On Thursday May 11, the Summit Board of Education had their reorganization meeting, which I attended as a former Board President and member – in support of my colleagues.
As is custom, nominations were made, speeches were delivered in support of the candidates for President and Vice President, votes were conducted and then the newly elected President delivered his speech. I’d like to extend my congratulations to Rick Hanley, the BOE President for 2017-18, with whom I served during my tenure, for his eloquent speech. He emphasized the benefits of an appointed Board vs. an elected Board and he continued to support the focus on decisions based on respect and collaboration among Board members on behalf of all students. I applaud his reminder about “keeping board members and the community focused on resisting the temptation of trying to set the agenda or operate the district itself.” He identified his priorities for his year at the helm – all based on evolving from the work done by prior boards and Presidents. And he reminded us that the Presidency is for one year. I am sure that Rick will deliver against his stated goals with the collaboration of the team of Board members, administration and professionals.
Again as is custom, David Dietze was invited to the podium to deliver his farewell speech as retiring President of the BOE. I appreciate his reflection on all the accomplishments of the BOE over the last five years. As I sat there listening, one thing that was missing for me (that has occurred year after year in these closing speeches) is the recognition of the work initiated by past Boards and Presidents from which each one of us then has an opportunity to springboard and deliver the next level of success for the Summit Public Schools. As he spoke, I reflected upon his highlights and how many, if not all, had been started by previous Boards and previous Presidents. Each President brings their “style” to the Board during that one special year, but it takes the team building on previous successes to deliver. Unfortunately, it felt too much like a campaign speech .
For the record, during George Lucaci’s Presidency, we drove community discussions on Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK). George, a strong supporter of universal FDK, drove the BOE to engage with the community, the administration and Common Council to discuss the benefits and costs of FDK culminating in a budget proposal brought forward to the Board of School Estimate (BOSE) Even though there was strong support for universal free FDK, the BOSE did not feel that there was a majority consensus in the community to spend money on construction and did not approve the investment. We continued to discuss the options for FDK during the summer prior to my year as President. I offered an option for consideration – a fee-based FDK option. After much deliberation with the BOE, administration and community, we included such an option in our 2014-15 budget which was unanimously approved by the Board and BOSE. We implemented fee based FDK option for the fall of 2015.
My hope was that the conversation would continue and the community would propel the BOE and the Common Council to evolve the option. Since the fall of 2015, the BOE has continually engaged in dialogue and approved -- year after year -- the fee-based FDK option with more and more families enrolling for the lottery. Thanks to Celia Colbert, the President following me and a very knowledgeable supporter of universal free FDK, and Katherine Kalin, following Celia – dialogue continued and more openings were made available to families who wanted the option of FDK for their children.
Mr. Dietze stated that “all who wanted to participate have been accommodated for the last two years." I would state it differently: the administration has been able to leverage the classroom spaces available to offer more openings to address the community demand for FDK. What the BOE has not addressed is the “tax” that we continue to impose on those families.
As we continue to see more young families moving into Summit and the desire to continue to have a diverse community, as reflected in our Master Plan, I would ask the current BOE under Rick Hanley’s leadership, to once again engage in the dialogue with the administration to implement a universal free FDK for the Summit.
On another point. I’d like to clarify for the record the investments made in construction projects across the district. The concept of these projects began during Mr. Lucaci’s presidency and culminated in architectural drawings with a “go” on investment funds during my presidency. I signed off on the drawings which then began work during Ms. Colbert and Ms. Kalin’s presidencies.
With regard to the hiring of Mr. June Chang. We began the hiring process and came to a final selection during my presidency. Mr. Chang’s first BOE President was Mrs. Colbert.
Regarding the performing arts, Mr. Dietze stated “We have increased the budget of one of New Jersey’s best offerings.” As the current President of the Summit Performing Arts Resource Committee (SPARC), I have seen the same or a higher demand for grants by the performing arts teachers. We have seen an increase in students interested in Speech & Debate, theatre, STEP and TEDx with no noticeably significant increase in support from BOE. I would question how much budget increase has been made in this area.
And on STEAM (STEM), the original goals were set back during the retreat of my Presidency and I launched a program in support of STEAM for girls – “Full STEAM Ahead”. That year we also had an increased focus on labs, and STEAM efforts in the elementary schools with fairs and maker spaces conceived as part of the goals set for the year. Yes much as evolved from that initial goal – thanks to several boards, the administration, teachers and parents.
I agree with Mr. Hanley’s statement that our Board of Education is successful because though “members come from a wide variety of backgrounds and accomplishments, we volunteer to work as a team to share fresh yet diverse views and opinio.". And I would add, that in so doing we recognize those ideas and accomplishment of others that have come before us. I’ve known David for a long time and I thank him for his contributions to our city and to our school district, but was I disappointed with his closing speech.
I congratulate Deb McCann as the BOE VP, Emile George for his year of service on the Board after many years of service as an educator and administrator. I wish Debbie Chang and her family the best as they venture west, David Dietze for his 5 years of service, and congratulate Donna Miller as the newest member of the BOE.
To all current and future Board members: your collective talents, passion and commitment to the students of the Summit Public Schools is essential to the continual success of our students and staff. I thank you on behalf of my children and on behalf of our community. And I ask you to remember those that have come before you and those that will come after you.
Remember, it’s all about the kids!
Gloria M. Ron-Fornes