SUMMIT, NJ -- Summit Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker “put a wrap” on seven years as the city’s chief education official, and 48 years in education, as he attended his final Summit Board of Education meeting in the superintendent’s post on Thursday.
Parker will retire, effective March 1, to be replaced by June Chang.
In his remarks at the meeting Parker thanked the staff, schools' leadership cabinet, and Board of Education members for making his achievements possible. He also focused on the following highlights of his tenure:
- The tremendous support given to the schools by parents, the PTOs and such groups as the Summit Educational Foundation and the Gottesman Foundation.
- Increasing diversity of parent involvement which, Parker said, “has had a major impact on our students” and the district’s programs. He also invited the African-American Action Association to have a table at the district’s diversity job fair and made the same offer to Hispanic groups in the city.
- Teamwork among members of his cabinet, the staff, principals, and the board which, he said, “has unlocked the creativity of others” in the district.
- Introduction of Myers-Briggs training for the administrators. He said it would be a good idea to expand the training, or a similar training method to other administrators, and perhaps hold a workshop on the assessment tool, or one similar to it, on how one gets and processes information to the school board.
- Relationships with city officials, particular outgoing city administrator Christopher Cotter. He cited a safety meeting held the day of the board meeting with police chief Robert Weck and city fire officials and their “openness and frank discussions which all have led to the benefit of the district.” He also pointed to the cooperative meeting the Summit school district has with public safety officials in adjoining communities a few times a year,
- “One of the major things we do is to focus on helping our kids to grow and learn,” he added, pointing to a sheet of statistics he handed out showing at 36 percent attendance of Summit High School graduates at the most competitive colleges and 82 percent at the most competitive colleges; 87 percent of students scoring a three or higher on 760 advanced placement tests and 59 of 61 AP calculus student achieving a score of five; 13 sports team named state, regional, county or conference champions and six coaches winning state, regional or conference coaching honors; regional, state or national awards in writing, visual arts, band, orchestra, theater and forensics, and increased community service initiatives ,in kindergarten to grade 12, in all the schools.
- Major changes in curriculum such as institution of Mandarin, science research, expanded readers, and writers workshop all the way up to eighth grade, media literacy, interdisciplinary studies, special education, with more students now in the district than out of the district and classes for autistic students in the middle school and soon expanding to the high school. He praised the child study teams on what they have done to strengthen relationships with parents and expand opportunities for children.
- The Summit Educational Foundation and its raising of approximately $4 million and its funding of such programs as the college specialist position and the IPad initiative.
- Leadership development training among the teaching staff and principals — with a professor from Columbia and Harvard working in these training sessions and leadership training of the custodial staff by assistant superintendent for business Louis Pepe and using the training to involve them more fully in school operations.
- Facilities — by the end of this summer, the district will have completed about $40 million in construction, of which the district has received back more than 65 percent in aid. Most of these projects were done at a time when construction costs were 25 to 30 percent below budgeted rates.
- Human resources — the employee assistance programs, the implementation of the Kim Marshall rubrics, and institution of professional development communities.
- Separation of the director of athletics and health supervisor positions, and continued improvement and endorsement of programs to deal more effectively with treatment of concussions among athletes.
Speaking of academic achievements, Thursday’s meeting saw the recognition of seven Summit High School National Merit Scholarship finalists — thought to be the largest number in school history — Thomas Ellison, Claudia Hanley, Tabatha Hickman, Douglas Huneke, Alexander Kelser, Benjamn Kelser and Megan Shaw.
On other matters, board president Celia Colbert announced that both the board and the Summit Education Association had signed a memorandum of agreement on their recent three-year contract settlement. Colbert said she expect the contract to be ratified and ready for signing by the board by the middle of next month.
She added that the community survey on board focus areas had been completed, and the school body was expected to hold community meetings on March 16 and 31 to discuss the possible focus areas, which will drive goals for the education body for the next three years.
Colbert also announced that a number of controversial issues, including Full-Day kindergarten, the physical education opt-out exemption, Summit Education Association negotiations, hiring of a new boys’ basketball coach, and whether polling places should remain in the schools, have been dealt with by the board in the last few years and, in some cases, there has been a perception among some people of a lack of transparency by the board.
To discuss and clarify some of these issues, she said the school body would hold a forum on March 19 on the board’s role and processes. She said the board attorney and representatives of the New Jersey School Board Association would be present to explain and clarify some of the issues.
On the proposed 2015-2016 school budge, Pepe announced that Summit’s state aid would remain at the same level as that in the current budget and the district was awaiting final figures on the cost of renewal of employee health benefits. He said the board hoped to keep the tax increase under the two-percent state “cap” limit. Although state regulations limit annual tax increases due to the budget to two percent, districts can go over that figure due to increases in healthcare and pension costs. In addition, when districts spend under the cap limit, they have the option, up to three years from the time the increase is under two percent, to use the “banked cap” — the percentage amount the increase is under the cap — as a percentage increase in future budgets.
Pepe added that, due to delays in receipt of state aid figures, the school body’s budget hearing probably would not be held until the end or March.
Parker said the state aid figures still would enable the district to institute block scheduling in the high school and maintain all its high quality programs. He wasn’t sure how the assessments from state PARCC testing would affect the district.
He thanked the principals and his cabinet for their work on the budget, noting that, with a community demand that school property tax increases remain below the cap, the board had been able to maintain that level over the past few years.
In another action at Thursday’s meeting, the board introduced a policy on the so-called “Option 2,” which will enable students to pursue studies in alternative learning environments in such areas as taking college or Internet courses (such as one already offered on financial literacy) and summer courses (those in Option 2 must be courses being taken for the first time, not those used to make up for courses during the regular school year.