Shakespeare, Poetry Dominate Madison School Board Meeting

Student Elizabeth Turnbull shares poem "Abandoned Farmhouse." Credits: Liz Keill
Iago and Othello are performed by Kaitlin McCullough and Chris Chuttter. Credits: Liz Keill
Supervisor of the Humanities Mark DeBiasse describes new programs. Credits: Liz Keill

MADISON, NJ – The Board of Education was treated to a couple of live performances at its Tuesday meeting.

Mark DeBiasse, supervisor of humanities, introduced the young performers as part of the high school’s humanities program.

“We’ve been looking for ways to preserve and enhance the existing programs,” he said. “There are a host of challenges,” including state mandates and common core demands, as well as the new teacher evaluation model. The supervisory structure was reorganized, with attention to core time resources, planning and preparation, and professional development days. The program also took advantage of the common lunch period, when teachers could work with students.

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Poetry Out Loud is a schoolwide competition that stimulates and strengthens performance. It also dovetails with the Dodge Poetry Festival and encourages “incredibly strong performances,” DeBiasse said. He explained that competitions are held at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, where winners could then go on to a national level. “It’s a great opportunity to be exposed to poetry,” he said.

Student Elizabeth Turnbull shared the poem “Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser. Turnbull was the school winner two years in a row. She said the experience helped in the classroom as well as enhancing her appreciation of poetry in performance.

Kaitlin McCullough and Chris Chuttio performed a scene between Iago and Othello as part of the Shakesperience program sponsored by Drew University. “There’s a master of ceremonies,” DiBiasse said, “and the experience expands their horizons and encourages respect and rapport.” Madison won seven awards in this year’s competition. They also planned to perform a day of service by entertaining senior citizens at Brighton Gardens and will participate in Shakespeare Shakedown, impersonating Shakespeare characters and a Fall Shakespeare Festival. This year, 22 Madison students participated.

The students said the experience enhanced their understanding of literature, the message of the story, relating to racism and life lessons and exploring the culture of the time.

In other board activity, three donations were approved: Kings Road PTO gave $14,000 to reimburse the purchase and installation of audio/visual projector system; Julia Dowton gave a 50 gallon tank with two turtles for the high school science department and the Garden Club of Madison gave a $2,000 grant towards three compost machines for the elementary schools.

Resident Steve Wells asked about the sale of the Green Village Road property. “It keeps popping up like Brigadoon,” he said.

Board President Lisa Ellis explained the proceeds would go to the school district, which is selling the property to the Borough of Madison. But that hinges on a third party, the developer. “We get the full sales price. The next step is a council meeting, but there could also be a 45-day challenge period.”  The borough will receive tax benefits once the sale is finalized. The Madison Council meets Wednesday evening, May 28, at 8 p.m. in Borough Hall. 

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