SUMMIT, NJ - Paul Sears, the man who had been at the helm of Summit High School since 2003, and who retired March 1 of this year, was honored by the City's Board of Education after more than 17 years in the Hilltop City district and three-plus decades in education.
The Board hosted a reception for the former principal prior to its regular March meeting, the sizeable attendance at which -- parents, administrators, elected officials, community luminaries and former Superintendent Nathan Parker were among those who came to pay homage -- attests to Sears' legacy and contribution to the Kent Place Boulevard school.
In leading off the many words of commendation and tributes to the outgoing principal, Superintendent of Schools June Chang spoke fondly of the tremendous amount of support he has received from Sears, starting with an e-mail sent to Chang shortly after he was named to the Summit position and while he was on his way to Boston on a train.
Praising Sears for his excellent professionalism and the way he has handled his responsibilities, reflecting his admiration for his colleague, the superintendent said, “If this is the way I feel about Paul after just having worked with him for one year, I can imagine the feelings of those in the room who have known him for 17 years.”
Chang said the honoree exemplifies that idea that “every day is a good day as long as it is all about the kids.”
The superintendent concluded by telling Sears, “You will always be a Hilltopper and you always will be welcome here.”
Board of Education President Katherine Kalin said that it was with mixed feelings that the school body was saying goodbye to Sears, “Sadness at seeing you leave, while, at the same time, happy to see you now will have more time to spend with your family.”
Kalin noted that, during his time in the Hilltop City, Sears led Summit High School to greater and greater superiority in academics, athletics and the arts.
She also pointed how he had embraced the City district’s “richly growing diversity,” while serving under four separate schools superintendents and at least 15 different members of the Board of Education.
“He showed leadership with calmness and poise, never temper,” the Board president said, also noting Sears' ease of personal style and a sense of humor.
Kalin added Sears always would be remembered for looking for the best in his personal interactions with everyone with whom he came in contact.
The school board president, the last of whose children soon will be leaving Summit High School, concluded with the memory of students pointing out that Sears “never forgot to point out the rainbows,” referring to his practice of letting all those in his charge know whenever a rainbow appeared outside his office window at the high school by calling attention to it as he gave his daily address over the loudspeaker.
The retiring principal said the tribute to him was, in fact, his opportunity to give thanks for being part of education, which he called one of the most wonderful careers imaginable.
Although Sears said he never thought any job could be better than that at the district in which he spend 17-and-a-half years prior to coming to Summit, he gladly gave up the “five minute drive” to his previous district for the “50-minute drive” to become science supervisor in Summit, the post which began his journey as a “Hilltopper.”
His gratitude and thanks, he added, was inclusive of the entire Summit community, from the students, to district management and staff to the PTOs, PTAs and other organizations who all added much to his experience.
He said his family always gave him all the support he needed to perform his job to the best of his ability.
Sears, since succeeded by Stacy Grimaldi, concluded by saying it had been an honor and privilege to work in Summit, and he told Summit residents they should always remember what a special place they have in their community.
In other business at the meeting, Chang, along with district communications director Karen Greco and district technology supervisor Douglas Orr, introduced the district’s new website, which is now live.
The superintendent said the new site provides “a more clear way to deliver information to the public.”
He added the renovated, more colorful site, will streamline information available on the original site while enable those using it to find information in one place more quickly.
Chang said the website now would become the central depository of all data about the district, with ready references to data also available on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Additionally, he noted, there will be more videos on the site, with a link to You Tube to view those videos.
Also, although he still will issue his twice yearly paper summaries of school matters, the superintendent said the new site eventually would enable users to be “weaned off” the paper information to a new electronic format.
Greco pointed to the more user-friendly tabs for district, schools, departments and “resources,” with a greatly improved administration site featuring new photographs of administrators completed and donated by a local photographer.
Items now would be available in a single place, she added, rather than in multiple places, and the homepage will be reached from anyplace on the website simply by clicking on the “Summit Flame” logo in the upper left-hand section of the site.
Videos, Greco noted, now will be available on the website not only for sports and other school activities, but also for presentations at Board of Education meetings.
In fact, Chang played a short video from the site at the meeting with Sears detailing how academics rankings of the Summit schools by media organizations were arrived at, but told residents they would have to view the new website itself to see the rest of the video.
Orr said the “Quick Links” to such features as Naviance and PowerSchool would be more streamlined and easier to reach on the new website.
Additionally, he noted, the site would be set up to function with any device, so site entries would just as easily readable on a Smartphone application, for example, as on a laptop or desktop.
On the school pages, he pointed out, instead of clicking directly into long narratives on a number of categories, there would be fewer categories with opportunities to open up longer narratives from the other categories if a user wished to do so.
In response to a question from resident Irvy Pinzon, Orr said, for the present, the “login” feature on the bottom of the new website would only be used by teachers trying to access certain files.
Chang also told Pinzon that the district would continue to post links out to PTA and PTO websites on the district website, with occasional postings of newsletters and other information on the district site if requested by individual organizations.
Orr said Sears’ rankings video was expected to appear on the new district site by the end of the day on the March 18, although the lead time sometimes could run up to 48 hours.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Louis Pepe added that Orr was able to get the new website constructed with a budget item that already had been allocated.
On another matter, noting recent publicity about high lead content found in drinking fountains in such New Jersey school districts as Newark and Jersey City, Pepe said the Summit district's contractor charged with lead testing, Karl & Associates Environmental of Pennsylvania, was scheduled to complete testing in district schools on March 25 and 26, although there was no reason to believe there was any danger in drinking water in any schools in Summit.
He added that the city district, had, in fact, completed replacing standard drinking fountains in city schools, with at least one fountain per school year in each school replaced with fountains that filter out lead. In some instances, more than that rate has been done, Pepe said.
On another topic, resident Amy Reidel of 48 Broad Street said the staff and teachers at Jefferson School were able to help her son, who has been diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and ADHD to advance more than expected to the point where he is beyond second grade level.
Reidel said if teachers and other staff members face budget cuts her son and children like him would not get the high quality attention like that currently provided at Jefferson.
Chang replied that Summit district officials believe it is critical, in maintaining the high quality of the city’s schools, to keep and maintain the teaching talent they have.
On another matter, the superintendent said the schedule for PARCC testing should be released shortly, but the state has added more testing time due to the selection of Summit to do “field testing” on certain subject areas.
Also, the school body voted to submit -- to the executive Union County superintendent of schools -- its determination that Chang has met quantitative and qualitative criteria to qualify for merit payments for the 2015-16 school year.