MIDDLETOWN, NJ: On May 27th, students, parents, and other members of the Middletown Township Public School community connected to learn about graduation plans, future curriculum changes, and updates on the upcoming strategic plan at the Board of Education meeting, which was held virtually via Zoom.

The meeting began with Mary Ellen Walker, the District’s Assistant Superintendent for Student Activities and Services, Administrator, announcing the recipients of this year’s “Employee of the Year” program, which recognizes one employee for each school in the district. 

Superintendent William O. George commended the winners for their dedication to the school community. 

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“These are employees that are the backbone of our school community, and we are so grateful for their work,” he said. 

Next, David Siwiak, the District’s Network Administrator and Information Services manager, announced that elementary and middle school students would now be able to hold on to their chrome-books throughout the summer and carry them over into the next school year.

Robin Stella, the Board of Ed’s Vice-President, then announced that elementary school students will now benefit from a program called “WIN” (What I Need) time, which is a 30 minute time block meant for students to either catch up on things with their teachers, work on independent study projects, or for those who happen to have different needs than other students to have those needs met then. 

“I think it should be really positive,” Stella said. 

Stella also said some English courses will be teaching career readiness skills such as resume writing, which she said some would find to be of high-interest. 

Later in the meeting, Board President Pamela Rogers said the Board would be voting that night on hiring a consulting firm to conduct a comprehensive demographic study that will help them decide how to best place resources and students to schools across the district – and would be doing this in order to help aid the progression of the strategic planning process.

“I just wanted to make sure people realize that.” 

Next, Mary Ellen Walker gave an update on how graduations would be working.   She announced that the governor would now be allowing in-person graduation ceremonies starting on July 6th, provided that certain social distancing and other protocols and requirements are met.  These details were not announced at the time of the Board meeting, but have since been released, and can be viewed here.

Walker said that this announcement would prompt a potential change in plans, given that virtual high-school graduation plans were already fully in place, but that the district would try to work everything out given the new situation. 

Walker also said that plans for fifth-grade and eighth-grade graduation ceremonies being virtual would be preserved; and that she was awaiting guidance on how to safely implement a high-school graduation post COVID-19.

“We’re going to keep being flexible and do what is best for our students,” she said. “We have to see what the governor says. Whatever comes out, we know there will be social distancing requirements, and we will abide by them.”

Walker then presented the strategic plan draft for the 2021-26 planning cycle, with the district’s goals and objectives in mind. 

These goals and objectives were social-emotional well-being, increasing equity & opportunity to meet the needs of all learners, personalized learning, forming community partnerships, financial stability to ensure a quality education for all students, and investment & stewardship of infrastructure for student success.

“These goals and objectives are reflective of the large amount of input we got from the community,” Walker said.

Board member Deborah Wright said that she was really happy with the level of community engagement during the run-up to the strategic planning process. 

“It was really great during all of the forums how much the school community was really wanting to move towards more inclusion,” Wright said.

Following this, Board President Pam Rogers said she really enjoyed being able to help in writing these goals, which the Board plans to vote on at its June 24th meeting.

“It’s just a really wonderful experience to be able to involve ourselves, the Board, and the administrators working together for the benefit of the district,” she said.

Following this, Rogers mentioned that she hoped that the decision to have the district hire a firm specializing in helping school districts update their facilities as part of their strategic planning processes would help calm concerns about the District not being fully forthcoming about its approach to strategic planning. 

“It’s important for the public to understand, because we do get told that we’re not being transparent enough, (that) this is us being transparent,” Rogers said.  “We are hiring a company to do what would need to be done (while) looking into to something like a re-districting, like a consolidation – to do that kind of work.”

Board of Ed member Nicholas Di Franco said that the firm, named Milone & MacBroom, would do a comprehensive study on how to best use and retool the school district’s facilities to adjust for is expected future demographics. 

“We’re working with people who can help us plan,” he said. “Not just a demographer like the Board did the last time they went through this,” adding that the last demographic study done as part of a strategic planning process was in his view sort of like gathering some dots together and throwing them up on a screen.

During the public comment portion, Port Monmouth parent Jessie Sickler said that although she was happy that a reputable firm would be involved with a future and comprehensive demographic study and analysis, she was also really upset that this was not done from the beginning before the district made major decisions about its buildings like closing Port Monmouth Elementary School.

“I’ve lost my trust because you made serious choices based on a firm that in your words, ‘threw some dots on a piece of paper,” Sickler said.