Summit Physical Education 'Opt-Out' More Popular Than Expected, But Students Favor Some Restrictions

Superintendent of schools Nathan Parker praises the I-Pad pilot program. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Summit school board vice president Celia Colbert reviews the physical fitness "opt-out" program survey as board president Gloria Ron-Fornes looks on. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ - A Summit High School policy allowing sophomores, juniors and seniors to opt out of physical education classes once a week has drawn more participation than expected.

However, even those who have participated in the program thus far would not object to limiting the program to a specific time each week. Currently, those who participate may choose to opt out of physical education classes on any day they choose.

School board vice-president and education committee member Celia Colbert reported at Thursday's board workshop session that the “opt-out” policy, adopted about a year ago after parents of athletes sought the exemption, was utilized by two-thirds of those eligible at the beginning of this school year. The numbers dropped to about 48 percent, she added, after the football season.

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A “spot survey” on one school day of those taking part showed that the students used the free period to do homework, study or go to the computer laboratory of the help center, Colbert noted.

Committee member Richard Hanley added that what made the survey answers more authentic to him was that those responding not only reported that they were using “opt-out” periods to study but they also reported seeing fellow students use the periods for study.

Student respondents also reported the opt-out periods relieved some of the stress of long school days filled with classes and after-school activities.

One of the most surprising results, committee members found, was that opt-out participants agreed with some school administrators that having a specific period each week designed for opt-outs would make the system easier to administer and more predictable for students.

If block scheduling is introduced at the high school opt-out periods may be difficult to fit in, with longer periods and long lunches, according to school officials.

Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker said there seems to be more acceptance of the policy since Summit already schedules more physical education time than mandated by state law.

Those responding to the survey did say, however, they would like to see more flexibility in the physical education program itself such as possibly offering volleyball as an elective, according to committee member David Dietze.

Some more good news on the athletic front came from Parker, who announced that first-year varsity football coach Kevin Kostibos had been named coach of the year by the New Jersey Football Coaches Association.

On the budgetary front, Dietze, who chairs the board operations committee, repeated that the proposed 2014-2015 school budget would increase only one quarter of one percent for the budget year, an increase of only $156,000 over the previous spending plan.

Thus, he added, the Summit resident with a home assessed at the city average of $400,000 would pay only a little over $81 per year for school taxes. A Summit home assessed at $400,000 has a market value of about $800,000, he added.

However, since the school board and the city use different fiscal calendars, the actual increase in the course of the budget will be a little over 1 percent, Dietze said.

Much of the positive budgetary numbers come from increased revenues and decreased expenditures, he explained.

For example, there were 190 kindergarten students last year and there will only be 150 this year, including 40 in the district's tuition-based fullday kindergarten program. Savings came from the need for two less teachers and two less aides in the district's regular half-day kindergarten program and the fact that some of these staffers are being used in the fullday program.

In addition, the state allowed the district to increase its fund balance by $146,000. State aid also went up by $81,400 this year, partially due to Summit's participation in online PAARC testing in the upcoming school year, Dietze said.

The operations committee chairman reminded residents that the city board of school estimate is scheduled to vote on the spending plan on Tuesday, March 25 and it can keep the budget the same as proposed by the education body or increase it or decrease it.

In other good fiscal news, assistant superintendent for business Louis Pepe announced that bids for asbestos removal in connection with the boiler replacements at the high school and auditorium renovations at the middle school came in within budget,

He added that all the middle school renovation projects, including renovated science labs and classrooms drew a number of bidders despite the fact that these projects were the most complicated of all school projects bid this year.

In addition, because the city-funded portions of the projects came in $1.2 million less than anticipated and RODs grants offset more of the costs, city taxpayers will have to foot a smaller share of the overall bill, Pepe said.

He added ground should be broken on the projects by June.

Responding to a question from resident Deb McCann, the business administrator noted that state-mandated employee contributions to their health plans would be coming to an end this year and the question on whether the contributions will continue will be a subject of negotiations with the district's bargaining units.

If this resulted in enrollments tapering off, Pepe added, it might put the district in a more positive position, but he had no way of predicting what would happen.

On the communications front, committee chairwoman Katherine Kalin said she still is awaiting resident feedback on this month's first taping of school board meetings and the ability for residents to dial in by telephone to hear meetings.

She also announced that a district Facebook page is expected to “go live” on April 2, adding, however, that the page only will contain outgoing messages and will not accept incoming messages.

In addition, Kalin reminded residents that surveys seeking volunteers to tutor students on college and career readiness should be returned by the end of this month.

Parker also reported that the student pilot I-Pad program has been going well, with sixth graders using the I-Pads to work on a number of school projects at the same time in one classroom and little use for non-school-related work.

District officials are hopeful that the project, funded by a $200,000 grant from the Summit Education Foundation, will be continued with I-Pads in both the sixth and seventh grades next year, the seventh and eighth grades and following year and the ninth grade the year after that.

The superintendent said the district favored the “phase-in” approach because they felt it was more efficient to gradually replace the I-Pads rather than having to replace them all in a single year.




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