SUMMIT, NJ - Donna Miller was elected Summit Board of Education President and Hilltop City resident Yon Cho joined the District's governing body as hellos and goodbyes dominated the Board's May 2020 reorganizational meeting, again held on Youtube via Zoom.

Miller takes the helm from Board Member Vanessa Primack and Board Member Chris Bonner was elected vice president. Cho was sworn in to a three-year seat; and Superintendent of Schools June Chang attended his last meeting before assuming his role as superintendent of the Rockville Centre, NY school district on July 1.

Before she was voted in as president, Miller took the oath of office for a second three-year term.

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Board Member Michael Colon nominated Miller and said that he found her “steady and unflappable.” Using a sports analogy, he called her “a talented player / coach.” She can rule as a leader, he said, but can also contribute to the team as a player.

Colon said that Miller is “results driven” and is not afraid to “push the Board or the administration” for those results. Most important, he said, is her “uncompromising commitment” to provide an excellent educational experience to the students of Summit.

In her first statement as president, Miller said that while everyone is uncertain about what lies ahead, she is confident that the “Summit School District is not outmatched by this moment. The Board of Education is not outmatched. I for one am comforted by the knowledge that this moment, for all it’s unplanned differences, shifts and changes, remains firmly grounded in two familiar Summit mainstays.”

Those, she said, are “mission-driven work and hope.” She outlined four objectives for the Board in the coming year:

  • Choose a new superintendent with the “vision, skills, and temperament” to lead the District.

  • Support the students, teachers and administrators when they return to Summit school building, realizing that the four pillars of academics, arts, athletics and service may look different

  • Continue to negotiate contracts up for renewal

  • Define the District Focus Areas for the 2021-24 school years

The “hope,” she said, stems from Summit traditions that define the community. She said these include a commitment to education; a spirit of partnership; a strong tradition of process; a politics-free board; and a tradition of stewardship and responsibility. 

“And we have hope, because we’re tethered to our Summit traditions that make our community, our district and, frankly, our Board, so special,” Miller said.  

“We’re your partners in optimizing the education of your children,” she said,  “and we care about them and what you have to say.”

Board Member Josh Weinreich nominated Bonner for vice-president. He said that Bonner played an important, constructive role on the Board, and cited his analysis of last year’s decision on Full-Day Kindergarten specifically. He is thoughtful and considerate, practical and prudent, and focused on what is best for staff and students, Weinreich said. 

In her outgoing remarks as president, Primack said she was “humbled and honored” to have served. She said that the ultimate goal of the Board is student achievement and growth. She said that one Board cannot stand alone, and the successes of any one Board are because of the accomplishments of the Boards that came before it. 

“We add our voices to move the discussion,” she said.

She thanked Chang for his adaptability and ability to “pivot” and lead the District during the current shutdown. 

Chang, in his final superintendent’s address to the Board, thanked Summit’s teachers, during this Teacher Appreciation Week. He said that they have shown a willingness to adjust, grow, and pivot during this time of online learning.

He said that he had empathy for the graduating seniors and those students who are moving up from fifth and eighth grade for “”not being able to be around their colleagues” as they are closing out the school year.

Chang thanked the people who hired him and a few Board presidents -- Primack, Deb McCann, Rick Hanley, James Freeman, David Dietze, Celia Colbert, Katherin Kaelin, Gloria Ron-Fornes -- and members of the current Board.

“I will definitely miss the Hilltopper community,” he said.

Colon thanked Chang for his leadership, and said that he left a legacy he could be proud of. He said that Chang fostered a culture of learning, and was able to attract and retain a talented group of educators.

Miller said that the search for a new superintendent is “on schedule.” 

She said that the search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA) whittled the list of candidates from 58 to 24. Of those, 21 accepted an initial interview and 10 of them will be presented to the Board on May 19.

In the interim, Rob Gardella, the director of human resources, will step in and add the role of acting superintendent on June 1. He was chosen, Miller said, because he can “optimize” what needs to be done in the District. He will provide a “necessary and stable bridge” between Chang and the new superintendent, she said.

Gardella addressed the Board, saying, “In times like these, people show you who they really are.” He said that the Board, the staff, and the community have “stepped up” with commitment and resolve. 

“I’m fully committed to give you my very best,” he said.

Cho Joins Board

Cho has been a resident of Summit since 2000 and, among his community involvements, he has been on the Board of the Summit Area YMCA since 2009; chairing its Facilities Committee and is on its Executive Committee. He also served on the Board of the Summit Educational Foundation
(SEF) from 2013 to 2019, and chaired the Investment Committee. Cho is also deeply involved with scouting programs in Summit, and was a soccer and baseball coach for his children when they were younger. 

He is currently retired after more than 30 years in financial services and real estate investment management at Lehman Brothers, and at Pacific Coast Capital Partners where he managed the New York office and new investments. After graduating college, Cho served four years in the United States Navy as a Surface Line Officer before starting his financial career. He has a BS in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and an MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business. 

Cho and his wife Francie have four children who all attended Summit Public Schools starting in kindergarten. Two are recent graduates of Summit High School, and two are current Summit High School students.

SEF Grants

Summit Educational Foundation grants are usually detailed at the Board meetings twice each year. Because of the shutdown, there was no formal SEF presentation, but it was announced that during the spring cycle, SEF approved 41 grants totaling $231,609.

Following the meeting, the SEF shared details on the list of grants. According to their website, they said that schools at the primary, elementary, middle and high school levels received grants totaling $9,484, $6,220, $88,760, $51,033 and $76,112 respectively.

A sampling of the approved grants include:

  • STEM activities in the gym to be shared amongst both primary centers and all five elementary schools.  $4,850

  • Bringing Self-Regulation into the Classroom-will expand the curriculum previously funded by SEF for social and emotional development in 2nd and 3rd grades at all 5 elementary schools. $8,464

  • Keys to Social Success - will fund the final roll out of the social and emotional curriculum for all fourth, fifth and sixth grade students throughout the district.  $11,080

  • A one year site license for the MackinVia, an on-line program which will give all five elementary schools access to a large collection of ebooks and audiobooks.  $2,250

  • Math workshop materials for third grade students at Lincoln-Hubbard Elementary School. $1,508

  • New Tone Chimes and Boomwhackers to be used in the general music classrooms in grades 1-5 at Brayton Elementary School. $1,364

  • One Book, One School shared reading program at Franklin Elementary School. $1,680

  • New STEAM supplies for the science classroom for 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students at Jefferson Elementary School. $930

  • Continuation of the previously SEF funded Peer Leadership program for 8th grade students at LCJSMS. $7,170

  • Battle of the Books for 6th 7th and 8th grade students at LCJSMS. $1,200

  • Upgrade to the Digital Art cycle class for 8th graders at LCJSMS including additional Wacom boards and swivel stools.  $4,919

  • Continuation of the previously SEF funded and highly successful Peer Leadership program for 11th and 12th grade students at SHS.  $8,265

  • Author visit by Ibi Zoboi including the purchase of 100 of her books for all students at SHS.  $4,499

  • A classroom set of virtual reality headsets, merge cubes and a 360 degree camera to be shared among all the classrooms at SHS.   $10,370 

Grants specifically funded to help with online learning during the school closures:

  • Learning Ally program for the entire district.  $7,594

  • Gizmo subscription which supports on-line Math and Science classes at SHS. $8,913

 Click here to see the full list of approved spring 2020 grants.

Miller said that Summit would be “a different district” without SEF.

Additionally, two emergency grants to provide hot spots for Summit families without internet access were granted by The Summit Foundation. These grants enable 25 families to participate in online learning.   

Miller, as outgoing Chair of the Education committee said that although “things are not perfect,” the District was able to “pivot,” and the committee has been satisfied with the online learning experience.  

She said that additional Chromebooks have been distributed to students in third and fourth grade, and to some students in K-2 “on a case-by-case basis.”

Broken Chromebooks are being replaced.

She said that a survey was conducted of students and teachers about remote learning, and the results will be reported.

Miller said that Director of Special Education Services Doreen Babis reported to the committee how they are adapting to meet the needs of students “academically, socially, and emotionally.”

Bonner asked how teachers are coping and what has been difficult for them. Director of Education Jen McCann said that the biggest challenge for them is time management. She said that teachers have been teleconferencing with students and meeting on Google, but that participation is an issue.

Peggy Wong will be chairing the Education committee for the next year.

In the Operations committee report Bonner said that the shutdown is allowing early work on some projects to begin. 

Assistant Superintendent for Business Lou Pepe said that the New Jersey Clean Energy Program Direct Install -- a state-run incentive program that will pay for up to 70 percent of energy efficiency upgrades in lighting, HVAC, and commercial refrigeration -- will allow for lighting upgrades in the elementary schools. 

Roof work at Summit High School (SHS)  will begin shortly.

A Brayton library project will use $130,000 of funds from the Hubbard Fund. Brayton is the last elementary school library to be upgraded. 

Custodians are cleaning and sanitizing all classrooms.

Food services is providing about 200 meals per day to students at SHS and Jefferson Schools.

Colon will be the new Operations committee chair; Bonner will remain on the committee for another year.

Negotiations committee chair Primack said that a small group bargaining session met, and that discussions were “positive and congenial.” 

Bonner read a statement from Summit Mayor Nora Radest, who appointed Cho to the Board. She said that Cho will be an “ardent advocate” for public school.

She also thanked Chang.

“Summit benefited from your leadership,” she said.

In new committee positions, Miller and Colon will serve on the Board of School Estimate.

In the public discussion portion of the meeting, where emailed questions were asked, Betsy McCeney asked if school bathrooms will be fitted with automated sinks, soap dispensers, and air dryers. 

Pepe said that the District has been installing electric dryers in the bathrooms at SHS. He said that there were no plans to replace sinks and faucets in the entire District, but they will be upgraded as they “go down.” He said that there are thousands of faucets in the District, and replacement is about $300 each. 

Hand sanitizers have been added at various locations in each building, Pepe said. 

McCeney also asked about the status of the Lawton C. Johnson field and track upgrade.

Pepe said that it has “been on the radar,” but with the closure it got “put on hold.” 

“Stay tuned,” he said. 

Rachel Frank asked about plans for a virtual FLASH program. 

McCann said that the District is following New Jersey state guidance on summer programming, and is ready to respond to any combination of guidelines that might be announced. 

“If we have to go remote, we can go remote,” she said. “We know how eager everyone is to plan their summer events.” 

“We are with you in uncertainty but ask for patience in the process we need to go through,” she said.