MIDDLETOWN, NJ: Middletown’s Board of Ed meeting on Oct. 28th featured, among other things, an opportunity for high school students to speak their minds about topics they care about. 

The meeting began with a moment of silence for two former teachers for Middletown Township Public Schools, one of whom taught at River Plaza Elementary School from 1973 to 2016, and the other being a math teacher at Middletown High School North from 2002 to 2017. 

Following this moment of silence was a report from District Information Systems Manager and Network Administrator David Siwiak, who announced that the District recently installed a new high-resolution projection screen in Middletown High School North, as well as putting up new wiring to accommodate wi-fi technology in all 17 schools by early November. 

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Next came a report from the district’s liaison to Schoolhouse Strategies, who talked about the outreach efforts and successes the district has made so far in getting community members to participate in the strategic planning process for the Middletown Township Public Schools district. 

These efforts included the survey and open public comment forums, but also includes social media campaigns, local media efforts through outlets such as the Two River Times and Asbury Park Press; and PSA ads at school sporting events, especially football games – all as part of an effort to get people to take part in the strategic planning process.   So far, there have been about 2,700 survey participants, and about 10,000 written comments.

“It’s been a (strong) outreach effort promoting our meetings and survey,” the liaison said. 

The liaison said that these outreach efforts also involved coordinating with Middletown Township itself, such as working with the Township’s Public Information Officer, advertising the strategic planning process on the township website and newsletter, and going to the senior citizen’s residential developments in town to get as many people as possible onboard. 

“They (the township) can reach populations beyond just the district stakeholders,” the liaison said.

Schoolhouse Strategies will two more strategic planning forums, with the first of these forums to happen on Nov. 13th in Middletown High School South, and the second one being scheduled for Dec. 11th at Middletown High School North., District Superintendent William O’ George said.  Schoolhouse Strategies has already hosted its first forum over the course of three sessions in mid-October, and each session was held at a different Middle School. 

“We strategically hit all five secondary schools (with the strategic planning forums)”, O’George said. 

Following this, the Board invited student audience members to speak, and one student who took this opportunity was a High School South student named Victoria, who came to the podium to speak about her opinion on Middletown Township Public Schools’ attendance policies. 

She then went on to say that the attendance policy does not provide for accepting or requiring doctor’s notes for illnesses, which she said allows students who are not ill to basically take a vacation and get away with it, while disadvantaging those who want to attend school but frequently can’t because of chronic illnesses. 

“People who are chronically ill are often forced to attend school (when they’re better off not attending), because they’re afraid of losing (class) credits,” Victoria said. “What are you doing to approve upon that policy.”

Afterwards, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Kimberly Pickus, announced that the high schools will be offering three new courses – with those being an honors-level abnormal psychology course, a holocaust studies course in partnership with Kean University, and a video games design course. 

Pickus said this shows the commitment of Middletown’s public schools to provide for as much youth opportunities as possible, as well as its commitment to making partnerships with other educational institutions.

“Talk about a perfect storm of good opportunity,” Pickus said. 

Afterwards, Amy Gallagher, the district’s Business Administrator, mentioned that the bidding process Middletown High School South’s “Challenge Course” was unsuccessful for the second time, so there would now be an alternative process, in which potential bitters can come up with their own design, as long as its similar to what the original bidding processes hoped for, and negotiate a price for the work. 

“Hopefully we get close enough to the original bid specs,” she said. 

Next a Middletown parent named Rcahel who lives near the upcoming Taylor Lane real estate development site, wondered if for future real-estate developments that could affect school populations, there could be a protocol in which the planning board would have to inform the school district about such plans once they approve them. 

“I feel that at least a heads-up would be good,” she said. 

She then told the story of when her son mentioned that on a school trip to Liberty Science Center there were no seat belts on the buses. 

“As a parent, I freaked out,” she said, adding that she wondered if the Board could make a policy to either require all buses used for school trips to have seat belts, or at the very least inform parents in advance that there will be no seat belts. 

Superintendent O’ George said he and the Board would consider such a proposal. 

“If we can, we will make the necessary changes, which will obviously make everyone feel better,” he said. 

“Let’s see how fast the bus companies move when they find out that Middletown won’t be using them (without equipping their buses with seat belts,” said Joan Minnuies, a Board member. 

Board members Minnuies and Leonora Caminiti then wondered about how funding for the athletic and co-curricular activities were doing, and what is being paid for from fundraising or the district budget. 

“If the wrestling team wants better than what we’re providing (that’s one),” Minnuies said. “But the community (when they hear about things like this), they don’t look at it like that.”

Lastly, members of the Middletown Township Friends of Diverse Learners (MTFODL) gave a brief talk about who they do.  One of the MTFODL’s founding members said that they work together with the school district to help special-needs students in the school district feel as included as possible in the general school community, and that this approach reduces conflict and misunderstanding between parents and school officials when it comes to accommodating special-needs students. 

“It’s opening lines of communication between parents and staff,” the member said.