added that she had often reflected on that meeting, and had seen that type of temperament continue in many board meetings since.

She added, “We all should realize that no one neighbor can represent the views of everyone on every issue.”

Colbert promised the continue, and expand upon, the tradition of coffees with the board president begun in Summit eateries by her predecessor Gloria Ron-Fornes.

She also urged expanded community involvement in education issues and promised the board would try to get back to the community more quickly with answers to questions than it had in the past.  

On the Common Core State Standards, she said she would strive to inform parents more fully of the relevance of the standards to their lives and the lives of their children.  She also noted that the exemption of Summit High School athletes from physical education had been piloted in the school to a limited extent, and promised a more definitive answer on the future of the program at the board’s June 12 workshop session.

The new president praised Summit parents for their willingness to devote their time and dollars to the schools.  She also thanked all her predecessors—Tom O’Rourke, Jack Lyness, Michele Stephenson, George Lucaci and Ron-Fornes—for their leadership.

In addition, she thanked former board member Ed Mokuvos for his service and her husband and sons for standing behind her so she could serve the community,

In her past-president’s remarks, Ron-Fornes praised those with whom she had worked as gathering all the facts and data necessary for every decision.  She added the board had shown it could act urgently without making every action an emergency.

The school body, she noted, had set five goals for itself and met them all, especially getting the ball rolling on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) in Summit’s schools.  Among accomplishments this past year in that area she cited the conference on STEAM that she co-sponsored with Mayor Ellen Dickson, and the upcoming STEAM Carnival early this summer.

The outgoing president also noted advances in the high school’s guidance department with the help of the Summit Education Foundation and, thanks to the communications committee under Kalin, institution of videotaping of board meetings and audio hookups to enable the public to listen in to board meetings from home or other places.

She praised Mokuvos for his structuring and project management on the operations and education committees, Dietze for his “focus on the numbers” in budget talks, Rick Hanley for his thoughtful remarks in committee meetings, and James Freeman for his incisive questions on education.

In addition, Ron-Fornes cited the focus on education of outgoing Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker and the role of assistant superintendent for business Louis Pepe in bringing order to the business office and the board supply operations.

After praising her husband and two sons for supporting her board work, she quoted a thought from her mother—“we should always aim to leave any relationship better than when we found it.”

Both Colbert and Ron-Fornes congratulated district communications specialist for the new initiatives she has brought to the district, her work with social media, better community communications and her ability to poignantly “tell the story” of the Summit schools.

The board approved the following committee chairmen for this year: Education, Hanley; Operations, Kalin; Negotiations, Colbert; Policy, Dietze and Communications, Freeman.

In addition, the following groups were presented certificates of appreciation by the school body: Summit Music Parents Association, SPARC, PEP (Pride in Educational Pursuits), the PTO Presidents Council, CHAT, Dickson and the common council, Shaping Summit Together, the city public works department, for shared services and help given to the schools in this year’s challenging winter; the Summit Education Foundation, S4A, Speaker Up Summit, and The Alternative Press of Summit.

Summit students also were honored for winning the National Arts Foundation Award and an African-American scholarship award and being named the 2014 National Merit Scholar, those who participated in the Novartis Student Mentoring Program, the Summit High School Band, Orchestra and Chorus for their performance at Disney World, those who participated in the school’s production of  “Midsummer Night’s Dream” for winning the Montclair State University High School Theater Awards, and the high school’s boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams for both winning county titles this year.

In another action at Thursday’s meeting, the board voted to appoint Summit Primary Schools Principal Felix Gill to replace Franklin School Principal Sheila Cole, who is retiring this year.

The city’s first principal for the Wilson and Jefferson Primary Centers, Gill came to Summit from New York City, where he was the principal of the Anna Silva School. He graduated from New York University and received his master’s degree from Columbia University. He is a doctoral candidate in the University of Pennsylvania School of Education.

Parker announced that he would like to fill the vacancy at the primary centers by the middle of August.


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