ELIZABETH, NJ – At her second meeting as president of the Elizabeth Board of Education, January 21, Charlene Bathelus announced her initiatives to the audience gathered at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Early Childhood Education School No. 52 on Trumbull Street.
First, Bathelus announced that board meetings would rotate throughout the district. “When I joined the board in 2012, Tony Monteiro was president, and he took the show on the road,” Bathelus explained. “I would like to do the same to bring the board to the community.”
Second, each board member was asked to adopt four schools to act as an advocate, attend school events, and to “get to know the school community and report to the board,” said Bathelus.
Third, Bathelus will be visiting all 35 schools in chronological order, one a day beginning February 1.
Before the board began the agenda business, they acknowledged several parents, employees, and residents.
Former board president Carole Cascio and community activist James Carey were recognized for their efforts to get School 52, then under construction, named for the civil rights leader.
Parent Excellence Awards were given to Jacqueline and Freddy Serna and Daneile Canas. Stars of Excellence were presented to Gret Sheehy, School 52 head secretary Julio Coelho, head custodian. Lois Bass, Community Relations Coordinator for Infineum USA L.P. , was there to receive the Community Excellence for their support to District Process Technology Program in Thomas A. Edison Career and Technology Academy.
Peter Vosseler, the district’s anti-bullying coordinator who gave a lengthy report on the harassment, intimidation, and bullying prohibition policy as required by the New Jersey Department of Education.
According to the NJDOE website, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights was signed into law to strengthen the standards and procedures for preventing, reporting, investigating and responding to incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) of students that occur on school grounds and off school grounds under specified circumstances. The policy must be developed using a process that includes representation from parents, students, school district and school staff and administrators, volunteers who have significant contact with students and community representatives.
Each district must have an anti-bullying coordinator, and each school must have an anti-bullying specialist. Each school receives a score on how well they achieve the policy’s goal, and those scores are sent to the NJDOE.
The top scoring school was School 28, although parent Laura Ruiz complained during the open forum that her son was bullied there. “He doesn’t trust the principal to go to her,” she said. “Bullying comes from the top. Every child in this district should be treated the same.”
Anna Texeira, who spoke through an interpreter, expressed the need for air conditioning in School15. Board Commissioner Carlos Trujillo answered, saying that the matter had been investigated and was too costly to fix at the time, but they would look into the situation again.
Other parents approached the podium with issues. Maria Lorenz questioned the lack of appropriate workshops for parents of special needs children as stipulated by the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee. She also questioned the selection of parents to be on the committee, saying parents might not want to disclose their child’s disability. She suggests that the meeting remain open to all parents of special needs children and that workshops be scheduled at time when most parents could attend.
Cristina Moreira was concerned with standardized testing and the ability of students to opt out of them. She asked why there couldn’t be a portal on the website to refuse testing for a student as there are in other districts. She also requested that parents be informed of any upcoming testing.
Retired Elizabeth educator Dr. Patricia Gallante asked that each school get a score, but where are these located? She also remarked that high school graduation requirements are 160 credits, but required courses only add up to 120 credits, leaving 40 credits of electives. “That’s a whole year,” said Gallante. “Do we really want a year of electives?”