PLAINFIELD, NJ — A record number of participants tried to log into the virtual Plainfield Board of Education Work and Study meeting on Zoom, typically capped at 100 participants; over 200 joined after the settings were updated. Talks of a budget reduction, graduation, textbooks, and vendor contracts led to spirited discussion.
Board President Cameron Cox opened the meeting by acknowledging the June 4 passing of "a true Plainfield legend," Mr. Henry E. Foster, a member of the Class of '53, an All-American track athlete who graduated from Plainfield High School, and an educator in the Plainfield Public School district.
Superintendent Dr. Diana Mitchell made some announcements, saying on May 28, Plainfield Public Schools, a former Abbott district, received notice that the budget will be reduced by more than $12.6 million for the 2020/2021 school year. "The board will not make any decisions on the proposals presented by the district's administration this evening."
Virtual graduation is scheduled to take place on Monday, June 22 at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., Mitchell said, and she congratulated State of New Jersey Valedictorians Kamari Jones of the Plainfield Academy for the Arts and Advanced Studies, or P.A.A.A.S., and Brianna Taylor of Plainfield High School.
Other announcements included:
- The Plainfield High School Office of Early Childhood celebrated 20 years, with the program growing from 75 in 1999 to over 1,500 students today. Mitchell said there will be a formal celebration when school resumes.
- Barlow Middle School Principal Aponte, Mitchell noted, gave a shout-out to the Special Ed team, Andrea Johnson, and Tiffany Johnson for supporting the Scholars with a Smile program.
- Stillman School's kindergarten and 5th grade virtual graduations, with a chance to see it on Thursday at 11 a.m. (The first viewing was held earlier today.)
- Washington Community School recognized and thanked a donor for his generous contribution to the Plainfield School District.
- Announcements for the Math Department and Schoology were also made.
Board member Willie Pat-Hembree, provided an update on Curriculum and Instruction, including a detailed overview of the summer school curriculum that will be offered July 1 to August 6. Summer school will be held virtually, and will include approximately 21 seniors and 109 juniors. Additional student numbers were not available at the time of the meeting. According to Arcelius Brickhouse, teachers will provide direct instruction online to students daily for one hour.
Board member Lynn Anderson-Person suggested the curriculum re-write be expanded to provide more rigor in the areas of Black History and diversity, in light of the current racial environment, and should also include appropriate supporting materials.
Chair of the Finance Committee, Emily Morgan voiced concern over current plans for a $1.7 million purchase of textbooks, noting that details in the requested textbook plan was incomplete. “Without textbooks we cannot expect to move the needle on the curriculum in the district,” Morgan said.
Superintendent Mitchell confirmed the expenditure would include hard copies — some textbooks currently being used date back to 2008 — as well as the purchase of e-books in anticipation of additional virtual learning. Resident Sam Cooper also raised concerns over the purchase during public comment, noting that textbooks quickly become outdated.
During the finance discussion, the Board revisited the need to re-examine the district’s current vendors and issue Requests for Proposals. At last month’s meeting, Cox highly recommended reviewing the existing Xerox and health insurance contracts that have been in place for several years prior to automatic renewing.
Despite a motion to go out to RFP for all professional services, a majority of the Board voted no, minus Anderson-Person and Carmencita Pile. Board member John Campbell said, "I don’t think it is a good time to go out for RFP for all the vendors without knowing the performance of the current vendors.”
Anderson-Person countered, “I disagree. There is never a perfect time to do this, but we need to tackle some of these. It is important that we challenge our professional vendors, and see what services they can bring to the table and have them step up their game."
Board Attorney Phil Stern commented it was healthy and helpful for a Board of Education to see what professional services are out there.
With graduation scheduled to be held in less than a week, ideas to honor and celebrate the seniors are still being considered in light of Governor Murphy’s announcement that increases in public gathering numbers are allowed.
Pile suggested a socially distanced parade of seniors dressed in cap and gowns along Park Avenue. But Cox cautioned the Board's need to consider the state’s restrictions with respect to the current pandemic.
Caps and gowns were distributed to the students in person, complete with a DJ, and many students posed informally at the school for pictures. The district is currently planning to host a virtual celebration for both P.A.A.A.S. and Plainfield High School on Monday, June 22 at 9 a.m.
Salary cuts for teachers were also on the minds of many, and may have accounted for the large number of virtual participants. During public comment, Public Education Association (PEA) President Keith Coston, Jr. expressed concerns for proposed budget cuts and said he hopes the association and the board can meet prior to any decisions.
A business meeting is scheduled for June 23 at 6:30 p.m. Agendas and details can be found on the district’s website at http://www.plainfieldnjk12.org/.
Editor's Note: Brianna Taylor's first name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article, and has been corrected.
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