SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Board of Education held its annual reorganization meeting, highlighted by the election of new Board President Vanessa Primack and Vice President Donna Miller, an address from outgoing President Debra McCann, and the awarding of more than $600,000 in spring-cycle grant monies by Summit Educational Foundation, over a third of which will fund Chromebooks for Summit Public Schools students in Grades 3 and 4.
Outgoing President’s Speech
Saying she was proud of the Board's accomplishments during her tenure as president, McCann noted that the work during the past 12 months had satisfied Board goals in a year filled with many difficult meetings.
McCann said that several topics covered this year by the Board generated disharmony and public discourse. The at-time raucous public comments were on “emotional topics” that included hate speech, Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK), class size, and the school calendar, and led to many outbursts during the Board meetings, in supermarkets, at sporting events, and on social media.
Though, “for the most part,” she said, it was respectful discourse.
She did, however, give several examples of behavior she found less than suitable: one comment at a meeting where a long-time school parent with four children in the system was told that her opinion no longer mattered because she was “aging out”; parents who shouted from their seats during the public discussions on class size; and a host of disrespectful Facebook comments.
McCann hopes that there will be “more respect moving forward.” She said that she has “serious concern” about the mayor being able to “get people to serve” on the Board without it.
She said that while the Board is supposed to be independent and “free of politics,” she was concerned about the number of local community members who were campaigning for a City of Summit Common Council seat who were “campaigning on school board decisions.”
“This,” she said, “could be a slippery slope.” McCann said that “blurry lines” need to made more clear, meaning that Common Council does not rule over school board matters.
She said that she saw much progress in the District, but reiterated her reason to vote against approving FDK because she said that it did not meet the District’s goal for long-term sustainability.
McCann said that to be successful, it is “critical” for the Board to “get out and listen” to the voice of the community. She said that she stayed in touch with the public via a monthly letter that recapped Board activity, and through coffees meeting that she held with Superintendent June Chang.
She thanked a long list of people who helped her during the year, including the administration, fellow school board members, teachers, students, and community members, and got visibly emotional when she thanked her family and friends for their support.
McCann will remain on the Board for another year.
SEF Grants Chair Maggie Bauman presented the Board with the 73 grants for all Summit Public Schools totaling almost $606,000, which broke down as follows:
- District-wide grants totaled $32,855;
- Primary Centers grants totaled $10,773;
- Elementary schools grants totaled $429,192;
- Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School (LCJSMS) grants totaled $82,865; and
- Summit High School (SHS) will receive grants totaling $50,290.
Grants fall under the area of:
“Advanced Literacy” -- Twenty-two grants totaling $90,347. The larger grants including an $8,000 “Powered by Books” grant for Franklin Elementary School; $26,441 for District Basic Skills training and material; and $7,482 for “Complete Comprehension - All Children One School” at Washington Elementary.
“Building S.T.E.A.M” -- Sixteen grant awards totaling $268,777. The largest grant is for $211,462 to continue the District-wide Chromebook initiative. Bauman said that the difference with this Chromebook initiative -- which will be for third and fourth grade students in all five elementary schools -- compared to the other District Chromebook programs is that the Chromebooks themselves will remain in the school and not go home with the students. Another $24,200 is awarded for Vex Robotics classroom bundles and lab furniture at LCJSMS. A $7,353 3-D clay printer will be granted to the high school.
Under “Supporting the Whole Student” -- Eleven grant awards totaling $57,957. At Franklin Elementary, $11,530 will go toward learning social skills; $10,000 for college counseling professional development at the high school; $7,312 for School counseling suite at SHS; $8,265 for the peer leadership program at SHS.
For “Innovative Learning Environment” -- Eighteen grant awards totaling $169,486. This includes $14,257 for “Life Our Voices” classroom sound system at Brayton Elementary School; $10,860 for “Amplifying Creative Communities” at Franklin; and $8,438 for flexible seating at Washington, and another $6,841 for first-grade alternative seating at Washington. Franklin will receive $22,408 for “Maximized Learning in a Flexible Environment.” There will be $27,347 for flexible desks at Brayton; $15,078 for an outdoor classroom at Brayton; The middle school will receive $18,089 for social studies classroom furniture, and $19,501 for sixth-grade math workshop collaborative furniture.
Under “Other Academic Areas” -- Six grant awards totaling $19,408. This includes $11,250 for Virtual High School at SHS.
The Board thanked SEF with a standing ovation. Primack said that, “The SEF helps with the vision and mission of the District.”
Given that this was the Board’s annual reorganizational meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Business Lou Pepe said that much of the District’s business and purchases need to be re-approved including curriculum; textbooks; school programs; safety and security emergency plans; brokers for benefits and insurance; food services; attorneys; architects; pest control; banking; transportation; and a long list of professional services such as tutors, physicians, therapy, printing, evaluations.
Chang reported that 430 Summit High School students are in the process of taking 972 AP Exams.
In the Operations Committee report, Chris Bonner, who will chair the committee for another year, said that the current year’s budget is about 94 percent spent. “There is nothing significant to report,” he said. “We’re in good shape.”
The District will be changing its pest management vendor for “building specific mitigations.” Bonner said that although the new vendor will cost an additional $900 per year, it is “absolutely worth it for what we are going to get.”
He said that in June the existing turf at the high school will be removed and replaced with new two-inch high turf. In June and July, there will be excavation, drainage, base application, and grading; the new turf should be installed in the beginning of August in time for pre-season. The cost of the turf replacement will be about $1.3 million -- $619,000 for the actual turf and the rest for removal, installation, and grading.
The athletic director and architects are working on markings and lines so that it will be appropriate for multiple sports.
“It’s going to be spectacular,” Bonner said, “and such a monumental upgrade from what we have right now.”
The lifespan of turf is about eight years, with an average life of 10 years. The turf at SHS is currently in its 13th season, Pepe said.
Pepe said that a new scoreboard will be installed and will be placed next to the existing one. He said that there will be better placement of the scoreboards so that the “blinding sun” will not keep fans from reading the scoreboards. “They will by synched together,” he said.
Summit High School will get a resurfaced gym floor and new bleachers. Right now, Bonner said, there is “lots of sanding,” and “lots and lots of coats of sealant.” New bleachers will be ADA compliant and will say “Hilltoppers.” They will have handrails and increased capacity.
Pepe added that the middle school gymnasium will get new bleachers as well.
Miller, in the Communications committee report, said that committee members talked about the sharing of articles written by parties outside of the District. “We talked about sharing externally-written articles and messages, she said, because of an article that was written about the way the superintendent and the District were handling the “hate symbol” incidents.
“The question was do we disseminate,” Miller said.
Miller said that it was unanimously decided that the District would only share articles that were written internally.
“There will always be District-relevant information in a timely manner, but only District-generated content” she said.