NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — West Essex Board of Education President MaryAdele Wojtowicz began last Monday’s meeting by thanking the administration and staff for ensuring that the schools were safely opened for hybrid instruction. 

Beginning Feb 1, the district was able to safely combine the cohorts of students at the high school into one in order to allow for more in person instruction at a time while still maintaining social distancing protocols. Wojtowicz thanked “the amazing administration and superintendent for always stepping up to the plate and being so proactive.”

Superintendent Damion Macioci reported that adhering to their phasing in plans, the reopening committees will be meeting the week of March 8 and pre-planning will begin for marking period four which begins on April 19.  He did confirm that as per NJDOH and CDC guidelines social distancing remains at six feet.  Discussing the upcoming spring break and if travel is being considered, Macioci stated that local health officials require individuals who travel beyond the immediate region, regardless if the person was vaccinated or not, a 14-day period of quarantine is mandated.

Macioci announced that Anthony Minnella, the district’s Athletic Director had been injured in a motor vehicle accident and sustained multiple injuries, however he is now home and recovering.  The superintendent thanked the community for their “tremendous support that they have shown to him and we wish Anthony a safe and speedy recovery.”  Personnel items on the agenda included approving Gary Farishian to the position of Acting Athletic Director while Minnella is recovering and high school assistant principal Juliann Hoebee will assume the position of Acting Supervisor of Health/Physical Education until Minnella returns.

Greg Aschoff, supervisor of the math and business department provided an update to the community about the department’s initiatives.  The presentation is a first in a series of supervisor reports.  Moving forward during upcoming board meetings reports will be presented by supervisors discussing their departments.

Aschoff began by welcoming new staff members, Karen Hudson, a computer science teacher at WEMS and WEHS business instructor David Semaya who transferred from the middle school.  Aschoff confirmed that the district and departmental goals are to increase student growth and achievement, use data to drive instruction and increase use of authentic assessments and real-world applications.

In order to increase student growth and achievement there has been a continued evolution of the seventh-grade curriculum, the usage of the Academic Foundations program to assist students who require additional support, in addition to usage of enrichment tutorials for middle school students and professional development for teachers in hybrid and online learning techniques.

Using data to drive instruction has been successful by utilization of the LinkIt Assessments at WEHS, MAP testing at WEMS and comparisons of year-to-year data. There are also frequent intrastate supervisor meetings and  Aschoff confirmed there are planned end of the year assessments to determine student growth.

New courses included in Computer Science are Animation & Game Design and Cybersecurity.  Business courses have been revised, including: Virtual Enterprise, Digital Marketing and Social Media and Introduction to Business and Business Applications. Successful extra-curricular offerings include: MathCount, Math League, Future Business Leaders of America, with 12 students advancing to the state competition and participation in DECA.

Aschoff concluded his report by thanking and acknowledging Janice Emering who retired from the department after 40 years. He said, “Her enthusiasm and love of learning and teaching and being with students was unmatched.  We were very fortunate that even with social distancing we were able to give her a really great send-off complete with a full staff clap out.  I think it was great that she was with us for so long and we appreciate her hard work and wish her a great retirement and a well-deserved rest after a great career.”

Dr. Gina Donlevie, principal of West Essex Middle School (WEMS) reported that there are now approximately 150 students daily in attendance on campus.  She noted “it is really nice there are more students in the classroom, more rumbling and noise in the hallways, we’re playing some music now in the hallways and it feels like we are gradually starting to get back to some normalcy.”  Feedback received from teaching staff is that they feel “re-invigorated and they are reminded in what their passion truly is.”  

Scheduling is underway at the middle school and guidance has begun scheduling for the incoming class of 2027. Beginning in January the guidance counselors visited each elementary school virtually and provided information about the scheduling and registration processes and prepared a 6th grade parent night video. Information may be found on the incoming 7th grade webpage.  

Donlevie announced that during the recently held virtual Barbara Bruchac Hero Assembly WEMS nurse Denise Logan was recognized as hero for “her tireless efforts supporting our students, teachers and, administrators through the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.”

Caesar Diliberto, West Essex High School (WEHS) principal announced that the class of 2021 valedictorian is Jonah Finkelstein and salutatorian is Morgan Sindle.  Shoprite Stars for the 3rd marking period are:  Morgan Sindle (academics); Alexandra Shizas (athletics); George Ashji (the arts); Brianna Puorro (leadership); Sam Prince (service to the community) and student athletes Chris Bell, Jake Cusano and Abby Lonergan were recognized.

Diliberto stated that the “administration is committed to safely providing the closest resemblance to traditional events such as Junior Prom and Senior Ball.”  The Senior Ball is rescheduled from Wednesday, June 16 to Tuesday, June 1. The Junior Prom is rescheduled from Thursday, April 22 to Wednesday, June 16.  The rationale for the rescheduled Junior Prom is that current COVID restrictions cap events to 150 individuals indoors which is approximately half of the junior class and the expectation is that those restrictions will be lessened by June. A consideration for the change of date for the Senior Ball is that in the event a quarantine is necessary for any individual, attendance at graduation will not be impacted. Macioci thanked the high school administration in “being proactive to make these events happen.”

Agenda items included facility upgrades addressing COVID-19 safety precautions. The board unanimously approved a contract with DiCara Rubino Architects for professional services pertaining to the procurement specifications of classroom unit ventilators and for the board secretary to advertise for the electrical service upgrade bid and replacement of the existing generator as per specifications for the WEMS project.

Ann Fahey, board policy chairwoman reported that multiple district policies on the agenda were due to revisions, adoptions, and some abolishments. Fahey confirmed that once approved all district policies are on the website for review.  

Board member Ray Stampone provided a finance and facility update. Stampone stated that the high school cafeteria now has LED lighting installed and the lights were free through a state rebate program.  The next project will be to upgrade the floor in the cafeteria’s kitchen.  

An ultraviolet light system is being investigated for both schools, the light would sanitize the room and all surfaces. The univentilators at the middle school have been on a schedule to be replaced by four per year. There are 29 univentilators that need to be replaced, so the district is getting bids now to receive them all at once instead of continuing with the previous schedule.  

Stampone confirmed that the 2021-2022 preliminary budget is required to be approved by March 15 which will be the date of the board’s next meeting.