RANDOLPH, NJ- In unprecedented fashion, the Randolph Board of Education held a special meeting on Monday, June 4 to address the sudden news of a teacher union vote of “No Confidence” in Superintendent Jenn Fano.
Over 300 concerned parents, teachers, and school administrators packed the Randolph high school library to participate in the proceedings.
A rash of recent departures from the school system during Fano’s term ( 2 years ), most notably in the music department and the athletic department, were part of the concerns being voiced. Many of the departures have left parents and students shocked and disgruntled, while the rumor mill churns that more are heading for the hills.
The board opened the meeting listening to comments from the public, and President of the Randolph Education Association ( REA ) Eric Schaberg spoke first.
“The REA does not take this action lightly, in fact our members know all too well the gravity of the situation before us,” said Schaberg. “The future of our district and more importantly the future of our students is before us.”
Explaining the meaning of the action, Schaberg stated, “With this vote of no confidence we have made it clear we do not support, nor do we have any faith in the leadership, actions, or policies of our superintendent.”
Schaberg then took a moment to outline some of the reasons for the vote, including what he called a dramatic shift in educational focus, punitive HR policies, suspect personal decisions, and an unhealthy culture of fear and intimidation.
“We ask the community to stand with the REA calling for accountability from our leadership, our students deserve better.”
The numbers behind the action as stated by Schaberg were that 409 teachers who voted “No Confidence”, 18 voted they “Have Confidence” and 120 who abstained.
Parent Eliza Schleifstein stood up to speak next, but in support of Fano.
“Jennifer Fano has a love of learning, and has served our district in the face of great adversity,” said Schleifstein. “She has remained dedicated to the community despite rampant rumors about her personal life that would have made any one of you walk away.”
Schleifstein was stern in her talk, and stated that she was appalled at the REA’s action. She turned and confronted Shaber about him discussing the situation with students, then raised her voice and stated loudly, “Teach our children; that is what you are paid to do.”
The confrontational moment drew hisses and jeers from the crowd and prompted the board to state that all comments be directed to them only.
When Schleifstein finished, it was clear she was one of the few in the room who supported Fano evidenced by the fact that there was no applause, only silence.
Parent Pam Williams, stood up and stated the biggest part of moving her family to Randolph was the schools.
“I am so grateful to the dedicated teachers, but we continue to lose qualified teachers,” said Williams. “If our teachers have no confidence in the leadership of this district, how can we ask parents to support this board? I know you are all volunteers and try to make the best decisions, but it is time to put politics and personal agendas aside.”
Spanish teacher Carmella Ferrentino, a student favorite and longtime Randolph resident, unleashed an impassioned plea to the board.
“I have been teaching for 43 years, and I am appalled that you can’t see the truth that we as a staff live with in this building,” said Ferrentino. “Wake up and secure the future of these children, take action before we fall further. I adore these children and I stand here on their behalf, do your jobs and protect the reputation of this town.”
Ferrentino concluded with a statement that brought on resounding applause when she said, “Restore our faith in the Board of Education, we are the ones who elected you.”
Another parent with one graduated student and three still in school in the district, called Randolph “a community in turmoil, who has been left in the dark about decisions and is now turning angry.”
Parent Beth O’Connor discussed the constant administrative turnover and the lack of stability. “Our teachers are leaving in droves, and teaching at schools ranked much higher than Randolph, why were they not good enough to keep here?”
O’Connor also drew a roar from the crowd when she stated, “Before you get a yes from me on the referendum vote, I want to know who is the Principal, who is the AD, what is going on with the Superintendent?” I have no idea what is going on here and quite frankly I don’t know if you do either.”
Two students, senior class President Nate Pagaro and sophomore Chiara Ricupero also spoke to the board and expressed their concern about the current state of affairs at the high school.
When the masses had finished, the board convened in private for an hour. When they returned, their comments were met with gasps followed by stunned silence.
President Ron Conti read a statement of the Boards’ support for Fano. Conti stated they found the vote “Troubling since the REA never before approached the board about their concerns,” Conti continued, “We also believe that many of the statements from the REA about Mrs. Fano’s leadership to be false or misleading.”
"In no uncertain terms, the Randolph Board of Education wishes the staff of Randolph Schools, the REA leadership, and the community at large to know that we stand behind Mrs. Fano and support her fully."
The statement was met with boos and jeers from the crowd. After the statement, the board voted to accept the resolution which Conti read.
The only board member to comment was Chris Treston, who stated, "Any legitimate complaint from the REA has been poisoned by including unsubstantiated rumor and innuendo, and under these circumstances I could not possibly vote other than "yes".
Treston also added, "I think that we as a Board need to recognize that the public is struggling to believe that we act in their best interest and that we are open to their concerns. It is a long standing issue we need to acknowledge and address. I can assure you, that from this day forward I will be relentless in asking how we can engage the public in every non confidential question."
The full statement from the board is in the video below, followed by videos of some of those who spoke at the public portion.