MIDDLETOWN, NJ: Middletown parents and school community members got to learn about several subjects being tackled by the Board of Ed meeting, held virtually via Zoom, on June 24th. The meeting among other topics included things like modified graduation plans, recognition of retirees, and plans on building a school community culture that actively opposed racism and other forms of discrimination. 

The meeting began with Assistant Superintendent for HR, Curriculum, and Instruction Kim Pickus mentioning and honoring the numerous faculty, paraprofessional, administrative, and support staff members who are retiring at the end of this academic year – among them Superintendent William O. George, during which Board members clapped in thanks and support of the retiring staff.

“Congratulations to all of our retirees,” Pickus said. “We wish them the best of luck, health, and happiness in their future endeavors.”

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Pickus said that although how retirees were celebrated had to be modified because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was still glad there was some way to honor them. 

“This is not usually how we celebrate our retirees at this time of the year, but I did see a lot of them are with us tonight, even in this virtual world,” she said.  “So thank you all of who are here joining us.  It gives us such pleasure this evening to acknowledge our distinguished retirees.”

Pickus then recognized and honored the Middletown Township Public Library and it’s staff as a community partner for their help in provided digital resources and access to its materials for students to help with their virtual learning as a result of COVID-19. 

“This unlimited digital access became an integral component of our virtual learning environment,” she said. 

Afterwards, Michele Tiedermann, who directs the district’s special education programs, mentioned that New Jersey will now allow in-person instruction for summer school programs, known in the district as the Extended School Year (ESY) program, and that the district was seeking input from faculty members and parents on how to do this safely and responsibly. 

“We are reaching out to all the parents of children recommended by ESY to get their feelings of in-person and virtual learning,” she said. “We’re also reaching out to all those who applied to be (ESY program instruction) staff members (to gather the same input).  We are looking at every available option to meet the needs of our students.”

Afterwards, Business Administrator Amy Doherty announced that parts of the district’s debt would be financed at a lower interest rate from about 3 and a ½ percent to about ¾ of a percent. 

“Our effective interest rate is virtually nothing,” she said. “That’s incredible.”

Next, the Board discussed how LGBTQ+ awareness education awareness would be approached, with Board member Nicolas DiFranco asking whether it would be taught in health or literature classes, and Pickus saying it would be all of the above. “It’s an integrated approach between the health instruction and the humanities, such as English, literature, etc."

Pickus then announced that this summer, AP preparation that’s normally done through summer assignments would instead be done through virtual instruction in August, and that the content taught would be the equivalent of the first two weeks of an AP course.  She also announced that a summer math and literature virtual tutoring program would be launched this summer as well with flexible scheduling options between students and teachers. 

“Parents have really responded favorably to that option,” she said.

Mary Ellen Walker, the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Student Activities and Services, then discussed the virtual graduation and promotion ceremonies for middle and high school students that took place earlier this month.

“These were really great ceremonies honoring our students and their achievements,” Walker said. “Our staff did a really good job putting them together.”

Walker then said there would be three modified graduation ceremonies on the mornings of July 8th and 9th (two on July 8th and one on July 9th) for Middletown High Schools North and South in their respective football fields – with the idea of splitting the graduating classes into thirds, and during which graduates can bring along two guests, in order to comply with updated guidelines from the state allowing for socially distanced outdoor gatherings of up to 500 people starting on July 3rd

“This gives students the opportunity to walk across the stage and have their pictures taken,” Walker said.

Next, the Board voted to approve the goals and objectives for the upcoming strategic plan for 2020 to 2025, and with one no vote and one abstention, also voted to approve a bonus for outgoing Superintendent William O. George. 

Afterwards, Doherty made a presentation on the search for a new Superintendent, during which she said about 1,300 school district community members responded to a survey on the most important traits for a school superintendent. 

The survey results said that the most important traits in a new Superintendent for the community would be open-mindedness, honesty, and previous classroom teaching experience, she said.

Following this, Board member Nicolas DiFranco said that the upcoming strategic plan should include creating and using a system to document and eventually eliminate incidents of racially motivated harassment, bullying, and intimidation in the school district as part of taking an active stand against racism.

“I think as a Board, we’re responsible to hold ourselves accountable, that’s my new business,” he said. “I’d like to see us take a data driven and focused approach on measuring and achieving change here.”

Lastly, a Middletown parent asked the Board to try to come up with a plan whether and how to re-open as soon as possible in order to help them plan other aspects of their lives, such as work schedules. 

“The sooner the better for parents,” she said. “I know I speak for other parents as well.”