MILLBURN, NJ - The report from Millburn's Anti-Hazing Task Force and the proposal for elementary school redistricting were the dominant issues at the Monday, May 24th Milllburn Board of Education meeting.
Even as members of the Task Force--three different focus groups dealing with the same subject--gave their report, they acknowledged that they would attempt to keep it short because they knew that most people in the High School Auditorium were there to hear Superintendent Richard Brodow's final recommendation on redistricting.
That recommendation never happened because Board and public comments took up so much time that a further meeting had to be scheduled. On Thursday, May 27 at 8pm the Board will hold an "emergency" meeting at the Education Center. Dr. Brodow will make his recommendation, and the Board will comment and then vote on that recommendation.
The Monday meeting began with a presentation from the School and Community Task Force, responding to the incidents of hazing and bullying that brought Millburn unwelcome national attention last fall. As he did in his talk at Millburn Middle School on Wednesday May 19, High School Principal William Miron spoke of his goal to change attitude and behavior, not just of high school students but also faculty, parents and community. Acknowledging that the fall events were "an embarrassment," Dr. Miron reaffirmed his commitment to use these events to make positive changes at the High School. These changes include instituting a district-wide program titled SEED, which is a national project intended to create a "multi culturally and gender balanced curriculum," and "raise the consciousness of the entire school community." Three Millburn faculty members representing the elementary, middle and high schools will attend a workshop in July to familiarize themselves with the program.
Dr. Miron then detailed a schedule of late summer and fall events leading up to and including the opening day of school in which actions will be taken to welcome current 8th graders to the high school, connect them with senior "Ambassadors," and alert all upperclassmen of behavioral expectations.
Sharian Edgreen, Guidance Counselor at the High School, detailed the Task Force's goals and objectives, and spoke of developing a Code of Conduct for all students.
The question of consequences was raised by Board member Jeff Waters, and echoed by parents in public comments. Waters spoke specifically of Wendy's High School Heisman Award, and inquired whether this year the application process will change. Waters implied that last year the Administration nominated seniors who were believed to be involved in hazing. The award's qualifications include a citizenship component. Waters directly confronted Dr. Miron, asking if this year the Principal would call the Heisman people to inform them of an applicant's questionable behavior. Miron replied, "If we had proof and not innuendo, I'd be much more inclined."
Also contentious was the issue of whether suspensions should go on a student's permanent record for colleges to see. Ms. Edgreen and Dr. Miron responded that if a child is suspended, generally it is not recorded or reported. Dr. Miron checked with other high schools and attorneys, and found that most do not report suspensions. Board member Sam Levy commented that the District's Counsel advised that "you don't have to report a suspension." Dr. Miron did agree that if behavior was "more severe than a single time incident" or if the school felt a student might be a danger to others, that would go on a student's record.
Mellissa Rodriguez, parent and former guidance counselor at a top high school, shared the policy of that school. She said that students were expected to be truthful and check "Yes" where each college application asks "have you been suspended?" A student was then given the opportunity to write an essay about the suspension. She questioned whether MHS's policy amounted to lying.
Drama continued in the public comments which didn't begin until 9:17 p.m. Questions were raised by resident Abby Kalan about the selection process for Department Chairs, and whether the Board did due diligence in approving the Administrators' choices. Dr. Brodow spoke of the process and of the rubric that was developed to help in the evaluation of candidates. Board member Lise Chapman affirmed that the Board monitored the process, reviewed the rubric, and made approvals based on the recommendations of Drs. Miron and Brodow.
Once the issue of redistricting was raised, dozens of distraught and angry parents insisted on their time at the microphone. They questioned numbers given them, whether the Board was looking at long range demographics, and spoke of their frustration that they felt the Board was not being transparent in its communications or listening to parents' concerns and suggestions. They also expressed disappointment that Principal Jasin of Glenwood School was not at this meeting or at the forum last weekend. Mr. Jasin's concern for safety as a result of Glenwood overcrowding has been the reason cited by the Board for the imminent need for redistricting.
Eric Siegel, Chairman of the Property Committee, and Scott Kamber former Chairman and current Committee member, made most of the responses for the Board. Kamber clarified that the plan being proposed was consultant Ross Haber's initial plan, which would move students from Glenwood to Hartshorn and Deerfield Schools, without the South Mountain/Wyoming school component. Modifications included grandfathering 4th and 5th graders, but not siblings. He insisted the Board has provided answers, and declared, "People being affected may not like the answers." He added that he has experienced more community "buy in" over the last few weeks. Paramount in the Board's mind, Kamber said, is safety. "We want to do this in a way that is sustainable, that only needs to be done once in a blue moon."
By the end, several parents seemed resigned. One of the last commenters requested that the Board and Administration "think about how to make this as the least disruptive process as possible for kids. Let them have orientations to new schools. Think about how to bring the community back together."