LIVINGSTON, NJ – In his first public statement as Livingston Public Schools’ interim superintendent, Jim O’Neill said on Wednesday that the first days school went smoothly, and that the recent orientations for new students as well as new staff members appear to have been effective.

O’Neill and members of the Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) shared some highlights from the first week of school, including the grand opening of the new tennis and Pickleball courts at Heritage Middle School and the following first-day-of-school video created by faculty members of Collins Elementary School.

“The administrative staff supervised all involved in a tremendous amount of work this summer, and it was evident at the opening of school that a lot of work had been put in to make sure that the opening was successful,” said O’Neill.

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He noted that with 80 new staff members district-wide this year, the new teacher orientation held in August “was exceptional” and “extremely well-received.” He also said that “Welcome Back Teachers Day” was a very positive event, and that the professional workshops offered the day after teachers arrived were well attended.

“Every district doesn’t have so many teachers that report to the district and are smiling, glad to be there, glad to see their friends and glad to welcome their students,” said O’Neill. “I’ve been in nine districts and that doesn’t happen in every place. It happens here every year, and it’s something that everybody should be proud of.”

O’Neill said that when he and assistant superintendent Lisa Steiger attended the individual schools during the week, all of the halls and classrooms were well-decorated, all of the teachers were eager to greet their kids and even the youngest students in the district were engaged in productive activities from day one.

In summary of how he intends to conduct Livingston Board of Education meetings for the 2018-2019 school year, O’Neill said that the board’s goal is to have each meeting be “organized, efficient, transparent, productive and characterized by civility.”

He also noted the following in his statement regarding public meetings:

Board meetings are “a meeting of the board in public,” not a public meeting. What this means is that these meetings give the public an opportunity to see the board as it discusses, resolves and votes on school board business, policies and issues.

However, these meetings do provide the opportunity for public input, and members of the public are welcome to bring in questions or comments to address during designated times. Board members and the superintendent will then decide who is best prepared to respond to the question.

The board and superintendent will make “every effort to respond to questions from the floor and emails [they] receive prior to the meeting,” but will not use the public meeting to respond to posts seen on social media or other outlets.

“We respect the right of parents and others to create online groups, but those groups are not subject to district oversight and often have comments that are critical of district practices or disparaging of district personnel,” said O’Neill. “Any official response by the board tends to legitimize the sites that have inappropriate information. Even though some board members have tried to answer questions or clarify misinformation, the misinformation continues.”

The public is urged to refer to the district website for policies, procedures and answers to their questions. If the board believes a certain issue raised requires a response, O’Neill said that this response will be provided through the district website.

The board reserves the right to request the removal of any misleading logos, pictures or headings from any non-affiliated individuals’ or groups’ website. The board might also choose to take additional action if there is no response to this request.

“Additionally, we are aware that some sites house detrimental comments about the district and make disparaging comments about district personnel,” said O’Neill. “We have an ethical obligation to refrain from contributing to those websites.”

In conclusion, O’Neill stated the LBOE is focused on providing local students “with an excellent education that prepares them for future studies and life,” and is committed to working toward consensus in decision-making.

As the goal is to have as many 5-0 votes as possible among board member, the public is encouraged to assist the board in achieving this goal.

Outside of board meetings, the public is urged to direct any questions, concerns or problems directly to the superintendent, who will make every effort to provide answers to all issues in a timely manner.

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