Sparta Board Tries New Workshop System

Board member Maureen Myre asks a question at the workshop meeting. Credits: By Jane Primerano
New Sparta Board of Education memeber Jack Surdoval comments during the work session. Credits: By Jane Primerano
New Sparta Board of Education member Kim Yeomans discusses a curriculum matter at the workshop meeting. Credits: By Jane Primerano
Sparta Superintendent of Schools Dennis Tobin answers a question at the workshop session. Credits: By Jane Primerano

SPARTA TOWNSHIP, NJ – A new system of workshop meetings set up by the township board of education resulted in three hours of discussion Monday, Jan. 21, and a recommendation by Sparta Superintendent of Schools Dennis Tobin, that board members review their agenda packets as soon as they receive them, and call or email committee chairs or staff with questions prior to the meeting.

That would allow time to look up answers the staff cannot come up with quickly, Tobin said.

Each committee chair reports on the meeting immediately prior to the workshop, and other board members discuss items that may come up for a vote at the regular meeting.

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The next regular meeting is at 7:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 28.

Residents and board members had some of the same concerns at the workshop.

In the wake of the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., school security was one topic.

“A lot of districts are talking about security in the wake of things that have happened,” Tobin said.

He noted at one time, Sparta had school resource officers who were on-duty township police officers, but they were cut from the school budget two years ago.

Two officers were used, one for the elementary schools, and one for secondary. The program was township-wide, and included Sussex County Technical and Pope John XXIII schools, as well as the public township schools, Tobin noted.

He said a meeting with Sparta Mayor Gil Gibbs covered security, as well as other topics, and a meeting was held with all building administrators.

“I asked each building principal to reinforce safety measures,” Tobin said.

Each school has an emergency operating plan.

“They make sure visitors state the purpose of their visit, and have a visitors’ badge when they are in the building,"Tobin said.

He also noted administrators went over the plan with students and faculty, reminding them not to open doors for anyone.

There is a magnet system that could facilitate lockdown procedures, he said. Currently, the doors must be pushed open and keyed down before they are closed to lock them from the inside. The magnet system allows doors to be locked from the inside without pushing them open first.

Personnel committee chair Karen Scott said the committee discussed finding shared services money for resource officers.

Also discussed was the practice of dual-use classrooms. These are areas for small group instruction that may not be separated from other areas by solid walls.

Tobin said the district looked into building walls in these areas, but would not be allowed.

In older buildings, such as the township elementary schools, all classrooms are the same size, Tobin explained. In the high school, there are differences in the square footage.

In the Alpine School, the stage is used for English as a Second Language classes.

“I’m concerned about distractions,” board member Kim Yeomans said.

Tobin said the administrators try to schedule small-group instruction at different times, but that is not always possible.

Resident Leonor DiStefano said she volunteers in the Alpine School library on Monday mornings, when there are library classes in the main part of the room, and small group instruction behind a partition.

"We can hear them,” she said.

Tobin said the county has approved Sparta’s dual use classrooms.

The board also discussed going from half-day to full-day kindergarten.

Yeomans said the board will have a demographic study done before any decisions can be made. Board business administrator Linda Alvarez said a demographic study is required every five years. She said she is sending out a request for proposals to three firms that do those studies.

Tobin said there are eight sections of half-day kindergarten. DiStefano pointed out there may be more children if it goes to full day. She said she sent her son to a private kindergarten, “as it was a better day for him.”

She did say she believes Sparta gets the job done in two and a half hours.

Tobin said the district realizes they may need 10 to 12 sections if they go to full day. There is room in Mohawk Avenue School for the full day classes.

Board vice president Richard Bladek said it affects common core standards to have a full-day kindergarten.

Also discussed was the on-going high school construction project. Tobin said they are finalizing the swipe-card system, the orchestra pit, blinds for the art room windows, and some final signage.

At the regular meeting, the board will vote on such matters as payment for the pit orchestra for the high school musical, and accompanists for choir concerts, a change order on the new backstop, charges for audio-visual technicians working when outside groups use the high school auditorium, field trips and substitute teachers and aides.


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