HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ -- Several topics of discussion, including security and the state of the district’s music program, were raised during the public comment portion of February’s Board of Education meeting held last Thursday.
It was 24 hours after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where the state of security was raised by parent Lisa Krommenhoek during the public hearing portion on Resolutions regarding Policy Regulation #7440 - School District Security (Second Reading.) She specifically asked about the outdoor recess time at Lincoln School.
“Right now, they are playing outside with minimal security,” she said. “There are teachers out there; there is support staff out there; there is the principal out there. I’m just concerned that that’s not enough.”
Dr. Matthew Helfant, Superintendent of Schools, responded to her concerns.
“There was heightened presence by the police in the schools today, and will continue tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 16) There were some additional steps that we took to insure safety because that’s (safety) certainly first and foremost.”
He mentioned some ideas under consideration, including lights on the playground fencing when students are outside. He said that the two security officers and police move through the schools providing additional security.
Helfant also noted that in 2015 -16, Bergen County did an audit of Hasbrouck Heights security procedures, and that “they made a number of recommendations that we followed up on.”
Parent Brian Monchino followed up on the recess issue noting that children are either in the fenced in playground while others play in the street. He said that people have walked through the children’s play area in the street, “around children, walked through the balls and jump ropes.”
Since the street is a public road, Helfant said that the district has to include “the town in that conversation” and discuss it with the police department.
During the open public hearing portion, Parent Dana Reyngoudt expressed her concerns that the district has only one behaviorist on staff. She said that her child’s education is being compromised by another student who is being overseen by behaviorist, but just one on staff would not be sufficient, inquired about the workload and suggested that a behaviorist be dedicated to the elementary school where there is a greater need.
Helfant explained that the current year had 112 hours per month budgeted for the behaviorist, down from 140 hours per month last year. He said the Board would go back and look at it (the hours.) He also noted, “as a previous director of special services and school psychologist, I understand how valuable a behaviorist is for a district.”
Music parent Michelle Bischoff expressed her concerns about the state of the music program in the school district.
“I’ve noticed a trend that seems to be an attrition of our program,” she said.
She compiled a history of the music program from 1995 which she shared with the Board members. She noted that concerts had been reduced, pull out classes cut and retired teachers not replaced. She explained the benefits of music education in schools and how numerous Hasbrouck Heights athletes are also in the music program.
“The long term plan for this is, it’s going to extinguish itself at some point because we don’t have a feeder program (at the elementary school level.)”
Patricia Caruso, Board president, said that budget and scheduling issues need to be resolved, and invited Bischoff and a few other music parents to meet and “see what we can do about adding it back in.”
Another parent Lauren Terra Nova was upset about an incident that had occurred that day on a jump rope trip.
Terra Nova’s daughter relayed the story of a teacher from another district telling the Hasbrouck Heights students “You guys suck.”
She was disappointed that she had to learn about the incident from her daughter and that there had been no communication, a call or email, from the teacher or school principal about the matter.
Krommenhoek again spoke and expressed that she was disappointed that there was no email or phone call from the district reassuring parents the day after the Florida shooting, and that she would have felt better knowing the counselors would be made available. She asked for better communication with parents. Helfant noted that the Board and administrators had addressed it internally to provide counselors as needed.
Michael Warren, president of the Hasbrouck Heights Education Association and graduate of the high school spoke in support of the district.
“We have counselors on hand. Counselors are top notch, above and beyond. They really try to make sure students feel safe and are able to express their feelings in an appropriate way. Our principal is very caring and our staff rally tries to make sure every students feels comfortable in the classroom.
Additional Resolution: a late resolution to the night’s agenda was the approval of Engage Momentum LLC, a grant-writing/educational consultant at $500 per day. According to Helfant, the district will utilize the consultant in conjunction with the grant writing committee to oversee the application of six grants. The district looks to utilize the consultant a maximum of twice a week for about two months.
When asked about funding for the consultant, Helfant said, “Towards the end of the year there are times when there are few extra dollars. This year we had a staff member extend their leave so the cost of the sub is significantly cheaper. We are using those funds for the grant writer. This is temporary as we are not sure if we will have the funds next year.”
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