LIVINGSTON, NJ – At a brief Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) meeting this week, the administration fielded questions on steps the district takes to ensure careful planning in the areas of teaching turnover and soft bordering.
Referencing a recent LBOE meeting in which nearly a dozen parents showed up to ask the administration to reconsider its decision to exit a well-respected teacher whose contract was not renewed for next year, resident Mike Ramer expressed concern over losing top-notch and well-loved teachers.
“On every board agenda, there are always resignations and people leaving our district,” said Ramer. “Some turnover is healthy and expected. However, what I’m hearing more and more is that teachers in our district are finding the current work atmosphere stressful and unsettling, which may be precipitating their leaving.”
Ramer added that it’s important to find out why these staff members are leaving, stating that the district should be doing everything it can to retain these teachers.
In response to questions posed about whether the district was conducting exit interviews and administering regularly scheduled climate surveys for staff and teachers that would help explain why various school personnel are leaving Livingston, Superintendent of Schools Christina Steffner discussed what has recently been done to keep a finger on the pulse of the current climate at the schools.
She confirmed that exit interviews are conducted through the human resources department. She also said the Culture and Climate survey, which was administered this past year asking students, teachers and administrators for feedback on various elements of school life, will continue to be distributed annually or every other year.
According to Steffner, the administration also meets regularly with the Livingston Education Association (LEA), where staff morale is just one of the topics frequently commented upon.
“Education has changed drastically in the last few years,” said Steffner. “For people who have been working with the district for a long time, maybe the changes are challenging. The paperwork and accountability for staff have changed. There’s a much larger workload. It is stressful because we’re not only responsible for educating students, we also have to be responsible for making sure they’re emotionally and mentally healthy.
“A lot of things have been pushed on public education to ensure that the students’ needs are being met. Some of those are state-mandated and some of them are mandated by what the community expects of the professionals and this is a community that demands excellence. It requires that we all work really hard and differently than we have in the past.”
LEA treasurer Melissa DeAngelus said the association conducted a survey of district staff members and shared all of the “good, bad and indifferent” information with the administration.
“I think people were honest with their feedback,” said DeAngelus. “The results of our staff survey showed that a lot of the staff members feel very positively about their experience working here in Livingston.”
Another concerned parent asked the administration what its plans were in regard to handling growing class sizes at Harrison Elementary School, where last year’s three kindergarten classes all maxed out at 22 students each.
“What will happen as the summer progresses and more people move into the district?” she asked during public comment.
Business Administrator Steven Robinson reported that there is room to place new students in the other elementary schools.
“One of the good things about Livingston is that all the schools are close by,” he said. “You’re within a couple of miles of any other school if your child is soft bordered away from the school closest to your home.”
According to Robinson, soft bordering remains an effective strategy since turnover in the different sections of the township is cyclical and there is no way to predict which schools will be at capacity year to year.
Movement into various neighborhoods in Livingston is one of the things Robinson is monitoring closely. Although he is not currently seeing concerning numbers in any one area, he said he would bring information back to the LBOE by Aug. 1 if that changes over the course of the summer and availability at schools is maxing out across the board.
Board members also expressed concern during this meeting about the rising numbers of Livingston students being waitlisted for AP classes. Read the story HERE.