The first Board of Education meeting of 2021, the Board first took time to welcome the three new members. New Board member Joy Young and returning Board member Robert Cianciulli took the place of Dr. Gerard Chrisonino and Bill Cassano. Jordan Hyman also joined as the Mountainside representative, taking the place of Dante Gioia.  

The Board then elected the President and Vice President. Doug Reinstein was re-elected as President and Mike D’Aquilla was elected to Vice President, filling the role that Bill Cassano had previously served in.

Donna Felezzola, the Board Secretary, provided the correspondence report. Here, Board member Christine Reilly asked Ms. Felezzola to explain the significance of the 156 pages of email headers and what OPRA requests are, as these are questions many would have upon seeing these items for the first time.

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The meeting transitioned into the Report of the Student Representatives where Thomas Burke, a junior at Governor Livingston High School (GLHS), reported on the activities of the various student clubs and organizations that have occurred at GLHS since the last meeting. Mr. Burke highlighted the success the Future Business Leaders of America club had at the regional competition in the Securities and Investments exam and the Business Law exam, with GLHS students recording three top-three finishes. Emily Haines, a senior at GLHS, provided the sports report, noting that few winter sports seasons have started but basketball and fencing will begin next week.

Following these reports, Superintendent Dr. Melissa Varley provided her Superintendent’s Report. Her report began by noting that January is School Board Recognition month in New Jersey and thanked the Board members who volunteer their time to improve the school district. Dr. Varley then shared that the Diversity, Inclusion & Equity Task Force had gathered enough volunteers and been formed to review the reports submitted by former students regarding their experiences as a student at GLHS. Dr. Varley noted that a project to install two new gender-neutral bathrooms has been completed at GLHS. Dr. Varley also shared how the District has been working closely with Berkeley Heights Diversity Council and encouraged others to attend an online celebration the council is holding for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 18th. In the last part of her report, Dr. Varley explained how the winter sports season would occur at GLHS given this unusual climate. She explained that hockey practice had already begun in partnership with another town, fencing and basketball will begin on January 26th, indoor track and field and swimming will begin on February 16th, and volleyball and wrestling will begin on March 6th. She also noted that middle school sports would continue albeit on a limited schedule and only against teams within the district.  

The meeting had two liaison reports from Ms. Reilly and Board member Helen Kirsch. Ms. Reilly, a member of the Mayor's Advisory Council on Truth, Racial Hearing, and Transformation, reported that the council had met on December 28th where the county superintendent of schools discussed training programs they were offering for administrators and teachers regarding the LGBTQ+ community. Ms. Reilly will monitor these programs to see which should be brought to our district. In Ms. Kirsch’s report, she shared that the NJ School Board was offering seminars to board members to learn more about the challenges that education boards across the state are facing. Her report also provided updates on the distribution of masks by NJ State Police and the environmental commission application for the Sustainable Jersey Award.

The meeting then proceeded to the facilities report where Ms. Felezzola detailed the numerous projects the custodians at various schools were completing now that there are no students in school. This included doing preventative maintenance on equipment, changing exit signs, and sanding and improving the stage floor at Columbia Middle School. 

The meeting then proceeded to the Citizens Hearing where the Board fielded questions and listened to concerns from the public. The main issue raised to the Board was on the return to in-school learning. Teachers from all schools and even a student expressed their concern to the proposed plan, citing the rise in cases, the new strain of the virus, and the difficulties in maintaining safety protocols.

In the last part of the meeting, the Board voted on whether to adopt a new Code of Ethics, approve proposed meeting dates for the Board in 2021, and approve administrative and educational changes. The only objection raised came from BOE President Doug Reinstein who recommended that the June 22nd meeting be rescheduled to June 24th, a Thursday instead of a Tuesday. He explained that maintaining meetings on Thursdays would help the Board maintain some level of consistency that the public can rely on. Regarding education changes, the Board voted to approve two new courses at Governor Livingston High School: Race and America in the 21st Century and Roots and Rhythm: The History of Rap and Hip Hop Lyrics. Assistant Superintendent Scott McKinney explained that these courses would increase students’ awareness of other cultures and diversity.

The next meeting will take place on February 13 at 7:30 pm.

Editor's Note: Thomas Burke is a junior at Gov. Livingston High School and is the Student Representative for the Board of Education.