SUMMIT, NJ—Richard Hanley was unanimously elected President of the Summit Board of Education as the Hilltop City school body reorganized. Debra McCann was chosen second-in-command after being sworn in for a second three-year term, while Donna Miller took the oath for her first three-year term, replacing Emile George.

In his remarks, Hanley emphasized Summit’s advantage in having Board members appointed by the mayor, saying the City’s system leaves members free to act in the best interests of the community, as opposed to being swayed by special agendas or the desires or interest groups.

He said, the Hilltop city’s mayorally-appointed board, with a tradition of appointees serving two complete terms, was one of only 17 districts in the state operating under the appointed-board system.

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“The board and its members operate independently, with no member sitting here tonight having been elected with a platform of initiatives that they wanted to fix, or an agenda they campaigned on and when elected would push on to the district and where they could say they have the ‘votes’ indicating their agenda is a mandate. Nor is there a group of entrenched members who have served for decades and possibly lost touch with the community, or hesitant to respectfully challenge an old way of thinking. Rather what’s really at the core of our success here in Summit is a board where members come from a wide variety of backgrounds and accomplishments, volunteering to work as a team to share fresh yet diverse views and opinions, but respect each other and ultimately collaborate to advise the superintendent and his team on the best course of action in any situation and do so on behalf of all students.”

The new president added that the Summit school body "leaves the educational agenda setting to the educational experts" – the superintendent, his cabinet, building principals, supervisors, and instructors.  

Hanley noted, “We work to hire and invest in the best, and then let them do what they do best. The superintendent sets the strategy and the course, and the board represents the community and brings Summit values and expectations to that discussion. As a board, we bring the local community’s voice to the superintendent and his administration to probe their thinking as they work to execute their strategic plan. As a board we ask questions and suggest tweaks, but with the right superintendent and strategy, and a strong partnership based on trust, it should be rare that there is ever a need to overrule a proposed course of action and consider or force a Plan B.” 

Hanley also praised his predecessor, David Dietze, for his leadership and guidance during the past year and said he would be glad to have the benefits of the former president’s knowledge and input before Dietze moves on.

He also thanked McCann, superintendent of schools June Chang, assistant superintendent for business Louis Pepe, Pepe’s assistant Kathy Masbang, director of human resources Matthew Block and director of special services Jane Kachmar-Desonne and all the district’s principals, supervisors and instructors.

Hanley pledged, during his tenure to:

  • “Carry on the tradition and stay true to our mission”  by keeping board members and the community focused on resisting the temptation of trying to set the agenda or operate the district itself, and be reminded of the  “structural advantage of being an appointed board, and one that sets us apart from all the others and has played such an important role in our success to date.  Success that puts us up there not only as one of the best school districts in the State of New Jersey, but actually the country, and arguably the world.” 
  • Continuing to emphasize the board focus areas aimed at “raising achievement for all, providing an excellent education at every level in an environment that empowers every child to reach his or her potential, cultivating a love of learning and sustaining superior educational programs through timely investment, strong financial oversight and operational excellence.”
  • Finally, to make continued progress in improving the Board and District’s communications and transparency. He touted the new District website, efforts by Chang and his staff to get more news about the city schools out to the public in a number of different ways and the contributions of Mia Bivaletz, appointed this past year and the district’s communications officer. Later in the meeting, the new president announced that the Board shortly would be televising its sessions live on the two cable television services in the Summit area. He also said the school body, starting in June, would be returning to a past tradition of holding only one meeting per month in the Summit High School Media Center, instead of separate workshop and regular sessions at two different locations.

Hanley also thanked board member Debbie Chang, who nominated him, for her service in chairing the education committee during the past year then announced she will be leaving at the end of the current school year because her family is moving out of the area.

In his farewell remarks as outgoing president Dietze said investments made in the District by the school body were “paying off in spades.”

Among infrastructure improvements he cited:

  • Twenty million dollars in construction projects including major renovations at Jefferson and Franklin Schools to provide additional and more flexible space, elimination of trailers at Franklin, installation of an elevator at Franklin and improved access at Jefferson to aid the physically challenge and improve safety, a total revamp of the middle school science labs and refurbishment of the auditorium.
  • “Dramatic” tightening of security.
  • Projects initiated, including “substantial progress in two very special projects”:  a Biolab / greenhouse just outside the middle school, and a restructured culinary arts center at the high school.  

Dietze also cited the work of the education committee, under the leadership of McCann, with the assistance of Debbie Chang and Vanessa Primack, in:

  • Establishment of two positions covering curriculum development, one at the elementary school level, the other at the middle and high school.
  • Additional AP courses for college readiness, plus offerings including honors courses designed to address those with a focus that’s less than AP but goes beyond regular courses.  “Foreign languages, in particular, have been dramatically beefed up and  Online/virtual courses are now an option, he noted.
  • Expanded guidance services, including a college specialist as well as services extending down to the middle school and even our elementary schools.
  • Expanded ESL offerings for those whose native language is not English.
  • Additional literacy and basic skills offerings and teachers to address learning needs across the entire spectrum.
  • Full day kindergarten, “to address the learning needs of our youngest students. All who wanted to participate have been accommodated for the last two years,” Dietze noted.

In technology, he noted, the District had just about completed the one-to-one rollout of  the Google Chromebooks, “not just to our older students, but right on down to the fifth grade,” and “virtually all teachers have their own webpage.”

In performing arts, Dietze noted, the district “continues to boast some of the most talented performers and best productions in the state.” and, in speech and debate, “We have increased the budget of one of New Jersey’s best offerings.”

He cited the District’s many athletic championships and noted Summit is one of only a few districts that have a full time athletic director, and recently added a second trainer.   The District also has a step competition.

However, Dietze called costs “the 800-pound gorilla staring over us.” .   

He said “we live in one of the most highly taxed states in the nation, our region’s financial pressures seem destined to get worse, not better, Public school spending is subject to strict controls and caps, funds we receive from the state and federal government could dry up at any time, our district spends millions on healthcare and there is little hope for relief from spiraling increases. However, our stated Board of Education goals include being fiscally responsible.”

He said, however, he is proud to say “we have achieved our records in a most fiscally responsible way. I congratulate Rick Hanley, the Chair of the Operations Committee, his fellow Operations Committee members Chris Bonner and Debbie Chang, and indeed our Assistant Superintendent for Business / Board Secretary Lou Pepe, and his fine assistant BA Kathy Masbang, for their leadership on this. Not only have we shown restraint, we have revamped our budgetary process to start collecting our data and projections earlier, sharing it with the public well in advance of binding decisions being made, so all stakeholders can weigh in.”

Dietze noted that all spending decisions are carefully analyzed to consider the impact on the taxpayer or the programs that might otherwise have to be cut or both.  “To allow Summit to become less affordable is irresponsible to our seniors, our young families, actually to all.  The less affordable Summit becomes, the less diverse we can be,” he added.

He concluded by saying “I would be remiss if I did not give a big shout out to our strong financial support from the community. To name just a few, the Summit Education Foundation allows us to pursue all sorts of interesting and innovative educational strategies.  SPARC provides much needed funding and support for the performing arts, while the Summit Boosters has the back of our athletic programs. I thank our various PTOs.  They are, day in and day out, helping communicate our message and making the schools inviting communities for the families involved.”

In other business at the meeting, the Board approved the appointment of Joseph Cordero to replace the retiring Ron Poles as principal of Jefferson School.

Hanley also announced that negotiations will continue with the Summit Education Association and the Summit Association of Principals to reach “as equitable and fair agreement we can with these valuable assets to our school district.”

He also noted that Superintendent June Chang’s contract with the District would be expiring in June and the District would be discussing his future with him, including in those discussions new state guidelines that have made the caps on maximum salaries for school superintendents less stringent than they were in the past.

After the meeting, Hanley further clarified to TAPinto Summit that, as of May 1, the new state regulations raised Superintendent salary caps across New Jersey and that Chang was contractually due to move to the old cap on July 1, 2017 for the final year of his contract. The Board plans on discussing the length of the remaining contract and the financial terms in light of the change to the law and how it is impacted by the competitive environment.