SUMMIT, NJ - The distinction between the “wants” and the “needs” of the Summit school district were outlined as part of the Five-Year Facilities Planning Update given by District’s architectural and engineering design consultant Michael Wozny of EI associates at the October 2017 Board of Education meeting at Summit High School.

While “eco labs” housed in the greenhouse at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School, and a culinary program redesign at Summit High School are part of the district “wants,” the only projects that have been identified as priority “needs” -- and therefore approved by the Summit school District -- are playground resurfacing projects at both primary centers for $90,000 and replacement of original wood windows at Washington School for $50,000.

Deb McCann, board vice president and operations committee chair, stated that needs are safety issues; items where “we really don’t have a choice, like a roof repair.” The wants, she said, will be determined by the community, once the District sets its priorities through the District focus areas, to be decided over the next few months.  

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Assistant Superintendent for Business Lou Pepe said that every District is required to identify all of its potential projects “from soup to nuts,” but that the operations committee determined that only these three projects -- each primary center playground is a standalone project -- is a 'Level I' health and safety issue.

Wozny presented a long list of projects for the operations committee to prioritize.  Projects under consideration at Summit High School include:

  • Space for dance, cheer, wrestling, and team meetings. An undeveloped sloped area built on the back of the school could offer a possible solution.

  • Reconfiguring use of the media center -- usage inefficiency was noted by the very worn carpet in the main area but pristine-condition carpeting by the back windows. The space could be reconfigured to enclosed, monitored small-group conference areas.

  • Storage space for music, band, and theatre arts programs.

Pepe said that the District has been successful allocating $2 million into a capital reserve fund so the City should not have to bond a future project such as replacing the Upper Turf Field at Summit High School, which is approaching the end of its expected life span. The District has done a good job of maintaining the field, he said, which means it should last for a few more years, but the $750,000 turf project is imminent. “That’s the value of planning,” he said.

Wozny began his presentation by looking at the accomplishments of the nine-year partnership EI Associates has had with Summit schools, including infrastructure needs, window replacement, HVAC, emergency generators, security upgrades, mechanical upgrades, roof replacement, and site work at all five elementary schools, Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School and the high school.  

In his education committee report, Chair David Dietze gave an analysis of the District’s PARCC data, and said he was “very pleased with the overall results.” Summit outperformed state and national averages, he said, and he outlined the steps being made to overcome some of the District’s shortcomings.

Saying that it was difficult to compare new results with prior years because in the past there was a lack of participation which possibly skewed results. “The good news,” Dietze said, is that PARCC will be a requirement for the class of 2021 so increased participation is to be expected.

There will be collaboration between the elementary schools so that each can share their best practices to address weaknesses, particularly at Brayton and Jefferson schools. Other remediative plans are to group together students of similar strengths; stressing the importance of the test to students; focusing on writing and problem solving; and bringing in a literacy coach so students get comfortable with math word problems. He stressed that PARCC is a diagnostic tool, not an end in itself.  

Policy Committee Chair Vanessa Primack addressed the E-cigarette and Juul vape devices. She said that these devices fall under the substance abuse policy.  “Any device to consume substances will trigger the policy,” she said.  Summit High School Principal Stacy Grimaldi has communicated the no-tolerance policy change to students and families through PTO meetings, coffees, and e-mail communications, and outlined clearly the consequences of using the devices at school or at school events.

McCann, in her operations committee report, also stated that the old football helmets had been refurbished before funds were raised by the team to buy new ones. Cost for this project also included refurbishing of pads and other equipment. The helmets may be sold or used by other teams.  She also said that the district’s insurance company change from CIGNA to AETNA is going well.

School Board President Rick Hanley and Communications Committee Chair Chris Bonner both discussed the upcoming District Focus Area meetings, to be held at 7 p.m. on November 15 and 30 at Summit High School. To gather information for the focus area discussions, which will determine the district’s three year goals, a survey was created and  distributed widely to city families through e-mail, social media, and on web sites.  The survey required thoughtful answers: it was not just a multiple-choice quiz. More than 1,000 respondents answered the questions, which included what Summit schools do well; what needs improvement; and what should the District focus on over the next three years. Surveys are being accepted through October 27.  

A side note from the survey results, Hanley noted, is that they learned that 31 different languages are spoken in the homes of students throughout the District.  

Hanley also commended the 39 Summit High School National Merit Scholarship Program awardees for 2018, up from 36 last year. Five students have been named Semifinalists, 32 have been named Commended Students, and four have been selected for the National Hispanic Recognition Program (NHRP).

Several parents spoke up about items that were not on the evening’s agenda.  

Speak Up Summit President Paola Acosta stressed the importance of communication, feedback, and engagement between the community and the district. She invited all board members, administrators, and the community to attend the “Speak Up Summit Community Forum on Education,” to be held this winter on a date to be determined.  After the meeting she said that Superintendent June Chang told her that he has chosen not to attend Speak Up Summit’s annual “State of the District” meeting, which last year was renamed “Coffee and Conversation with the Administration.”  She said that she and the Speak Up Summit Board this week decided to follow their mission and continue to present a forum for open dialogue and discussion about the schools with this newly named event, and hopes that representatives from the district will attend.

Summit parent Maria Jose Orgeira presented a petition to the board signed by 96 Summit Hispanic families which asked them not to eliminate the position of ELL Hispanic Coordinator, a position which for two years has been funded by an SEF grant. She said that because of the coordinator many families felt that, for the first time they “belonged” to the school community.  “The coordinator told us how to take advantage of opportunities and resources available to us,” she said.  “She empowered our children to reach their potential, which is one of the three district focus areas--to raise achievement for all.”  Orgeria said that 15 percent of the student population at the middle and high schools, which were both served by the coordinator, are Hispanic.

Irvy Pinzon said that last year one particular student was discouraged about applying to college, but changed his mind after speaking with the coordinator.  “One conversation made a giant difference,” he said.

The next monthly board meeting will be held on November 16 at 7pm at Summit High School.