Education

Demands for Change Continue as Flemington-Raritan Schools Superintendent Resigns

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Former District Superintendent Dr. Jack Farr isn't interested in serving as an interim replacement for Dr. Maryrose Caulfield. Credits: Curtis Leeds
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Hundreds attended last night's meeting of the Flemington-Raritan school board. Credits: Curtis Leeds
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Protest signs were in abundance at last night's Flemington-Raritan school board meeting. Credits: Curtis Leeds
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Board president Anna Fallon and board attorney John B. Comegno II. Credits: Curtis Leeds
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Credits: Curtis Leeds
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School board attorney John B. Comegno II cautions a speaker about the potential for committing slander against Superintendent Dr. Maryrose Caulfield. Credits: Curtis Leeds
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Credits: Curtis Leeds
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RARITAN TWP., NJ –Superintendent Dr. Maryrose Caulfield has submitted a letter of resignation to the K-8 Flemington-Raritan School District.

Her letter was read into the record at yesterday’s contentious school board meeting by board President Anna Fallon. It states the resignation is “for the purpose of retirement.”

For months, Caulfield has faced pressure to resign from district staff and parents with children in the district schools. Caulfield’s critics have claimed she created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the schools, and many claimed fear of retribution for speaking out against her. Those claims were again repeated by many at last night’s meeting.

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But Caulfield’s announcement did little to quell the demands for change.

Township resident Sue Mitcheltree cited the poor treatment Caulfield “has inflicted on the staff.

“Now she’s going to come in tomorrow” to her job, Mitcheltree said. “She has nothing to lose. I’m sure she’s angry.” Mitcheltree asked that Caulfield be put “on immediate administrative leave” and that Assistant Superintendent Daniel Bland “pick up her duties until you as the board can make a decision that is good for the district.”

“Although Dr. Caulfield has resigned we still have some tremendous issues to face,” Linda Alsop, a 25 year teacher in district, told the board. She described a “demoralizing culture” where there is “retaliatory action whenever a person disagrees.”

Fallon said that Caulfield provided 120 days’ notice as required under her contract, but that the board would seek to replace her with an interim superintendent as soon as possible.

Dr. Jack Farr, who served as superintendent in the district from 1998 to 2009, also spoke, saying that “recruiting superintendents is a difficult task” and that he recalls the job as an “unbelievably grueling, long day.”

But he took himself out of the running for acting superintendent. “In order to protect my marriage and my golf game, I can’t be the interim superintendent here,” he said.

Fallon herself is also under pressure.

Raritan Township resident Lori Genzel, who is a parent of sixth-grader and vice president of the Reading-Fleming Intermediate School PTO, called Caulfield’s resignation “part one” of the change that’s needed in the district.

“The time for change ... is now,” Genzel said. “We demand immediate change in the Board of Education leadership.”

Speaking directly to Fallon, Genzel said, “We call on your immediate resignation tonight” as president of the school board. “The time has come for you to throw in the towel.”

Genzel described herself as “a community member who chose to move to Flemington for this very school district.”

 “Regarding the board, change will continue to happen,” said board member Tim Bart in a quivering voice. “We must challenge ourselves to do better for our district. This community deserves better from us.”

Board member Christopher Walker also seeks change in the school board leadership. He said that since being elected to the board in November, “I’ve learned a lot ... I feel the board has to consider changing board leadership, before we start the search for a new interim superintendent ... before the next board meeting.”

To the howls of the public, Fallon sought to end public comment but was overruled by the school board.

In the extended public comment period, teacher Marie Corfield asked the board to consider the extension “a regular part of your meetings policy ... this is democracy in action. This is our board. You work for us.

“The people in this audience have every right to stay here ‘til midnight if they want to stand up and say something,” Corfield added. “Every single person in the room deserves to be heard.”

Fallon, with the assistance of the school board attorney, also sought to adjourn the meeting without the approval of the board; the board prevailed.

After meeting, the attorney refused to provide his name and walked away without comment. Board member Dr. Dennis Copeland identified him as John Comegno.

On his website, where he identifies himself as John B. Comegno II, it states he provides “sophisticated counsel to Boards of Education ... that face heightened exposure from litigation.”

In a statement released this morning, Fallon wrote that the school board accepted Caulfield’s resignation “with regret.”

“The board will move forward with urgency to hire an interim superintendent,” she wrote. “Caulfield will work with the board to develop a transition plan.”

The statement said that the board “is grateful” for Caulfield’s “work ethic and passion for students. During her tenure, she implemented a very successful one-to-one Chromebook initiative, significantly expanded differentiation opportunities in the classroom through both technology integration and full inclusion, completed important security upgrades to our facilities and procedures, and worked with our talented administrators and staff to bring many other essential changes to the district.”

This is a developing story. Stay with TAPinto Flemington for updates.

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