Millburn Superintendent and School Board Take Action in Response To Public Concerns About Communication

Michael Birnbeg and Eric Siegel Credits: Sara Louise Lazarus
The Millburn Board of Education Credits: Sara Louise Lazarus

MILLBURN, NJ - With the full Millburn Board of Education in attendance Monday, Sept. 24, Superintendent James Crisfield outlined three district goals, and proposed two ways to give the public more access to the board.

After hearing from several board members and one resident at the BOE’s previous meeting that people feel there isn’t sufficient opportunity to share their thoughts with the board, Crisfield took swift action.

He suggested adding an additional Public Forum, like the one traditionally held in January, so the community can give input before serious budget planning takes place. After some discussion, Sunday, Nov. 18, from 3-5 p.m., was chosen as the date and time of the new forum. The second forum will be Sunday, Jan. 27. 

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Crisfield then suggested that instead of reserving the initial public comments period of each meeting for agenda items, as has been done over the last few years, the board open up both rounds of comments on the first meeting of the month. People can then bring up whatever subjects they choose at an earlier hour. The second monthly meeting will be more business oriented, and only agenda items can be addressed in the first round of public comments.

Crisfield said he feels this new plan “counterbalances” the public’s desire to communicate with the board’s need to do business. 

Board member Regina Truitt agreed that this is a “good compromise” while member Jean Pasternak added that this would allow people to come “when it’s more convenient to them.”

Other board members said that residents can always contact them by email.

Crisfield outlined his District Goals for 2012-13. The first is “to develop a BOE-approved comprehensive five-year strategic plan providing the vision, goals and action plans to be implemented…beginning in the 2013-14 school year.”  Goal 2 is to implement the new state-mandated teacher evaluation system. This includes providing “training and professional development to Millburn teachers and administrators for the educator evaluation and accountability system…commencing in the 2013-14 school year.” 

The final goal is to develop “a 3-year technology plan beginning in the 2013-14 school year providing the infrastructure, resources and curricular integration to prepare students to meet the challenge of a dynamic global society.”

The theme of a global society resonated throughout the rest of the meeting.  Several members of the public challenged the board to study the curriculums of school systems around world, citing a recent survey which showed Hong Kong, New Zealand, Canada and other countries ahead of the United States in terms of educational excellence. 

New resident Mukul Agarwal, who recently moved to Millburn Township from Bethesda, Maryland, urged the board to also look at the policies of successful schools throughout the country. Speaking of the Bethesda school district, he described how gifted students were channeled into an advanced curriculum. Agarwal told of how his daughter had a peer group and teachers who challenged and stimulated her.

He then shared his frustration with his daughter’s initial experience at Millburn Middle School, although it was revealed after the board meeting that their story had a happy ending.

According to Agarwal, the middle school administration initially refused to offer his daughter an advanced curriculum, reducing her to tears at the thought that she would be repeating subjects she already knew.

However, in a conversation once the board meeting had adjourned, Agarwal acknowledged that earlier Monday he had received a call saying that the middle school would be making special accommodations for his daughter. He said he realized that the district does take action to differentiate education on a case by case basis, and that the administration was receptive to his requests.

Agarwal said he would speak up at the next meeting to make it clear that he is satisfied with the administration response. “The system works!” he declared.

Resident Jayshree Gupta congratulated the administration on subscription busing. She said that this year buses were on time, and that she had gotten immediate responses to her emails from the transportation office. Gupta was particularly pleased that although they were on the wait list, her daughters had been assigned buses soon after she applied.

According to Business Administrator Steve DiGeronimo, 100 more families than last year are participating in subscription busing. The board approved a contract with Barker Bus Company to add one more route in order to accommodate the greater number of children riding the buses.

Amy Talbert, Co-President of the Ed Foundation, announced that the organization has donated $160,000 to the schools. Talbert invited residents to a prospective new member coffee Oct. 2, at which Burton will discuss the district’s plans to utilize iPads purchased with some of that money. 

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Dr. Crisfield reminded everyone that the home opener for the MHS football team is this coming Friday, Sept. 28.  The team is currently 2-0, and Crisfield urged everyone to come out to root for the team to make it 3-0. There will be a tailgate party from 5-7 p.m.

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