SUMMIT, NJ - Full-day kindergarten, the proposed 2019-20 school calendar, Board goals, and a new internship program for seniors were topics of discussion at the first meeting of the 2018-19 school year for the Summit Board of Education. Additionally, teachers who served in the District and newly-tenured teachers were honored.
The Summit High School Media Center was packed with co-workers and family members of the teachers being honored, as well as parents and teachers who were there to express their opinions about the calendar. While most of the teachers left after the portion of the meeting where the teachers were recognized, a few stayed and made public comments about the calendar.
Education Committee Chair Vanessa Primack gave a report filled with information.
In addition to the school calendar discussion, Primack introduced information on a Senior Internship Hire Program, which, in its pilot year, will allow 25 vetted seniors to finish their regular coursework on May 20 and, for the next four weeks, participate in an internship program at an approved business. Students who are chosen to participate would receive a course grade for whatever work has been completed in their traditional classes by May 20 and would not be responsible for any classwork or tests after that. However, if they do not satisfy efficiently the internship requirements they would be responsible for all of the classwork through year end.
The business will have to be within a defined geographic range to allow for site visits. The chosen students would need a minimum GPA to participate, would need a teacher recommendation, would fill out an application, and would be interviewed. The program would require a minimum of 100 hours total commitment, with no less than 15 hours per week. Primack said that this program aligns perfectly with the District’s inquiry-based experiential learning programs.
Primack also said that the new District curriculum for K-12 is being adopted. This curriculum has already been approved in the 2018-19 budget. “It was a big effort,” Primack said. The community can see the curriculum for every grade on the District's website, which is being updated with the revisions.
She also said that the committee had discussions on Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK), and the administration will give a full presentation on the topic at the October Board meeting. She did reiterate the statement from past meetings that, at this time, there is no need to build additional facilities to accommodate FDK in the District.
Board Member Donna Miller reminded the public that FDK is “not a done deal.” The plan is to come up with proposals and ideas first, she said. Primack said, “Don’t read anything into this one way or another.”
In the interim, the lottery for spots in the tuition-based FDK program will proceed for next year. Primack said that “they don’t align in time,” and Operations Committee Chair Chris Bonner -- in his report -- said, “We will continue to run the lottery in parallel regardless of the outcome of the decision.” Bonner added that the job of his committee is to determine the costs and the budget impact.
Superintendent of Schools June Chang estimated that the cost for the program will be $1.5 million, but does not know yet what the budget impact will be. “There are a lot of moving parts to it,” he said.
2019-20 Proposed School Calendar
Most of the crowd that gathered came to express their opinion on the proposed calendar changes which has school beginning the Wednesday before Labor Day during the 2019-20 school year.
Board President Deb McCann gave a long intro to the topic, and read from several e-mails she had received that detailed reasons / support on both sides. She did not identify the writers. She said that she appreciated the letters and comments because they raised some points that the Board had not considered previously. For example, one letter writer said that a school year that begins with two days on, then four days off would make it challenging for special-education students to be acclimated.
In an informal vote taken by McCann to better understand the pulse of the crowd, it did seem that were more parents present who were against the proposal, but by no means is the decision unanimous. Many did not raise their hand for either option.
Several working parents wrote that they support the decision to begin earlier, as childcare is tough to find during the last week of August.
Other supporters wrote that since the high school athletes were already in practice by about August 13, it is “practical to begin the school year then as well.”
Another letter of support detailed the Advanced Placement class exams, and the need for as many days of instruction as possible before the national test dates.
A letter that McCann read which was against the proposal said that the last two weeks of August were the summer’s only “truly down time.” It said that many families had children who were away at 'sleepaway' camp, and need the quiet period that these final days provided.
Another writer asked if the District really needed to be closed on Election Day.
One letter writer said the lack of air conditioning in the schools made learning impossible and unhealthy.
Another asked why the District did not do a survey.
During the public portion of the meeting, parents and teachers voiced their opinions.
Parents Elizabeth Haines and Emily Seamone presented results from an informal study that was circulated on Facebook and through email. The purpose of the survey is “to obtain a diverse view regarding the proposed changes to the school calendar with quantitative data,” they said.
They said that, in about two days, 176 people had responded. They said that the survey showed that 65.91 percent are opposed to the proposed calendar changes, 11.07 percent are fine with either schedule, and 21.02 percent are in favor of the changes, which besides the earlier start date include four-day weekends for Labor Day and Memorial Day.
An additional survey question asked if parents would be willing to have school run later in June and see a return of the full-week break in February, instead of the current four-day weekend over Presidents’ Day. The survey showed that 63.22 percent said no, 18.39 percent would prefer the full week off, and 18.39 percent were fine with either schedule.
The last question asked if parents would prefer the full spring break week be moved to March instead of February. These results were a bit more evenly split, with 32.95 percent preferring a March spring break, 42.77 percent fine with either vacation, and 24.28 percent choosing no change.
Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School (LCJSMS) teacher and Summit Education Association President Dan Miller said that he did his own survey of his members. He said that 70 percent of the teachers do not favor the early start date.
He said that many of the teachers have younger children and, during that week (last week in August) daycare is often closed and babysitters are away. He also said that many teachers have summer jobs that run through the end of August.
“Non-educator spouses traditionally take that week off; it is disruptive to summer vacation,” he said.
He voiced concern about a possible lack of student attendance were the year to begin before Labor Day. “When you start the year, you really want to have all your students in the classroom,” he said.
He also said that the proposed calendar shows a single session on December 23, but a better option would be to have that day off and add a day in June.
Air conditioning in the schools was another concern of the teachers. “It was rather difficult,” he said. “And it doesn’t appear that nature is getting any nicer to us.” He said that it was “well into the 90s in the hallways of the middle school and that the classrooms were about 10 degrees hotter.”
Parent Adam Selig addressed the “fundamental problem” that multiple partial-day weeks have on the students. He said that the proposed calendar has 17 partial weeks out of the 41-week schedule. He said that once you filter in expected snow days, nearly half of the schedule will be fragmented weeks.
Parent Haley Telling talked about the impact that the earlier school year will have on the community, particularly for families with children not yet in school. Without all the student lifeguards, all the pools will be closed, she said.
Chang and McCann said that they are listening and will consider all of the opinions before making a decision. The Education Committee will continue discussion at its next meeting. Any changes that are to be made to the calendar will be posted on the District web site, and there will be another 'Coffee and Conversation' meeting with the public prior to the October Board meeting, where a vote on the final calendar is expected.
Presentation on Board Goals
Director of Education Jennifer McCann and Assistant Director of Education Michelle Cebula presented the new Board goals to support the Focus Areas which were approved in the spring.
The first goal relates to math. McCann said that, for a long time, the District placed a focus on Language Arts, and now that focus will switch to math. This goal supports Focus Area #1 and states:
"A strong mathematical skill set lays the foundation for our students to increases their ability to problem solve, reason, persevere and compete in a global society. Students and teachers will collaboratively create a personalized learning goal that includes 10 targeted IXL skills. By June 2019, all students 2-8 and high school Algebra I courses will be proficient with their individualized learning goal."
The second goal pertains to STEAM, and offers more opportunities for participation to all students K-12. It supports both Focus Area #1 and #2. It states:
"By June 2019, we will increase opportunities for students to pursue their curiosities and interests around the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts (Design) and Math, STEAM by expanding our opportunities for students to problem solve through engaging, hands on experiential lessons. In kindergarten, all classes will implement a minimum of 8 authentic, design challenges; in Grades 1-5, all classes will participate in a minimum of 8 robotics. Sessions. In 6-8, all students will participate in one STEAM cycle course, and in Grades 9-12, the STEAM program will be restructured."
Board Goal #3 focuses on the culture and climate at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School, and also supports Focus Area #2. It reads:
"A healthy school climate provides the basis for students to acquire a love for learning and achieve academic success. All teachers in grades 6-8 will receive professional development designed with techniques to help students develop skills to manage peer relationships, resolve conflicts, and make responsible decisions. By June 2019, staff and students will complete a targeted post survey that measures the effectiveness of the professional development."
New Middle School Principal
At the beginning of the meeting, the Board approved the appointment of LCJSMS Principal Donna Gallo, who is expected to begin on October 1. Most recently, Gallo was the assistant principal of Millburn High School, and prior to that was their special education supervisor. She also has a background in math and technology,
Six Teachers Were Recognized for 25 Years of Service
Summit High School Physical Education teacher Bruce Fenska was present to hear kind words that were written about him by Mike Sandor; Washington School Teacher Anne Hammond was recognized in a note from Principal Lauren Banker and Teacher FJ DeRobertis; Summit High School Teacher Wendy Donat, who graduated from Summit High School herself, was honored with notes from both Department Chair Jim Woods and Principal Stacy Grimaldi. Orchestra Teacher Barbara Vierschilling was recognized in a note from Department Chair Tom Maliszewski. Not present were 25-year veterans Rosaly Palazzo-Kovach and Maryclare Poole.
Teachers Achieving Tenure
Teachers receiving tenure for their service who were present included:
Melissa Nestor Gavarny
Teachers receiving tenure for their service who were unable to attend: