SUMMIT, NJ - The June 2018 Board of Education meeting marked both endings and beginnings, as retirees were honored, two key District administrators were approved, and new Board President Deb McCann presided for the first time.

Retirees and Commendations

Each June, the Board of Education honors long-term District employees who are retiring. Those in attendance were Mary Beth Reardon, Dory Marcus, Eunice Churchill, Mary Lockshin, Regina Hill, Cathy Kronen, Karen Cotter, Jamie Walter, Lisa Schmidt, Kathy Branchflower, and Jane Kachmar-Desonne. Not present were Mary Pat Colicchio, Joanne Ryan, Deborah Penner-Smith, Annette Pantano, Gilda Spiotta, Adam Fern, Ron Wells, Willie Lyles, and Lisa Britton.

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“These individuals have made a significant impact to the Summit Public Schools,” said Superintendent of Schools June Chang.

In addition, teachers from each building were awarded “Union County Teacher of the Year" honors, including:

Primary Centers - Natalie Vince; Brayton Elementary School - Caitlin Dunn;

Franklin Elementary School - Alana Albanese

Jefferson Elementary School (and throughout K-5) - Tanya Lopez

Lincoln-Hubbard Elementary School - Alex Kelly

Washington Elementary School - Anna Gomez

Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School - Helena Branco

Summit High School - Christine Bohan.  

Chang noted that, “These teachers support and elevate the learning process for students.”

Several Summit organizations were recognized for their contributions to the school community.  They are Pomptonian Food Services; the Summit Area YMCA; Shaping Summit Together; the Special Education Parents Advisory Committee; the PTO Presidents’ Council; the Summit Performing Arts Resource Committee; the Summit Music Parents’ Association; the Summit Boosters Association; the Summit Educational Foundation; Speak Up Summit; the Summit African-American Action Committee; CHAT por Summit; Pride in Education; the Summit Free Public Library; and the Summit Police Department. Each group was recognized with certificates of commendation for service to and support of the Summit Public Schools.

District Administrator Hires Approved

The Board approved the appointments of a new principal for the primary centers and a new director of special education.

Pamela Southard will start on July 1 as the new principal of the primary centers at Jefferson and Wilson. Southard replaces Janice Tierney, who will become the new principal at Franklin School.

Doreen Babis will start as the new Director of Special Education Services, replacing the retiring Jane Kachmar-Desonne.  Chang said that the selection process included consideration of the many items discussed in the public focus group to find a new director.

New Board President

McCann, who was elected Board president at the May reorganizational meeting, could not attend that session due to illness. She presented her welcome statement, saying that she was not going to “set an agenda” for her tenure but, rather, to “set goals” based on the District’s new approved focus areas.  

  • She spoke to the “diverse learners” in Focus Area #1, and said her goal is to look at the whole student body and take in all facts about all types of learners, from passions to disabilities, to create “a dashboard” to review.  

  • She pointed to the types of grants awarded last month by the Summit Educational Foundation to illustrate the “love of learning” that is outlined in Focus Area #2.

  • Focus Area #3 is about “strategic investment and targeted financial decision making.” She said that investing more money does not guarantee more results. “Don’t follow trends for the sake of following trends,” she said. When it comes to big items like the implementation of a universal Full-Day Kindergarten program, she said that she hopes that the right questions will be asked and that the “conversation maintains respective discourse.”  She stressed the importance of listening to be able to get the “complete picture.”

Her intent, she said, is to run a Board that is “free of politics,” is “fun, and has a “collegial environment.”

Committee Reports

Education:  Chair Vanessa Primack reported that a statewide mix up over PARCC and graduation requirements impacted 22 Summit High School students. Statewide, thousands of students who thought that they could skip the standardized test actually have to take it.

In 2016, under the Christie administration, the NJ State Board of Education made passing PARCC English and Algebra I exams a requirement for graduation, beginning with the class of 2021.  Alternatively, the District may submit a “portfolio” to the state for the student if some guidelines have been met. The full graduation requirements appear here. Governor Phil Murphy, in his campaign promises, said he would “transition away from” PARCC testing.  

Primack also reported that new science textbooks have been selected for biology, AP Physics, and AP Environmental Science. These books provide “more robust and experiential case studies,” she said. The old books have been used since the 2004-05 school year. Board member Donna Miller said that many District families have asked her why the District does not switch to online books. Chang said that there is really no cost savings right now to go online, but that the District is “eyeing options” for the future.

Curriculum is being written for the new IDEA program, which replaces the MAP achievement program for fourth and fifth graders. “It’s in its early stages,” said Primack.

The district has created the position of “ELL Lead Teacher.” Fourteen percent of the students in the District are English language learners, Primack said. The $2,600 stipend was approved previously in the budget. This teacher will review testing assessment, administer tests, and work on overall strategy.

She also said that the committee discussed proposals for some new courses.

Operations:  In his operations committee report, Chair Chris Bonner said that the District may see significant dollars go unspent that were budgeted for Aetna. Assistant Superintendent for Business Lou Pepe said that if the trend continues through the end of the fiscal year, the unspent money would go back into the capital reserve fund. Principals have been asked what items -- up to $100,000 -- they had requested for their school that were not included in the budget. The remaining dollars could be used to fund these items from capital reserve, and would not be part of the regular budget.  

Former Summit student Emilio Torres has been newly hired for the revamped position of “staff accountant,” a job title rework of an existing payroll position. Bonner said that the job will have “more analytics and data analysis versus data entry.”

Policy: Chair Peggy Wong said that the committee had had first reading of six policies, all having to do with either “changes in statute, code, or law.”  Some highlights: the smoking policy will now include Juul use; varsity letters may be awarded for any activity that includes competition, not just limiting it to sports; and homeschooled students will not be eligible to participate in school sports, a decision which was made after reviewing best practices of similar districts.

During the portion of the meeting for public discussion, Parent Betsy Tavit, who has a homeschooled athlete and was previously turned down for her request to have him play on the Summit High School soccer team, asked why the District changed its policy to formally preclude home-schooled students from participating in sports.  She said that she “pretty much begged” the district to consider the policy

She said that his vision problems have resulted in severe mental health issues, and she worries about his well being.  “Why change the policy to prevent a sick child from a sport that has kept him alive the last few months,” she said.

McCann and Chang both told her that the Board’s policy precludes them from the discussion of individual students at their meetings.

Tavit said that she had been given the runaround and was told to speak with the athletic director who told her to speak to the Board of Education. Pepe explained the process: the committee met to review the policy, policy modifications were made, and this will stand unless the Board revises it. He invited her to submit her request in writing, but told her that Board is aware of her concerns.

“I’m very disappointed and very sad,” Tavit said.

Communications Chair Miller said that a template will be created for Board members to add their bios to the District's web site.