Montville School Board Meeting Highlights: Cell Phone Policy to be Re-Examined, Montville High School Ranked 51st by New Jersey Monthly Magazine

Montville Township Board of Education meeting on Sept. 9, 2014. Credits: Melissa Benno
Montville Township Board of Education student representatives for 2014-2015, Genevieve Lake and Jay Sirot. Credits: Melissa Benno

MONTVILLE, NJ - The Montville School District Board of Education convened on Tuesday, Sept. 9 for its first meeting of the new school year. 

School Board President Dr. Karen Cortellino introduced the Board’s new student representatives, Genevieve Lake and Jay Sirot. Lake is President of the Class of 2015, while Sirot is President of the Student Activities Council.

The students announced that the first home football game at the high school will be on Friday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. against Morris Hills High School. The forensics team will be attending a tournament at Yale Sept. 19 - 21.

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It was announced that all students who applied for parking were able to receive spots in the main lot or the spots on Horseneck Road (see the story here: Parking on Horseneck Road in Front of the High School Designated for Students Only).

Superintendent Paul Fried stated that the new school year had begun, and, “We’re excited to be back. I had the pleasure of visiting all seven schools last week as the school year opened.”

Fried stated that New Jersey Monthly magazine came out with its two-year ranking of high schools in New Jersey, and that two years ago Montville Township High School was ranked at number 39, but this year it was ranked number 51. 

“Not to defend where we are and where we aren’t, it’s of interest to me that we score well because I‘m interested of course in everyone knowing what a wonderful district we have and yet, the criteria that can be used, whether it’s by NJ Monthly or any other publication, can be arbitrary,” Fried said.

The information for the rankings came completely from the state Department of Education [DOE], Fried explained, and school districts were not contacted by NJ Monthly.

“The information comes directly from the school performance reports: percentage of students who take AP (advanced placement high school) classes; percentage of students who scored 3s, 4s, and 5s on their AP tests; percentage of students who achieved 1500 or better on the three-part SAT test; and the percentage of students who are still in college, 16 months after graduation,” Fried said.

“We are very high on the percentage of students scoring 3, 4, or 5 on their AP tests, but we are quite a bit lower on the percent of students who are enrolled in AP classes,” Fried said.

According to Fried, district sixth graders were not placed in honors classes due to strict adherence to a “stringent tracking system,” which in turn resulted in fewer students taking AP classes.

“I think in the future that will change because we’ve moved away from strict adherence to the rubrics that deny children access to those opportunities and we’ll be moving more toward looking at students who are focused on achievement and who want to take on those kinds of challenges,” Fried said.

Fried stated that the percentage of students scoring 1500 or higher on the SAT is a measurement that’s influenced not only by the school, but also by individual families. “I think there’s a big connection between [a family’s] wealth, private tutoring students get for SATs, and the student’s score.  It’s an interesting statistic that I think we’ll focus on as we move forward,” Fried said.

Regarding the percentage of students who graduated from high school and are still in college 16 months later, Fried stated that District administrators are “scratching our heads. (Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Andrea Selvaggi) did some research and we know the instrument they’re using, but we’re unsure of the accuracy of that statistic. We do want to look more into that number.”

Board members supported Fried’s explanation and stated their distrust of the rankings.

“The criteria are random, and they’re designed to sell magazines," Board Member Mike Palma said. "One school went from number 100 to number 6. These things fluctuate wildly from year to year. I don’t put much stock in these numbers.” 

Board Member Mike O’Brien concurred, and stated, “Very slight changes to the ranking process can move a school several places on the list, and there are things they don’t take into account. The key is the quality of the education that each child is going to get. I think as long as we continue to be innovative, have quality teachers, and have an administration that looks forward, we’re going to provide the best education that we can.”

Fried stated, in conclusion, “We try to make our students the center of learning. Throughout all of our grades and programs, we’re putting an emphasis on keeping our students engaged, we’re emphasizing teacher effectiveness, and I think we’re on track. Our students will continue to do very well. Our goal is for students to attend the college of their choice. That’s what the experience is about -- and to be ready for real-world problems and real-world challenges.  I think we’re on that path.”

Fried stated that Montville Township High School and Lazar Middle School’s school lunch program “has been revamped – we have a new provider, and I was very impressed with what I saw offered at the high school when I visited.”  (Read about Pomptonian here: Lazar and Montville Township High School to Have New Lunch Provider)

When asked how the new provider was working out, Sirot stated, “I have a very positive impression. They have a lot more setups than in the past -- the lines used to be very long. Now you can get in and out of the lunch lines in five minutes, and that’s an improvement from the past. The prices seem to be the same, and the food quality has gone up.”

School Business Administrator James Tevis stated there were some kinks in the system to pay online for school lunches due to one school already using PaySchools for online payments; but the problems have been fixed.

Tevis announced ongoing and upcoming construction projects being undertaken by the District, such as improvements to the high school auditorium and bleachers, sidewalk improvements district-wide, and a complete renovation of the high school media center in 2015.

Tevis stated that buses have been on time except for some problems at Hilldale, where one bus has a “student load” problem.  It’s difficult for the buses to arrive on-time for dismissal at the middle school, because their dismissal time is last among schools. A few buses arrived after the 3:15 dismissal time, but that’s being corrected, stated Tevis.

“This is our best year in terms of our arrival times and departure times for the schools. We do have a few late arrivals of buses in the morning but we are working on the problems,” stated Tevis.

Board Member Matt Kayne asked Cortellino if the new CPR mandate from the State of New Jersey is another unfunded mandate (read about it here: 'Janet’s Law' Requires Additional Defibrillators in Montville Schools; CPR Training for Seniors Also Required), and was told that it is.  Board Member Carmella Novi stated her disapproval of yet another unfunded mandate, as well as her feeling that the CPR requirement should not have been legislated to high school students, who are minors. She stated she felt the state was “taking that decision out of the parents’ [hands] as to whether or not they should be equipped with that [knowledge of CPR],” and that there were possible “serious implications.”

“Is the child going to feel compelled in an emergency, if they’re not ready on other levels, to administer CPR? I think the implications are far-reaching. I think this is similar to HIB [the Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying reporting procedures] that sounds really great in theory, but what are the implications of requiring a child to do something that serious?” stated Novi.

Novi further requested that the Board examine going paperless for its communications among Board members, in order to save paper and employee shredding time. 

The Board had its “first reading” of some policy changes, and Board Member Charles Grau requested further clarification of the suspension policies regarding cell phone usage.

“We ran into some problems with that last year at the middle school,” stated Grau.  “Are cell phones exempt? I know it’s different in the high school than the middle school. I want to know what the plan is for the middle school.”

Novi stated her interest in re-examining the cell phone usage policies for students at the middle school and high school.

“I don’t know when those policies were written but I think we should review those policies. I think there are instances when those policies need to be reviewed and perhaps not relaxed, but reconsidered, because I would assume that the policies were written before there was such widespread use of cell phones by students,” stated Novi.

Cortellino stated her support for the Board’s Policy Committee review of the current cell phone policy, and Kayne also stated his support.

“I think you make a good point,” said Kayne. “The last time we [the Board] wrote anything about cell phones, there were no smart phones, and there’s a whole new world that needs to be considered.”

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