BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Superintendent Judith Rattner advised the board at last Thursday's meeting of a "smooth" start to the school year, adding that back to school had the smoothest opening with respect to transportation.

Prior to opening day, the new teachers attended a meet and greet and were trained in HIB, classroom management and evaluation. Gov. Livingston Link Crew transitioned the incoming freshmen at orientation, middle school students had a chance to visit at Columbia's locker day, and the newest of students visited Mary Kay McMillin to meet their new teachers in the classroom. 

Back to school nights are scheduled in the coming days: Tuesday, Sept. 16 - MKM Grade 1 at 7 p.m.; Wednesday, Sept. 17 - Hughes, Mountain Park and Woodruff at 7 p.m.; Thursday, Sept. 18 - Columbia at 7 p.m.; Tuesday, Sept. 23 - Gov. Livingston at 7:10 p.m.

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Board member John Sincaglia recognized and applauded the generosity of the PTOs who have donated a combined $231,123 to the district and the Highlander Booster Club has donated over $50,000 with $35,000 going directly to the athletic programs and $14,000 to the athletes in the form of scholarships, awards, and recognition.

This year's Gov. Livingston Board of Education Student Representatives are senior Jimmy Longo, returning for his second year, and junior Christopher Weeks. They reported on student life at Gov. Livingston. Many clubs have already had their first meeting and fundraisers are being scheduled. Auditions were held for the GL Hilltop Players' fall production of "Almost Maine". The Highlanders' sports are off to a great start and the Student Council Class Clash will add to the spirit up at GL, where grades participate in friendly competition with activities such as a Guitar Hero Tournament and bobbing for donuts.

Business Administrator Donna Felezzola reported on the facility work that occurred during the summer, including:

  • Toilet room upgrades at Mountain Park, Columbia, and Gov. Livingston
  • Boiler replacement at Columbia 
  • Paving at schools
  • Network upgrade with 55 access points
  • B Wing replacement at Columbia with an anticipated completion date of Oct. 15.

The Gov. Livingston senior class requested to Principal Scott McKinney and the administration to reinstate the open campus policy that allows qualified students to leave school with a pass during specific time periods. After review of the class list for discipline infractions, tardiness, absences, grade qualifications and parent permission -  McKinney endorsed and forwarded request to Superintendent Rattner for board approval. 

Rattner advised the class representatives that Principal McKinney is "the keeper" of this privilege and it can be taken away if a student fails to follow the rules or if conditions become dangerous.  A tiered level of consequences for violations is in place. The board unanimously voted to approve the request.

Rattner discussed the parking issue on Sussex Road and Crest Drive, where students have parked on the streets and it has become a safety hazard where emergency vehicles can not access; as wells as, neighbors have complained of the students blocking driveways and delivery trucks and workers can't access their properties. 

There are 236 student parking spots available at Gov. Livingston on a lottery basis [an increase of 32 spots since re-lining the parking lot]. At the current time, 220 students have been assigned a spot for a fee, leaving 16 extra spaces. The street parking issue arises later in the school year as more juniors receive their licenses. Assigning spots was introduced in an effort to reduce parking lot accidents - eliminating student's need to drive around looking for an open spot. 

Factors that have impacted the parking issue at Gov. Livingston are budget restrictions eliminating the late bus and probationary license laws restricting these student drivers to "only" one other passenger.  Resident Don Monroe pointed out the connection between "open campus" and the possible impact it has made on increased number of student drivers. 

Rattner has worked with acting Police Chief John DiPasquale, who has been at the school to observe, and agrees, this is a serious situation. Principal Scott McKinney and Rattner have also met with the neighbors to address the issues. The communication is open and adjustments will be made. Rattner has looked at the recommendations made by the township, however, she is looking for additional options. 

When residents approached the Township Council during the Aug. 26 meetingthe council suggested the school district and the board of education to step up with a solution by turning a small athletic field in back of the school into an additional parking area for students. The council will be introducing a new parking ordinance for the streets around Gov. Livingston at the Oct. 7 public meeting. The Board of Education Facilities Committee will lead a discussion on the parking matter at their Oct.16 meeting.

During the Citizens Hearing, resident Alfred D'Emilio addressed the board about the recent school ranking (# 36) in the NJ Monthly publication compared to neighboring towns of Chatham (#1) and New Providence (#6). He stressed that this stagnant school ranking ultimately impacts his property values as well as other senior citizens. He asked Rattner of the district's plan to improve Berkeley Heights' position.

Rattner explained that NJ Monthly had changed their parameters of student performance. The district continues to work to improve. Rattner had previously responded to a board request providing them with a data dashboard of a transparent and measurable "scorecard" to show how student achievement is measured. The "scorecard" includes:  HSPA (total proficient), SAT (math, writing, critical reading, total, and percent taking), ACT (composite score, percent taking), GPA (mean and median per grade level), Final Grades (percent passing wit C or better per subject area), AP Scores (number of exams, percent of students with score of three or better), Student Participation (athletics - percent per season, extracurricular - percent per year).

The next Board of Education Meeting will be held on Oct. 2, public session begins at 8 p.m. at Columbia Middle School Multi Purpose Room, 345 Plainfield Avenue, Berkeley Heights.