SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Board of Education, at its July 9 meeting, unanimously approved the contract of incoming Summit Superintendent of Schools Scott Hough. The contract, which runs through June 30, 2024, will pay Hough $215,000 in its first year. Hough joins the Summit District from the New Providence School District, where he was Assistant Superintendent.

After engaging Schaumburg, IL-based search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, the Summit Board of Education found its next Superintendent just over two miles from its headquarters on Beekman Terrace. Hough, who resides with his family in Hunterdon County, is anticipated to begin his tenure on August 17.

Director of Human Resources Rob Gardella will remain acting superintendent until Hough assumes his position.  

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Board President Donna Miller welcomed Hough to the Zoom meeting, and said he “has enthusiasm for, experience with and proven success in teaching and supporting the achievement of a wide range of students and diverse learners.”

She said that Hough “understands the connection between professional development and how our kids learn.”

Miller said, “In his conversations with us he demonstrated the ability to look calmly and practically into our uncertain future with organized thought and flexible planning.”

Hough was added to the Zoom call panel and said that he is thrilled to join a “first-class team” of professionals and educators, and said that he hopes they will “perhaps reach higher and higher heights, even in these unknown circumstances.”

Planned Resumption of In-Person Schooling

Those “unknown circumstances” and reopening Summit schools was top of mind for most of the meeting discussion. 

Miller outlined the Board role in setting expectations for the community. She said that dual roles of the Board are to maximize learning and maximize safety.

“We’ve asked the district to find the sweet spot, the range of space, where these two important factors intersect -- and plan from there,” she said. 

Miller said that the Board supports the preliminary framework, which includes a five-day-a-week curriculum, for maximum learning and overall well-being. Various formats are being explored, she said, and a hybrid experience for live and remote learning is being looked at “for those families that need or want it.”

“We also support the strong attention being paid to multiple and layered protocols that will keep students, teachers, staff and our community as healthy and safe as possible,” she said.

She said the Board is aware of various family dynamics -- families with health issues, special education needs, athletes, ESL learners, employment concerns, among others -- and will look at them in the framework of “equity, social and emotional wellbeing and transparency that guides work and decisions.”

“Our schools need to imagine a realistic but dramatically different future for buildings and classrooms in a short span of time,” Miller said. “As a Board, our intent is to support the identification of plans that will be best for Summit.”

Gardella said that the latest State guidance on reopening was “robust and left room for interpretation.” 

He sent out a letter to District families following the June 26 guidance that laid out the framework for the District’s plan. 

He said that three things are clear: they will reopen in some capacity; they will require face coverings for all except for those with medical and other conditions; and there will be a remote option.

Guidance on distancing he said, however, is not clear, and he is speaking with area administrators to see how they are going to approach their planning. 

“We are educators,” he said. “And our default is we are always going to do what we believe is in the best interest of our students with a whole-child approach -- academically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.”

The goal, he said, is to offer anyone who wants to attend school five days a week the opportunity to do so, with a remote option available for anyone who would “require or need” it.

“School is essential for a student's wellbeing,'' Gardella said. “Our goal is to maximize gains while mitigating risks, to the best of our ability.”

He also addressed an “A/B” model, which would have smaller groups of students attend in-person classes on alternating or grouped days on a rotational basis. He said this model “leaves questions” about how much it reduces the risk of transmission because of where the students who are not in school are going on their “off days.”

“Even at half capacity, or one-third capacity,” he said, “the reality is that the kids are going to interact; kids will remove their masks at times; kids will act impulsively at times. There will be moments where teachers will teach from closer than six feet.”

Exposure will happen, he said, and the District thinks that is best for students to form “those critical relationships with their teachers and with their peers.”

If the District is told that they need to change to a model that will have less of an in-person component, they are “prepared to adjust,” Gardella said.

Gardella complimented and congratulated the Summit High School (SHS) Class of 2020 graduates who had attended two abbreviated outdoor, in-person graduation ceremonies earlier that day. 

“The ceremonies were facilitated respectfully and tactfully," he said. “Our seniors showed gratitude, compassion, and resilience; they showed that Hilltopper pride.”

He said that Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School administrators attended the SHS ceremony, and were planning their own “move-up ceremony” for eighth graders, to be held July 16.

Gardella said that training for the Fall athletic season will begin on July 13.

Presentations

Gardella and Director of School Counseling Laura Kaplan gave a report on Student Safety Data for the period running January 1 - June 30, 2020.

Since the school was not in session in person for the last three months of the school year, the numbers do not represent a full year of schooling, Gardella said. 

A link to the presentation can be found here

Gardella said that a “single incident” could result in multiple data points on the chart.

Of note, he said, was there were no confirmed cases of substance abuse during the time period, and “zero instances of inappropriate physical contact.”

There were also no racial / derogatory incidents.

“Inappropriate behavior,” however, up to four incidents from zero is, Gardella said, “an area we will have to explore further.”

Kaplan spoke to the investigated and confirmed cases of Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB).

She said that during the time period there were zero cases at the primary centers and at Brayton, Washington, and Franklin Elementary Schools; one case that was investigated at Lincoln-Hubbard that was “unfounded”; three cases at LCJSMS that were confirmed; and one case at Jefferson Elementary that was affirmed that evening. 

Kaplan said that the three cases at LCJSMS were found to be in violation of HIB, and had remediation. She did note that remediation takes place even without confirmation.

Remediation included parent/guardian contact, student counseling, detention, support services, and discipline referral. 

She outlined training and programs available for teachers and students on HIB including professional development, webinars, advisory, assemblies, and classroom lessons. 

Both SHS and LCJSMS participated in the “No Place for Hate” partnership with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Kaplan said this designation was achieved during the school year by both schools after they participated in several activities throughout the year that demonstrated “commitment to educating ourselves and the community about diversity and tolerance.”

She said that during the shutdown, advisory at LCJSMS and “THRIVE” -- an anti-bullying program for the elementary schools were taught online.

“We really had to take a pivot,” she said. “And adapt those lessons to still be facilitated in a virtual setting and modify the themes we had in place to deal more directly with what the students were dealing with in the moment.” 

Director of Education Jennifer McCann gave the District goals review, which can be accessed here

She said that the three goals were made in September, and an update had been presented in March. 

She said that remote learning impacted the way the first goal -- which focuses on math and language arts-- was achieved, making it difficult to determine which goals were mastered and when. She said that she was able to report, on average, the number of increases of skills by each student from September until June. 

“We did a great job; we showed progress, but I can’t say we particularly met the goal the way we intended because of the situation of going remote,” she said. 

The second goal, on experiential learning, started with a curriculum audit, she said. Data was analyzed to see where different standards needed to be implemented, she said. They learned that “non-fiction reading and writing experiences were slightly below their fiction performance,” so content-area literacy should be a focus in interdisciplinary units, she said. 

Goal three -- about cultivating a love of learning -- looked at social / emotional learning for stress management. A mental health clinician was built into the budget because of this, she said. Curriculum changes were made as well.

Culturally-inclusive learning was strengthened with restructured content for advisory; the ADL partnership; and curriculum revisions which included new novels for reading at LCJSMS and SHS.

McCann said that the ADL conducted a full-day professional development for the teachers, who implemented the program during the school year, allowing the schools to be designated a “No Place for Hate” school.

“We were able to get them in before we went remote,” she said. 

TAPinto Summit asked for an example of new novels being chosen for the schools; McCann said no final determinations have been made yet.  

Additionally, new community and school-based opportunities were launched, such as the “one book” program, and a Black History month assembly, McCann said.

Miller said, “Nobody is chirping this evening, but not too long ago we had a real groundswell in our community for becoming an ADL-certified ‘No Place for Hate’ school, and I think silence should be taken as congratulations on that.” 

The third part of the goal was also satisfied with a curriculum updates newsletter that was distributed to staff and the community which allowed the District to share information on educational trends.

Committee Reports

Education Committee Chair Peggy Wong said that the cycle classes at LCJSMS will remain the same.

  • Operations Committee Chair Michael Colón said there was a review of insurance options for the District and current offerings were “confirmed appropriate.” 

  • He said that construction projects -- on the SHS roof and retrofit work for lighting upgrade projects are “on track.”

  • He said that the Committee was working with the other restart committees to ensure “work required for PPE, distancing, and facility to ensure a safe environment for students was taking place over the summer.”

  • Policy Committee Chair Chris Bonner said that several mandatory policies were being worked on, including giving employees flexibility to use accrued time under the Federal Coronavirus response for employee leave; heat analysis participation for the safety of student athletes; code revision for student assessment; eligibility requirements to determine student residency in the District -- entry to schools cannot be denied for students who do not have an address or the family is not registered at the Motor Vehicles; suspension and expulsion of students; public access to personnel records; and publishing the school calendar.

On the topic of equity, diversity, and inclusion, Miller said that the Board has received communication from community members on “social injustice,” but would not make a statement or outline new procedures at this time. She told the community that it is “top of mind,” but that the deadline to deliver a reopening timeline to the state and community is consuming their focus.

She said, “I don’t want anyone to believe that because we have no grand announcement this evening that Summit Public Schools doesn’t care and is reneging on the promise to do real work in this space. We are and will.”