SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Board of Education, at its December meeting, unanimously approved a new five-year contract for Summit School Superintendent of Schools June Chang that will run through June 30, 2024, with the start date made retroactive to July 1 of this year.

In the first year of the new contract, Chang will be paid a salary of $233,533.60. Under the terms of his previous deal -- which was set to expire on June 30, 2020 -- Chang was being paid a base salary of $204,525.99 with potential merit pay of 30,658.45. The new contract, which includes annual base-pay increases of 2.5% annually, does away with merit pay compensation.

Chang is the highest-paid public employee in Summit.

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The recommendation to award the new contract -- included on the meeting's agenda in a grouping of 17 personnel-centric items that included salaries, changes of assignment, maternity leaves, and resignations -- passed unanimously and without discussion or comment from the Board or public when the opportunity to discuss agenda items was introduced. The contract had received prior approval by the Executive Union County Superintendent.  

After the meeting, TAPinto Summit asked Board of Education President Vanessa Primack if the superintendent's contract renewal should have warranted some public comment and-or discussion at the meeting, including why the Board was supporting it. Primack said that she could not comment on personnel matters. She suggested referring to Board of Education agendas, meetings, president’s reports, and official notices from October, November, and December 2019.

At the October, 2019, Board of Education meeting, Primack stated that Chang had asked the Board to renegotiate his compensation plan now that the New Jersey superintendent salary cap was revoked, adding that the Board would discuss Chang’s leadership with him beyond his current contract.

Presentations

The meeting saw three presentations: the Summit Educational Foundation (SEF) announcement of approved grants for Fall 2019; the 2018-19 audit report; and a presentation entitled 'Defining Stress Management and Coping'.

Summit Educational Foundation (SEF) Fall Grants

Summit Educational Foundation Grants Chair MaryBeth Driscoll presented the District with 60 grants, totaling $180,499, representing

  • $21,700 -- District-wide
  • $123,886 -- Elementary School-level
  • $9,695 -- Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School (LCJSMS)
  • $25,218 -- Summit High School (SHS).

Since its inception, the SEF has awarded over $7.2 million in teacher and District grants.

Driscoll thanked the administrators and teachers for submitting “creative and innovative grants,” and added, “It is your visionary teaching styles that has played a paramount role in providing the best education for our children and students and distinguishing our schools as top performers in the state and nation."

The grants were in the areas of:

  • Advancing Literacy -- 14 awards totaling $29,000, including a $4,878 classroom library at Lincoln-Hubbard and a $5,225 debate coach at SHS.  

  • Building STEAM -- 16 awards totaling $38,293, including $6,700 for STEAM carnivals across the District.

  • Supporting the Whole Student -- seven awards totaling $25,506, including $10,000 toward teacher leadership training across the District; $5,200 for 'You Can’t Be What You Can’t See' at SHS.

  • Innovative Learning Environment  -- 21 awards totaling $85,691, including $9,300 for Vocal Music Classroom Microphones across the District; $8,632 for 'Lift Our Voices' classroom sound system at Brayton; $11,509 for 'Can You Hear Me' at Jefferson; $18,964 resource room and learning workshop workspaces at Brayton; and $5,418 for self-regulation through sensory integration at Franklin

  • Other Academic Areas -- two awards totaling $2,000.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Lou Pepe said that SEF is extremely important for learning opportunities for the District’s children. This partnership, he said, allows the District to provide programs that would otherwise not be affordable.

Primack called what SEF accomplishes “nothing short of amazing," and thanked the teachers who “researched and explored” the grants and “put in the time and energy to write the proposals.”

Chang said that SEF “understands strategically what we are trying to do to continue to move us forward. A lot of what we do could not be possible without the generosity of SEF."

Synopsis of Audit

Pepe made a presentation for the school year ending June 30, 2019. He said that there were two small findings that needed correction, but otherwise the audit passed.

The first finding said, “It is recommended that the District review and enhance their internal control procedures for the student activity account.”

Pepe said this means that checks need to be deposited more quickly. He said that sometimes when money comes into the student activity account, it would remain in the school safe for a week or so. 

The other finding concerned facilities and capital assets.  “It is recommended that the District review their process to capture all capital additions to ensure that, at year-end, the property asset records are properly updated to reflect all capital assets acquired throughout the year and items that are not capital assets are properly classified as supplies.”

Pepe said that this is “a timing issue.” He said that when Assistant Business Manager Kathy Sarno went out on maternity leave, the items of concern were not categorized in a timely fashion. Pepe said that this has already been corrected..  

Overall, Pepe said, there “was no weakness or significant deficit in the audit.”

Defining Stress Management and Coping

The purpose of this presentation was to discuss what the District is doing proactively to help students be less stressed, specifically the coping skills that are being offered.

“What we can do to get ahead of it before it becomes a problem,” said Director of School Counseling Laura Kaplan.

Socio-emotional development of students has been of increasing importance to the District. Kaplan mentioned ways that students could alleviate some stress including physical activity, hobbies, and talking to someone who is “better equipped to deal with a stressful environment.”   

The presentation outlined several coping mechanisms from the New Jersey Department of Education for social and emotional learning competencies including:

  • Understanding and practicing strategies for managing one’s own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors

  • Recognizing the skills needed to establish and achieve personal and educational goals 

  • Identifying and applying ways to persevere or overcome barriers through alternative methods to achieve one’s goals 

One key, she said, is to focus on the students’ strengths asking, according to Kaplan, “What are they good at?”

Kaplan outlined specific coping skills in various areas.

Emotion-focused skills include: labeling feelings, yoga breathing exercises, playing music, exercising, watching a funny video, artwork, positive self talk, reading, engaging in a mood booster, playing a game, creating a “calm down kit.”

She said, “If they can’t do something to change the event, then they need to tap into emotional responses to it.”

Problem-focused skills include asking for help, engaging in problem solving, and creating a list of pros and cons.

“Try to help them persevere through the moment,” Kaplan said.

She offered other “useful tips,” including prompting your child, letting your child feel bad sometimes, praising your child, debriefing after an event, and making sure coping skills are in moderation.

She also suggested cutting off unhealthy friendships.

“This is a situation in which a child has a little bit of control,” she said.

New District Communications Officer 

Early in the meeting, Chang asked the Board to approve the appointment of Laurene Callander, as the new communication officer.  The position of executive assistant -- which had been previously been combined with the communications officer role -- had to be eliminated and the communications officer role re-established before her approval.  

Callander, a 2015 Rutgers graduate, will be paid $90,000, and replaces Mia Bivaletz, who left the District effective November 27.

Committee Reports

Education Committee Chair Donna Miller, in her committee report, said that a five-year plan for special services was presented by Doreen Babis, director of special education services.

She said that Babis presented “a cogent plan” that addressed socio-emotional learning, data utilization, parent/school communication/ support programs, and professional development for child study teams.   

Miller reported that the District will stop using PowerSchool and will implement a new system called Genesis.  She said that PowerSchool had “diminishing function,” and that Genesis offers “a robust program” without any additional cost. Genesis is a New Jersey based company.

Chang said that the transition will begin in January, and that the change would be implemented “in earnest” for next school year.

Primack gave a synopsis of the recent 'Coffee and Conversation' meeting held recently at Washington School.

Public Discussion

During the public discussion for items not on the agenda, TAPinto Summit asked about the recent lockdown at both Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights and New Providence High School, as well as the recent security breach at Livingston schools and what Summit is doing to prepare in the event of either situation happening here.

Chang said that he was in close contact with area district superintendents, and they will be “debriefing” on what was learned about the reaction time.

As for the cybersecurity breach at Livingston schools which resulted in a delayed opening, Chang said that he is in close contact with former Summit Director of Human Resources Matt Block, who is now the superintendent of Livingston schools.  

“We are taking steps and looking at our protocol,” Chang said. “We are in pretty good shape.”

Chang said that he is part of a “security council” with other local district superintendents, including Berkeley Heights, Millburn, and Chatham.

“We will be debriefing when we get together,” Chang said.  

Pepe said there a lot of “levels and layers” to cybersecurity.

“It’s an ongoing conversation,” he said.