Berkeley Heights Residents Present Petitions Protesting Cell Tower to Board of Education; School Administrators Report on Student Achievement Results

BOE President Doug Reinstein thanked the residents for their input in proposed cell tower and said the school body had taken note of their concerns. Credits: Bobbie Peer
Credits: Bobbie Peer

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ—A number of residents opposed to the erection of a 130-foot monopole-cellphone tower on property near Governor Livingston High School appeared at Wednesday’s Berkeley Heights Board of Education meeting to question board's actions approving the lease of the tower by the school body.

Wireless Edge, the Verizon affiliate seeking to build the tower, is before the Berkeley Heights Board of Adjustment looking for variances for the project. The zoning board held one of a number of hearings on the proposal on June 23.

At that hearing, also attended by a number of area residents opposed to the tower, Verizon planner David Karlebach said a variance from the requirement to build the tower on township-owned land was not needed because the school body, which owns the proposed tower site, also is a township body. He also said Verizon believes the monopole will have to exceed the maximum-allowed 125-foot height for the monopole in order to allow space for police emergency transmission equipment that would be located on the monopole.

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The education body, at Wednesday’s session adopted amendments to its lease with Verizon providing for maintenance of emergency equipment on the monopole and for equipment of up to four other future vendors on the tower.

Meanwhile, during the public comment portion of the Wednesday meeting, resident Dimitriy Agatanov presented a petition opposing the monopole to board president Doug Reinstein. Another resident presented a second petition to the board president. They said the petitions contained the signatures of more than 400 residents opposed to the project.

Pressed by Agatanov about whether the board would take action to reverse its approval of the Verizon lease, Reinstein said there was no action planned to reverse the lease agreement and he did not believe that was contemplated.

The board leader thanked the residents for their input and said the school body had taken note of their concerns.

The board president added the school board had voted to issue a request for proposals for the monopole lease, bids on the lease fees were submitted and the agreement was approved.

He noted several public meetings of the school board were held prior to the lease approval and public input was solicited at each of those meetings. He estimated that about 40 people had spoken about the issue at those meetings.

Reinstein also said the education body had sent the legally-required notice of the board of adjustment hearings to all owners whose property was within 200 feet of the site—in the area near a football field, soccer field and another athletic field on the Route 78 side of the high school.

He also said the school board had decided the monopole was needed to provide a “predictable and effective” means of communication for school officials during emergencies at high school events.

In response to further resident questions, he said the board also considered “small cell” and “distributive” technologies, but decided neither would meet their needs and decided on the proposed location because it was on the board’s own property, had no plans for use for 25 years and had no other athletic or academic use.

School business administrator Donna Felezola added that the school body had consulted a planner separate from the Verizon planner who was testifying before the zoning board and, also based on that planner’s advice, decided to approve the monopole site location.

Agatonov and other residents implied that Verizon only had considered the technology involved with the monopole and had pressed for implementation of that technology at the site because that met its own needs.

Asked about selection of Verizon as the successful vendor, Reinstein replied that the school board was familiar with Verizon because it had provided other services to the school district.

On another matter, resident Renee Wozny spoke on behalf of her daughter and her grandson, who, Wozny said, has severe autism that causes him to be self-destructive and to attempt to run from facilities in which he is being taken care of.

Wozny said that, due to the special nature of his disability, the needs of her grandson could not be met at the township’s Mountain Park School.

She added her grandson’s needs have been properly met by The Children’s Institute for several years. TCI, which was due to renamed Spectrum 360 on July 1, lists campuses in Livingston and Verona on its website.

Noting that board members had an obligation to provide the appropriate education for children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment, Wozny asked Reinstein how the Berkeley Heights district can help her grandson reach his full potential by insisting that he attend school in the township rather than at TCI.

The board president said that, although the school body symphatized with her situation, they could not reply in public to her request.

On another matter, assistant superintendent of schools Scott McKinney and several district supervisors outlined recent student performance achievements and proposed steps to be taken to improve performance in the future.

In statistics on the data dashboard, a summary through which Berkeley Heights measures itself against school districts it considers similar, Columbia Middle School students rated fourth in participation rates in the English Language Arts (ELA) tests of the newly-instituted PARCC assessments with a rate of 97 percent.

Other measures for Columbia students showed them placing:

  • Seventeeth out of 20 schools among sixth graders in ELA
  • Thirteenth out of 20 among seventh graders in ELA
  • Thirteenth out of 20 among eighth graders in ELA
  • Fourth in participation rates (97 percent) in PARCC math tests
  • Sixteenth out of 20 schools among sixth graders in PARCC math tests
  • Sixteenth out of 20 among seventh graders in PARCC math
  • Eleventh out of 20 among eighth graders in PARCC math
  • Eleventh out of 20 schools for those students taking PARCC algebra I tests
  • Third out of 20 schools for those students taking PARCC geometry tests
  • Sixth out of 20 among those passing the eighth grade NJ ASK science tests
  • First out of 20 among those achieving advance proficiency in eighth grade NJ ASK science tests
  • Eleventh out of 20 in a measurement of “college and career readiness” (this chart reflects the difference between student performance in the Algebra I classroom grades and achievement level on the Algebra I PARCC assessment
  • In Student Growth Percentiles in ELA Columbia students ranked 12th out of 20 (with 44)*
  • In Student Growth Percentiles in math Columbia students ranked 15th out of 20 (with 41)**

*According to materials provided by the administrators at Wednesday’s meeting, “The Student Growth Percentile is the median growth score for all CMS students. A student growth score is calculated by measuring student PAARC scores relative to a similar cohort of students established from the previous year of standardized testing.”

**According to materials provided by the administrators at Wednesday’s meeting, “Ths growth scores this year are difficult to compare with a transition from ASK to PARCC as well as the widely varying participation rates from school to school.”

For the middle school, the administrators at Wednesday’s meeting also presented statistics on final grades and sports and extracurricular activities participation.

They said the following will be done in the near future:

  • Examining transition into the sixth and ninth grades for additional support structures
  • Targeting grades three and six and Algebra I/ELA 10 for PARCC focus areas
  • Utilizing year 2 PAARC results to further identify areas of concern (curriculum, instruction, student cohort)
  • Investigating strategies for supporting student remediation in math and language arts
  • Ongoing implementation of Next Generation Science Standards
  • Gap analysis, curriculum revision and an implementation plan for the New Jersey Student Learning Standards adopted by the state board of education in May.

The data dashboards for Governor Livingston High School showed the following:

  • Gov. Livingston ranked second (with 97 percent) in PARCC ELA test participation rates
  • Gov. Livingston students fifth out of 20 in ninth grade ELA
  • Gov. Livingston students seventh out of 20 in 10th grade ELA
  • Gov. Livingston students sixth out of 20 in 11th grade ELA
  • Gov. Livingston ranked second (with 97 percent) in PARCC math test participation rates
  • Gov. Livingston ranked 13th out of 20 in PARCC-Algebra I
  • Gov. Livingston ranked 13th out of 20 in PARCC-Algebra 2
  • Gov. Livingston ranked 14th out of 20 in PARCC-Geometry
  • Gov. Livingston ranked 14th out of 20 in those passing the state biology competency tests
  • Gov. Livingston ranked 10th out of 20 in those scoring advanced proficiency in the state biology competency tests
  • Gov. Livingston ranked 13th out of 20 in SAT composite scores
  • Gov. Livingston ranked ninth out of 20 in SAT participation rates (92 percent)
  • Gov. Livingston ranked 14th out of 20 in percentages scoring over 1550 on the SATs (with a composite of 1663)
  • Gov. Livingston ranked second out of 20 in college entrance examination participation rates 
  • Gov. Livingston ranked fifth out of 20 in AP test score rankings

Also outlined for the high school were final grades statistics and mean and median GPAs per grade level along with rates of sports and extracurricular activity participation.

The supervisors set similar goals for the high school to those set for the middle school.

The complete results of these achievement assessments are available on the district website and from school officials.

On another matter, strategic plan committee chairwoman Chris Reilly and superintendent of schools Judith Rattner set the following goals—to be accomplished over the next five years:

  • Continuously improve school ranking relating to student achievement and performance—both on an absolute basis
  • Continue to focus investments on leading educational programs, specifically in the areas of science, technology, engineering, math and critical thinking
  • Attract, develop and retain the highest performing educators
  • Improve the overall perception and performance of the district guidance department to better meet the needs of students and parents-particularly in college readiness, parent outreach and university outreach
  • Provide students and staff with a state of the art learning and operating environment by continually assessing and improving the efficient and effective use of technology inside and outside the classroom.

In another action, the board extended Rattner’s contract through June 30, 2019, with her annual 2016-2017 salary at $155,000, plus a “high school increment of $2,500” for a total salary of $157,500.

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