BARNEGAT, NJ - The lights are out in all the schools as the state does its best to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. While students, parents, and teachers tackle distance learning, the Barnegat Board of Education and school administrators are also hard at work. Among other things, they’re in the midst of plans for the district’s reconfiguration to a grade banding model.

Board members approved the reconfiguration plan in February by a 6-3 vote.  The dissenting votes were all cast by the newest members of the board, who ran together under the slogan, “A New Voice for Barnegat.”  They are Sean O’Brien, Richard Quelch, and Robert Sawicki.

Before the first reading on the controversial topic, Board of Education President Michael Hickey made an important announcement.  His plan was to gather input from others outside school administration.

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“As the Board President, I will be using my authority to establish a limited-duration School Reorganization Committee to provide support, guidance, and oversight to the administration as they carry out the day-to-day changes required by this policy,” said Hickey.

Hickey then named the charges of the committee, which he broke down into three parts. Among other things, the committee is charged with overseeing the implementation of grade banding and working with the administrative team.

“Additionally, I will use my authority to establish a Citizens Advisory Committee…composed of school-minded school-minded community members selected by the President and voted on by the Board,” continued Hickey.  “Furthermore, the Superintendent will appoint staff members to work on the committee.”

Once approvals fell into place, the Reorganization Committee took on a new name. Now called the Grade Banding Committee, Hickey is the Chair and is joined by other board members. The complete committee includes Rob Geddes, Finance Chair, Dave Sherman, Buildings and Grounds Chair, and Doreen Continanza, Governance Chair.

When the school board conducted its meeting virtually on March 24th, they approved fifteen members to the Citizens Advisory Committee.  Once again, the vote went 6-3, with no votes from O’Brien, Quelch, and Sawicki.

Contacted after the meeting, O’Brien explained why he voted against the committee’s composition and other subsequent motions.

“We’ve had several encounters since grade-banding went through,” shared O’Brien. “At no time did Mr. Hickey discuss who would be on the committee or explain its charter. I don’t think there are enough people on the committee who were against grade-banding in the first place. I also think some very qualified people were overlooked as members.”

Meanwhile, Hickey contends that he notified members that he intended to use his authority as board president to make appointments. And, that he reached out to all the members to ask if they needed further explanations of any the proposals.

“The Citizens Advisory Committee selection was a difficult one for me,” admitted Hickey.  “I picked from a mix of great applicants ranging from full supporters to people who were not in favor of grade banding. Most importantly, I wanted people who could speak objectively, respectfully, and honestly on topics while working side-by-side with our Board Members and staff.”

While Hickey selected the citizen members of the committee, Superintendent of Schools Dr.  Brian Latwis picked staff members who would provide their input. Latwis said 25-35 people sought an appointment to the committee.

Other issues that came about as the result of grade banding changes included approval of RTI Data Coaches and the Master Teachers for Special Education.  Look for a future article to learn more about these individuals.

Motions from the Buildings and Grounds Committees went along the same split vote. Edwards Engineering Group was given the authorization to reconfigure the District’s fuel deposit.  Additionally, the Speizele Architectural Group will provide consulting services for the renovations of preschool toilets at Dunfee and the alternations of the sixth-grade classrooms at Horbelt.

“I voted no because I felt it was unclear that we were just voting on estimates,” said O’Brien. “This was not for the work itself.”

No doubt, there’s more to come when it comes to planning the changes set for the 2020-2021 school year. For now, the idea of grade-banding suddenly seems less surreal as the country stands on edge with wondering if life will ever return to normal.