MIDDLETOWN OWN, NJ - Middletown parents continued to voice concerns about Lincroft Elementary School likely increasing class sizes for the upcoming school year at the July 24th Board of Education meeting, which was held in Bayshore Middle School because of renovations at Middletown High School North’s Library, the Board’s usual meeting venue.   

The Board meeting also entailed various presentations from District Administrators about various topics such as funding tems, school building/facility projects, changes to some educational programs designated for high school students; and even a presentation on how elementary schools are assigned to newly registered students. 

The meeting began with a moment of silence for three recently passed away former district employees; including a custodian, a special education teacher, and a high school science teacher. Afterward, the district administrators began their presentations, such as that by Board Finance Director Amy Gallagher on behalf of Tech Director David Siwiak about the accomplishments of the district’s technology internship program; which include, among other things, upgrading 30 percent of the district’s PC computers to Windows 10 so far.

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“They have already begun making an impact,” Gallagher said. 

Kim Pickus, an Assistant Superintendent for the District, said more than 500 students have enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) Summer Coursework this year, adding that recruitment to the AP programs has been enhanced by the additional of a hybrid online component to the program, in which students can communicate with their instructors online as well as have classroom time. 

“That has really helped,” Pickus said “We are happy we can accommodate (students and) their needs in that way.” 

Marjorie Caruso, the District’s curriculum and instruction director, then announced that the Early College Academy (ECA) program, which allows high school students to work toward both a high school and college degree at Brookdale Community College; will no longer accept any new students since mostly because Brookdale’s accrediting agency recently imposed a requirement that participating schools must offer their coursework in their own campuses, preventing Brookdale from accommodating conflicting high school schedules by teaching their courses at the high schools. 

“When Brookdale first entered the agreement (to set up the ECA program), they did not have this requirement,” Caruso said. 

“It sounds like Brookdale is reneging on the program,” Board member Nicholas DiFranco said. “I don’t see why our kids should have to pay the price.”

The District’s Facilities director then said schools throughout the district have various projects going on, such as a drainage system upgrade near Middletown High School North’s Field Hockey area to prevent future funding, a re-painting of Thompson Middle School’s gym with the school colors, fencing around New Monmouth Elementary School’s playground, and power-washing in front of all the schools district-wide, among other things.

“We like to have at least one substantial project in every school,” the director said. “Some have more.”

Gallagher then gave the finance portion of the report, in which she said the district received about $1.73 million (about 59 percent) of the $2.95 million requested in extraordinary aid from the state, which is designed to cover some of the costs of educating special-needs children, which is about the same percentage as five years ago, although about 9 percentage points more than last year. 

“We’re basically back to where we were five years ago,” she said. 

Board President Pamela Rogers said that the strategic plan surveys meant to gather public input on their preferences for the plan will be handed out during the back-to-school nights, and that there will be three forums for comments, with the dates and venues to be decided later. 

Pickus then discussed the latest on the new substitute staffing system, in which substitutes now must be employed through the ESS staffing services vendor – explaining that about 2/3rds of the current substitutes have already registered with ESS, which will prioritize Middletown district substitutes for Middletown school vacancies, and that the staff will now be able to work five days a week, sign up for health benefits, and be paid at the same rate as before. 

“We received a lot of compliments, a lot of positive praise,” Pickus said. 

Stephanie Gillman, who recently moved to Lincroft, said she was worried that her two children might no longer be guaranteed the quality education she was hoping for her children to receive. 

“I believe there’s a genuine concern with class sizes,” she said. “These years are so critical for them.”

Robert Prazanni, a Lincroft resident, said his son and daughter had an excellent school experience last year in Lincroft, and that he was very happy to have moved here from Old Bridge. 

“I couldn’t have asked for a better community to move into,” he said. 

Prazanni added that his daughter was excited to go to school every day. 

“I never had that experience growing up in New York,” he said. “My son never had that experience growing up in Old Bridge.”

Prazanni then expressed concern about future Lincroft students having a declining quality of education from class sizes growing to about 27 students per classroom. 

“There’s no way a teacher can stand up there and handle that many 6 and 7 year-olds,” he said. “I know I couldn’t do it personally.”

Pickus then explained how elementary school assignments for newly registered children worked, saying that often times a few children new in the district are sometimes assigned to a neighboring school to reduce overcrowding without having to hire a large number of additional teachers, and showing a spreadsheet on which schools are under and over capacity. 

Lastly, Di Franco commented that since the Village 35 project has recently been approved (the Planning Board made this decision on July 10th, according to their meeting minutes), the Board should try to assess the potential impact on some of the elementary schools and their ability to accept a possible surge of new students. 

“Looking at the spreadsheet, there’s not a lot of room,” Di Franco said.