The Berkeley Heights Board of Education held its third meeting of the year on February 25, 2021. Among the many topics discussed, the most notable ones were the district’s new partnership with Linkit! and an update by the superintendents of the Berkeley Heights and Mountainside public schools on the two districts' continuing efforts to align their curriculums.
After Board of Education President Doug Reinstein’s opening remarks, Board Secretary and School Business Administrator Donna Felezzola provided the correspondence reports. The district received emails from teachers and parents regarding the remote instruction, COVID-19 testing, and three Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests.
Mr. Reinstein then transitioned to the reports of the student representatives. In senior Emily Haines’ report, she shared the success of various Governor Livingston (GL) sports teams in recent competitions and the evolving regulations for these competitions. The most recent change was that two parents are now allowed to attend their child's sports competition. In junior Thomas Burke’s report on clubs and activities, he detailed the activities of clubs and other events including the Highlander Newspaper Club, the Understanding Asian Cultures Club, and the BH and GL Unfiltered panel discussion, where current and former GL students shared their experiences regarding race, culture, and ethnicity as students.
The meeting then moved to the multi-part Report of the Superintendent. Before any of the presentations began, Superintendent Dr. Melissa Varley shared updates on full-day kindergarten and the outside counsel the district has hired to investigate any negative experiences former students have had. With regard to full-day kindergarten, the school administration is preparing a proposal which they will present to the Board of Education. The outside counsel has not received any new reports from former students.
Dr. Varley then introduced the first presentation in the Report of the Superintendent. This presentation discussed the implementation of the LinkIt! to replace the district’s current system which Dr. Varley said was, “woefully inadequate and presented limited information.” The presentation led by LinkIt! Chief Academic Officer Chad Marcus highlighted the three main aspects the service will provide. One service provides teachers reports on student performance on assessments. LinkIt! uses this information to examine test reliability, make connections with custom data points, and create custom graphs and tables to measure and document students' growth. In addition, it would provide a reliable, online testing platform for teachers that could accommodate any specific student individualized education plan. Lastly, LinkIt! will provide a team of data analysts to develop custom reports regarding student trends and student goals to provide a narrative and context for the data. By implementing this innovative platform, the district is hoping to increase student achievement by increasing the resources teachers have access to and provide teachers a more efficient way to identify the areas where students need the greatest assistance.
The second part of Dr. Varley’s Superintendent Report covered a different topic: the alignment of curriculum between the Berkeley Heights Public School and Mountainside Public Schools. In a PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Varley and Mountainside Superintendent Janet Walling detailed specific ways in which the districts are collaborating to further consistency in the curriculum of the two districts. In subjects such as math, progress further along as seen by both districts using Go Math as a digital resource for students. In other areas such as English and Social Studies, collaboration has only begun due, in part, to new state standards. In taking all these steps, demonstrates Dr. Varley's commitment “to all students entering GL with the same academic rigor and curricula experience.”
After the Report of the Superintendent, Mr. Reinstein gave Board members the chance to share liaison reports. Board members Angela Penna, Robert Cianciulli, and Christine Reilly all provided reports ranging from the GL Diversity Committee’s literary discussion at GL to updates on the budget committee.
Board Secretary and School Business Administrator Donna Felezzola then provided the facilities report. Her report detailed the current audit that is underway, where a third party is investigating the district’s utility usage and current equipment to make recommendations for ways to improve.
The Board then opened up the meeting to the public where they fielded questions on a variety of topics, such as the new position of director of special projects, the security provisions of the LinkIt! system, the amount the district has spent investigating accusations of harassment issues, staff vaccinations, and the district’s plan for school in September.
In the second to last part of the meeting, members of the Board voted to approve on matters regarding administration, education, personnel, business, and finance. All matters were approved with a unanimous vote.
Before the meeting adjourned, Board members had the opportunity to raise questions for the Board. Board of Education Vice President Mike D’Aquila asked if the district is actively seeking various grants and funding the state is providing to districts due to the challenges posed by COVID-19; Ms. Felezzola confirmed that the district was taking advantage of numerous grants including, most recently, the CARES grant. Ms. Reilly asked if any progress had been made with the District Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Force; Dr. Varley answered this question by saying that the task force had gathered students, parents, and teachers as volunteers for it and that the task force would be holding its first meeting on March 9th. Lastly, Mr. Cianciulli asked for clarification on the communication between students and support staff, namely paraprofessionals.
The next Board of Education meeting will take place on March 18 at 7:30 and will be available to the public through Zoom.