BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ—2017 state 800-meter run champion Victoria Vanriele of Gov. Livingston High School, along with the Gov. Livingston Central Jersey Group C champion boys' and girls’ swim teams were honored at Thursday’s Berkeley Heights Board of Education meeting.

During the presentation of a plaque by board member Denis Smalley to Vanriele's winter track coach Dan Guyton noted that the Gov. Livingston freshman was the first Gov. Livingston girl to win the State crown in the 800-meter event.

Swim team coach David Closs presented his teams, who were congratulated by board member Jeane Parker and board president Doug Reinstein.

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During the second part of the presentations for the evening, members of the township district’s special services staff outlined the district’s program for inclusion, community based instruction and post-high school planning for students served by special services.

Berkeley Heights Director of Special Services Michele Gardner noted that the top tier of the least restrictive learning environment, as reported to the state and federal government, is to have students with individualized education plans spending 80 percent of their school day in general education classes.

She added that, for 2015-2016, 74.52 percent of these students in Berkeley Heights spent 80 percent or more of their school day in general education and the goal is to have 80 percent of students with IEPs spending 80 percent or more of their day in general education.

Gardner said the goal of the next five years is to use creative classroom strategies combined with education in the community outside the classroom to move most of these students into successful careers.

The township district also has established a partnership with the New Jersey Center for Inclusive Education to improve its training and helping incorporate strategies that have been successful in other districts.

She also noted that, building off the co-teaching model in force for the last seven years at Mary Kay McMilln School, her department has budgeted for co-teacher section at Mountain Park School beginning next year. This will enable a special education teacher to be in the co-teacher classrooms throughout the school day.

District supervisor of special education Kevin Morra said that, after transition assessments and IEP planning, in collaboration with adult agencies, the Berkeley Heights schools have created in-house “job opportunities,” such as having IEP students help with vending machines and in school libraries in addition to providing community internship opportunities.

These activities are backed up by classroom-based activities in filling out job applications, conducting job searches and improving daily living skills.

Transition coordinator Steve Siebelts, noting that students have a great deal of input to the process, said it starts with a sampling of various potential occupations and then narrowing down of interests to the point where it can lead to paid employment opportunities.

On-site support provides for such activities, as resume writing and job coaching is instituted, but “fades” over time as students gain more independence.

He added local employers have been very cooperative and often request to hire students from the Berkeley Heights program.

In fact, the Berkeley Heights YMCA, in addition to employing some of the program’s students, develops outside-work activities for them such as the “Ashram for Autistics” yoga class, which meets every Friday.

Siebelts added that the township program is participating in a three-year grant, worth more than $1 million, recently awarded to the Morris-Union Jointure Commission.

The grant helps to assist in community networking, presents staff training opportunities, provides direct support of students, offers assistance with transition assessments and helps with potential expansion of social and recreational activities and shared resources.

Structured learning experience coordinator Phil Acosta listed the following employers who are participating in the program:

  • The Berkeley Heights and Summit YMCAs
  • Super Kids
  • Lord Stirling Stables in Basking Ridge
  • New Jersey Sharing Network
  • Yo Addiction
  • Walgreens in Berkeley Heights and Stirling
  • TV 35 in Cranford
  • Dean’s Greens
  • The Berkeley Heights Library
  • The Wharton Music School
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Rich’s Automotive
  • Splurge Bakery in Millburn

Students work in maintenance, custodial work, housekeeping and clerical areas, customer services, YMCA member services, daycare, as teacher assistant, pages in the library, stocking, food services, tacking and saddle cleaning, cleaning stalls and filming and video switching.

Acosta noted that one of the students employed through the program is making $9.50 per hour and one is earning $10 per hour—both substantially over the New Jersey minimum wage of $8.40 per hour.

In a video shown during the presentation, a YMCA spokeswoman said students work in the child care center, greet visitors and work at special events, all the while helping the staff and learning new responsibilities.

A mother of one of the students said her son works setting up materials and the program has given him new skills and confidence, while showing him how to handle personal finances. She also said he has taken a new interest in home improvement thanks to what he has learned.

Board member Gerard Crisonino, who works in special education, said he has heard the Berkeley Heights' program praised on a number of committees on which he sits.

Also, board member Chris Reilly said she tells local store managers that she is more likely to shop in establishments which employ students with special needs.

On another matter at the board meeting, Superintendent of Schools Judith Rattner agreed to explore establishment of a foreign exchange program between Gov. Livingston students and students from Quebec, Canada after the program was suggested by a junior at Gov, Livingston.

The student said that, based on information from students he has spoken to in similar programs in New Providence and Millburn, students in the township program would spend a week or two in a Canadian school in efforts to further immerse themselves in French and learn about foreign countries.

In turn, the Canadian students would attend Giv, Livingston.

Rattner said the students would be assessed like the students already attending schools in the respective countries.

On another matter, Reinstein said that, over the past several months, pre-meeting board executive sessions seldom have run over half of the hour allotted for them.

He suggested that, starting immediately, the board meet in executive session from 7 to 7:30 p.m. instead of from 7 to 8 p.m. and that open board meetings begin at 7:30 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.

The board president added that, if more time is needed, such as when retiring teachers are to be recognized at board meetings, executive sessions can begin at 6:30 p.m. or after the regular open meetings.

Responding to a question from the parent of one of the two student representatives on the board, he said remarks from student representatives could be scheduled later in meetings to give the students time to do homework or other activities between the time of school dismissal and board meetings.