MIDDLETOWN, NJ: Members of the Middletown Township Publics Schools community got to learn about the latest happenings of the school district during the local Board of Ed meeting at Middletown High School North on Dec. 18th, the last such meeting scheduled for this year. 

The meeting opened with Matt Holman, a certified public accountant of the Holman, Frenia, and Allison accounting firm, reporting his findings from a recent annual financial audit of the district.  

“We didn’t have any issues to report,” Holman said. “It was a very clean audit. We do about 70 audits throughout the state, and by far, this is one of the best school districts that we have.” 

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Next came the District’s Technology Director David Siwiak, who presented the district’s monthly technology report.  Siwiak said that over the past few years, the district has been taking steps to enhance the protection of its computer networks against malware, viruses, etc. 

Siwiak also added that one of the areas where there was the most room for improvement was against “social engineering”, in which hackers try to trick computer users into giving them access to a computer network or their personal information. 

Siwiak said his department assessed the district’s vulnerability to social engineering by sending out a simulated phishing email, in which whoever clicks on it grants the email’s sender access to the receiver’s computer network and/or information.  This assessment found that 11.7 percent of district employees who received the email opened it, compared to 20.4 percent in other areas throughout New Jersey. 

“11.4 percent is not great, but it’s better than 20.7 percent,” Siwiak said. “Our goal is to get that to 11.4 percent down to zero percent.”

Afterwards, District Special Education Director Michele Tiedemann, announced that the MTFODL group will be hosting two movie screenings, one in January and one in April, describing the possible paths of kids with special needs to leading fully functional lives with the right support system.   

Board of Ed member Robin Stella then announced a series of academic/extracurricular enrichment programs for students, as well as professional development programs for teachers. 

Next came District Business Administrator Amy Gallagher’s Finances report presentation, during which she said the district had about $1.4 million in a special reserve fund for major construction and other similar projects, which she said allowed the district to take on smaller projects, but not larger ones. 

Gallagher also said the school’s operating budget has not had any major surprises so far. 

“The budget right now is running according to plan, which is good,” she said. 

Gallagher also said that the district is considering refinancing some of its bonds, since the interest rate for borrowing by the district has recently decreased. 

“That will save us several million dollars over the next several years,” she said. 

Following this, the Board of Ed announced that the Forum 3B of the school district’s strategic plan meeting series will take place on Feb 12th.  During that discussion, Board member Nicolas DiFranco said that although he and the rest of the Board want to ensure maximum transparency in publishing the comments given on the strategic planning survey, he was also concerned about some content of these comments. 

“There is some stuff in there that was hard to read,” DiFranco said, adding that some comments were derogatory and offensive towards ethnic minorities and women. “I would hate to see us publish that.”

District Superintendent William George commented that he was impressed by the musical abilities of the students who participated in the School District’s various winter holiday concert programs. 

“It really speaks to the comprehensive education that our students receive in Middletown,” he said. 

After George spoke, Robin Stella gave a report on the state of the school district’s arts academies, and said that these academies have a total of 73 students district wide, with each student enrolled in one of several tracks.  For example, 21 students are in the digital media track; while 17 are in the fine arts track, 16 are in the drama track, 9 are in the dance track, and 3 students are in the instrumental track, Stella said.

Next, Joan Minnues and Nicholas DiFranco discussed ways of increasing enrollment is some of the arts academies and making them more attractive to students from different schools; with Minnues suggesting hiring more highly qualified teachers, and DiFranco suggesting looking at how other school districts manage to succeed in their programs. 

“I would be interested to hear from the other districts who have academies, when they saw growth, if it was two years, four years” Di Franco said. “I think that would be an interesting statistic.”

Board of Ed President Rogers announced that the Middletown Township Committee approved a $5.1 million bond ordinance for park improvements in Normandy Park, and announced that the side of the park closer to Nut Swamp Elementary School will be renovated over the summer, with the rest of the park being renovated in the early Fall. The renovations will entail a brand-new turf, a hockey field renovation, and new parking areas. 

Last but not least, Lisa, a Belford resident and mom of a Middletown Public School student, gave a speech about how the student support services her son received from Middletown’s schools helped contribute to his success above what was anticipated, given that the student started out as a special-needs student. 

In her speech, Lisa also said that these services were effective in large part because his class sizes were relatively small, and worried that future students might not have the same success as her child.

“Currently our kindergarten classrooms are too overcrowded for the social and emotional wee-being of our students to be a primary focus,” Lisa said.  To go to the district website click here.