Failure to Offer Summit Boys’ Basketball Coach New Contract Draws Ire of Many Parents and Athletes; Superintendent Says Parents Will Be Included in Search for Replacement

Pomptonian Food Service President Mark Vidovich reports on reinvestment of the service's profits to improve food service in Summit schools. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ -The Summit public schools have not offered Summit High School Varsity Boys’ Basketball Coach David White a new contract and parents and athletes at Thursday’s board of education workshop meeting said they don’t know why. They also claim he is being treated differently than other coaches in the district.

However, according to Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker, it is standard practice in the district that, at the end of the school year, coaches in all sports are told they must reapply the following year for reappointment.

Parents, however, contend that White was told by Athletic Director Mike Sandor that the district would not accept White’s application for reappointment.

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Parker said Thursday, though, that White, rather than the district, chose to release information stating that their were “issues” with the coach’s performance that stood in the way of his reappointment. Beyond that, the superintendent would not get into the specific situation regarding White.

He did say that he had met with parents and others concerned about the situation this past Tuesday and, contrary to past district practice, he had appointed a committee composed of Sandor, Summit High School Principal Paul Sears, Coach Jim Davidson, former Coach Pete Tierney and parents Ed Hagen and Beth Gramigna to aid in the search for a new coach.

Parent Kristen Pierotti of Wentworth Road replied that Parker could save Summit taxpayers money by reconsidering and reappointing White rather than searching for a replacement.

The superintendent replied he would move ahead with his plan, adding, however, that White could reapply and reconsideration was possible.

Resident Bob Flanagan asked what “edge” the parents would have in the proposed system. He noted White was a good coach who was popular with the children and parents and that his players said he was one of the few coaches who knew each of his kids by name.

“It seems we all are being held hostage by one man,” he added, apparently referring to Sandor.

Asked to comment on the matter, board president George Lucaci said the appointment would not be in the jurisdiction of the board until a new appointee was approved and White appealed that appointment.

Lucaci did, however, say that the Summit district, unlike some other districts, strictly followed the law calling for a position to be posted for a minimum of 10 days.

High school vice principal Stacy Grimaldi added by law the district posted all teaching staff positions for a minimum of 10 days, although postings could be for longer than 10 days.

Resident John Colao, however, called Parker’s outline of the appointment procedure “troubling” because Sandor had not mentioned parental or player feedback and had said decisions were made with input only from such parties as opposing coaches, bus drivers and custodians.

Parent Kevin McCormack added he had never heard anyone speak ill of White and, in response to the lack of reappointment, had helped form the Summit Basketball Club with the help of the coach in order to the engender the principles for which White stood.

He also noted that, through White’s guidance Ba’Shawn Mickens, the high school team’s top scorer, had developed and had now been accepted into Monmouth University.

Latasha Mickens, the mother of Ba’Shawn, wanted to know why Summit seemed to go through so many basketball coaches in such a short time.

Parker replied that during his time in the district there had only been two coaches, while Lucaci said there had been three that he remembered while residing in Summit.

McCormack’s son, Jay, added he had no feedback on White because he was happy with him.

Another player wanted to know why a coach with an 18-6 record would not be considered worthy of reappointment.

Replying to a question by parent Susan Sidebottom, the superintendent said he would decide on the new coach based on the recommendation of his committee. Although he said all members of the committee would have about the same influence in the decision the opinions of the parents might be “weighted more strongly” than the other members of the committee.

Asked whether the committee would accept correspondence from parents and other residents, the  board president said emails and letters would continue to be welcomed.

Another parent, picking up on a statement by Parker when he indicated he wanted to “do the right thing” in filling the coaching position, said the right thing, in the view of a number of parents was bringing White back.

When asked by parent Liz Knight which of the people in the meeting believed that White should be reappointed the majority of the audience members raised their hands.

On two other matters, Parker expressed concern and disappointment of the rankings of Summit.

He noted that, in this year’s college admissions decisions, only two Summit students had been accepted to Ivy League colleges, although many had been accepted to highly regarded schools.

However, of eight highly talented students from the city who had applied to one of the most competitive colleges in the United States none had been accepted.

The superintendent said there seemed to be national trends of state colleges accepting more students from outside their states because those outside states paid higher tuitions, and there seemed to be a tendency to accept more foreign students.

He also noted that Stanford University, for example, had accepted only 5 percent of the 38,000 students who had applied.

The superintendent also was disappointed in the recent state school rankings that said Summit came in only in the top 63 percent in New Jersey. He said he could not believe that, with many students scoring in the 97 percentile in the High School Proficiency Test, the city came in behind 37 percent of the schools in the state.

Parker said he had recently discussed how Summit High School could better market itself to top colleges with a Dartmouth official who had visited the high school and would be discussing it again with an acquaintance who heads the guidance department at Dartmouth.

The superintendent did say, however, that the school body expected next month to appoint a high school counselor whose major function would be aiding students with college admissions. This position, he noted, was being funded by the Summit Education Foundation.

Along the same lines, Lucaci pointed to a recent study that said middle class students in the United States were lagging behind students in other countries such as Russia, although there were a few schools in the United States that were outperforming foreign schools.

On another topic, education committee chairwoman Celia Colbert reported the subcommittee working on a recommendation to allow high school students engaged in other activities to opt out of physical education classes currently favors allowing most sophomores, juniors and seniors to opt out of one physical education period a week while allowing varsity athletes to opt out of two classes. Those students would attend study halls instead.

Lucaci said he favored a policy more strongly weighted toward athletes.

On the continuing topic of fullday kindergarten, Colbert noted a bill under consideration in the state assembly would establish a taskforce to decide the focus of kindergarten, while Hardyston in Sussex County recently approved fullday kindergarten.

Lucaci, long a supporter of the fullday program, said Summit would suffer a “self-inflicted wound” in the future if it did not take advantage of current lower costs to established fullday kindergarten in the city.

Board vice president Gloria Ron-Fornes, who chairs the communications committee, said the city school system’s first community-wide survey was nearing completion, with a return of 20 percent of 514 families out of about 2,000 families in Summit.

She added the survey would close on Monday, April 15, and committee members hoped to use data accumulated this year to show how it could improve on next year’s survey.

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