Education

Berkeley Heights School Board Opts to Move Elections to November, End Public Vote on Budget

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Parents listen to a presentation by Principal Anne Corley-Hand on the new kindergarten program at Mary Kay McMillin Early Childhood Center during the Board of Education’s Thursday, Feb. 9 meeting. Credits: Deb Dawson
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BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – School board elections will be moving to November and the public will no longer be voting on the school budget, unless it goes over the two percent cap. The board voted on a resolution memorializing the law recently signed by the governor at its meeting on Thursday, Feb. 9.

One board member voted “no.” Paul Beisser said, “Taking away someone’s right to vote should be weighed… I just can’t get past stripping away someone’s right to vote on something so important.”

Other members of the board and public all spoke in favor of the measure, which will go into effect immediately. Board member Dante Gioia, who represents Mountainside, was not able to vote because he represents a sending district.

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Also at the meeting, Mary Kay McMillin Early Childhood Center Principal Anne Corley-Hand talked about the new kindergarten system started this year.

Superintendent Judith Rattner said the district had promised last year to institute a curriculum that is research based.

Children remain in the same classroom all day, except for a short recess at the end, rather than being taken out of the class for “specials” such as art, gym and music.

Parents present objected to the loss of specials, saying their children who had previously been in kindergarten at the school felt the “specials” were the highlight of the day.

Corley-Hand said there are many benefits to the program.

  • There are opportunities for sustained projects and large blocks of time available;
  • Common planning time for teachers to be together and share ideas;
  • There is an uninterrupted instructional block which is more productive because kids aren’t stopped in the middle of something to be taken out of class for a special;

Transitions are minimized, which produces a more relaxed classroom environment; and stress is reduced.

She said this year had a smoother transition to kindergarten with fewer “criers.”

Next year, she said the kindergarten will promote opportunities for the art teacher to “push in” to regular classes and take part in the regular lessons. And, the gym teacher will be a part of recess.

Currently, the children have a sing-a-long with a music teacher one day a week before they leave to go home in the case of morning classes, or before they start the regular day in the case of afternoon classes. Corley-Hand said this is a “natural transition.” On those days there is no recess.

Feedback on the program has been received from parents in the form of a survey to which 54 percent responded, largely positively, and through parent interviews.

“Parents suggested that parents be brought in to do some programs and share their skills,” said Corley-Hand. “A number suggested a full-day program.” Other suggestions include enhanced communication and shorter bus rides. She said many said the “hands-on learning is good.”

Next year, she said, “The plan is to add in periods of time to ‘push in’ art class, maybe not every week, but every other week.” Children will not be “pulled out” of class for the specials. These teachers will “push in” to add expertise into the classrooms. “We do not want to disrupt the children’s day,” she said.

Staff find it difficult for the children to be in the classroom during prep time, she said, but overall “I see a calmer environment.”

“The hope is that fewer children will be in intensive instruction in first grade,” she summarized.

Budget

Board President John Sincaglia said the board will discuss the budget at its next meeting at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23 at Columbia School.

“We believe there is a good plan in place. There are some areas where we have had to put off maintenance for several years. This year we think there’s an opportunity to do these things. I think we’re going to have a budget that will do a lot of good things at a rate that is better for the taxpayers.”

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