WARREN, NJ - Watchung Hills Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jewett began the Superintendent’s comments at the last meeting of the Board of Education with some updates on graduation.
Due to the current guidelines that include a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, and the challenges of coordinating a virtual graduation, the school is planning a virtual graduation for the originally scheduled date, June 19.
That’s not to say in person is not possible. If the guidelines change, the school will “pivot” and change plans.
Jewett quoted Gov. Phil Murphy’s comments from earlier in the week, “ the governor said to have hope and we’re having hope.”See: Murphy Offers Ray of Hope for Those Wanting In-Person School Commencement Ceremonies
Regarding graduation, Jewett said, she’s attended graduation ceremonies every year since her own and gets emotional every time. “ If I'm feeling this way, I can only imagine how our seniors and their parents are feeling."
The school will be sending a survey to senior students and parents with some options including a virtual ceremony on June 19 with the option, should restrictions allow, to have an in-person one later in the summer, or to postpone graduation until it can be held in-person.
Planning needs to be done now for a virtual ceremony because of some challenging logistics.
Administrators had considered visiting every senior, similar to some neighboring districts, however, discovery that not all families are living at their primary residence, along with challenges of navigating the four sending districts and access to buses has led to a new plan.
Jewett said the current plan is evolving in consultation with the police, local health officials, and vendors, and working out logistics and considering feedback from students and parents.
The administration is planning dates for seniors to be able to pick up their caps, gowns, honor chords, diplomas and senior gift baskets at the school. Student speakers will record their speeches, and they are scheduling days for seniors to have their photos taken at the school by a professional graduation photographer, possibly with parents allowed to be photographed with their senior.
Jewett promised that they will continue to remain as flexible as possible.
The school is also discussing options for future events for the Class of 2020. The seniors will be surveyed on possible future options. And Project Graduation has morphed into Operation Graduation. See: https://www.tapinto.net/towns/north-plainfield-slash-green-brook-slash-watchung/sections/whrhs/articles/whrhs-project-graduation-celebrates-class-of-2020
Board President Rita Barone said,” be patient with us,” but “ we welcome all comments and suggestions.”
She also announced that Jewett was named Somerset County Superintendent of the Year. See: Watchung Hills’ Jewett Named Superintendent of Year by Somerset County Association of School Administrators
During public commentary, senior parents Nancy Wilcenski and Dr. Patricia Cucci expressed frustration with the state’s guidance and Wilcenski announced that the billboard congratulating the Class of 2020 was up on Route 22.
Some senior parents expressed gratitude for the school’s work on graduation planning, and the hope for an in person ceremony. “Hope, it feels like you're with us and we're united and that you're trying to have something happen," Stacie Hagel said. Nancy Marsillo said the possibility of an in person graduation would be "amazing.” Kristen Salkowski said she would be "thrilled" if the seniors could celebrate on the turf field.
Two members of the public expressed frustration with the administration and the situation.
“We have a football field where we can easily accommodate just the students and have the parents do it virtually," Rosa Krause said. "Why can't we accommodate the students?" She said the kids are, “distraught” and accused Jewett and Principal William Librera of not taking the students' social and emotional well-being into consideration.
Gov. Murphy still has a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. The graduating class is close to 500 students.
Senior student Thomas Krause expressed frustration and accused Jewett and Librera of having a lack of empathy and made a derogatory comment under his breath before hanging up.
The throw away comment was heard by everyone on the call. After public commentary closed, Jewett said that ,” Mr. Libera and I, and all the faculty and staff, our number one concern is the well being of our students.”
She said, “It hurts me personally, not just professionally, when you accuse me of otherwise because all of our intentions with everything have been that. If we were permitted to have an in person graduation ceremony that is 100 percent what we would be doing.”
The Board voted unanimously on a resolution urging Gov. Phil Murphy to provide clearer guidance on both potential in-person graduation ceremonies, and the return to school for the 2020-21 school year. The resolution will also be sent to State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and State Assembly leaders.
The resolution was introduced by board member Freddie Hayeck and amended by Board Vice President Dr. Greg Przybylski. Hayeck urged all to call and write their local state representatives.
• State Representatives:
Warren, Watchung, Long Hill (District 21):
Jon Bramnick (908) 232-2073
Nancy Munoz (908) 918-0414
Green Brook (District 22):
Linda Carter Phone: (908) 561-5757
James Kennedy (732) 943-2660
• Dept of Education:
• Dept of Health:
Commissioner's Office 609-292-7838 or 7839
• Dept of Human Services:
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