SUMMIT, NJ - It was a night of firsts.
The first Board of Education meeting of the 2020-21 school year; the first time Scott Hough appeared publicly before the Summit Board of Education since being hired as superintendent of schools; and, most notably, the first time in nearly six months that the Hilltop City's school board gathered to meet in person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the schools on March 13.
Attendance in the Summit High School Media Center was limited to 25 attendees, with plans made for any crowd exceeding that number to be located in classrooms, however that was not a problem as most attendees chose to view the proceedings once again via Zoom.
The Zoom audience was consistently near 60, while attendance in the Media Center consisted of a few non-school personnel.
The Board dais was spread out, with socially-distanced members separated from the public by plexiglass and wood dividers. Voices were sometimes muffled through masks, and the Zoom video was glitchy at times but, for the most part, the meeting ran smoothly and was swift.
Board President Donna Miller introduced New Board Member Yon Cho, who appeared in-person for the first time since he began his three-year term, and Hough.
Cho’s comments cut out on the Zoom feed and were not audible, but he did welcome Hough and said that he was able to meet with key school and City personnel and “hit the ground running with everything that is going on.”
Hough shared the excitement of the first day of school and said that it was “absolutely incredible” to see the energy of the students, the parents, and the teachers.
“The excitement was real,” he said. “Everybody felt it.”
Since then, he said, there has been “an outpouring of positive support” for the reopening efforts. The focus now, he said, is shifted to the in-person and remote learning and safety plans.
He thanked the Board of Education, the administrative team, the secretarial staff, the custodial / maintenance staff, and the technology department, the parents and students, and the teachers, nurses, and services personnel.
Hough said that the Summit Educational Foundation awarded the District two emergency grants; one for wireless microphones for every teacher so that students who were learning remotely could hear their voices more audibly; and another for document cameras for teachers to share documents with those remote learners.
An unnamed Summit family also made a “very generous donation” for the purchase of these technology items. The Summit Police Athletic League contributed tents for the students to be able to take “mask breaks” in inclement weather.
Later on in the meeting, he said that currently, “we are a little short on Chromebooks.” He said that although the District was “ahead of the curve” and ordered new devices in May, the District is in competition for delivery with other schools. He said that measures are being taken to ensure that each student has a device for online remote access.
“Right now we should be covered as far as devices and hot spots go,“ he said. “We’re prepared to fill in gaps where we can until our Chromebooks get here.”
Hough said,“Nobody knows what the future will hold. As we move through this school year we will continue to assess the information we were given at the time, and we will make decisions accordingly.”
In a final note of his statement, he said the Board of Health protocol procedures are in place for guidelines on how to proceed when a case of COVID-19 has been identified in the schools. He referenced a letter that was sent to the school community earlier in the day stating that a Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School (LCJSMS) student had tested positive for the virus. He said that the Department of Health will conduct contact tracing and will notify anyone considered to be “a close contact.”
He said that the District will follow all the Department of Health safety protocols “to ensure that the health of staff and students in our community is taken care of.”
We are committed to ongoing communication with the school community, he said.
Four days after the meeting, it was disclosed that a second LCJSMS student had tested positive. In a letter sent to the Summit Public Schools Community, Hough and LCJSMS Principal Donna Gallo stated, ""We understand the concern of hearing about two positive cases within a few days of each other, but please be aware that we learned from the local Department of Health that this case did not become exposed to the virus while at school."
In her statement, Miller reiterated what she said were the two principles for the reopening of schools: to “maximize learning” and to “maximize safety.” She said that District administrators were charged with finding “the sweet spot -- the range of space where these two important factors intersect -- and to plan within that space.”
She said that it is the Board's duty “to provide both to all those who enter our buildings.”
“We take that duty very seriously,” she said.
Miller said that the District has established processes that will help it operate “in an orderly fashion, no matter what happens this school year.”
“I assure you the Board and administration are prepared to calmly decision-make with regard to our instructional plan, health and safety,” she said.
Education -- Peggy Wong, chair
The District’s goals for the year are being formulated and will be presented at a later Board meeting. The committee expressed approval for adoption of revisions and new curriculum content writing for K-12 that was done over the summer.
Wong said that it has been a “smooth transition” from PowerSchool to the new Genesis system, with 90 percent of families able to interface with the system.
She said that social / emotional learning at each grade level was outlined -- a daily lesson at the elementary level; twice-weekly lessons at LCJSMS in both advisory and study hall; and lessons on coping skills, social justice, digital citizenship, and social skills at Summit High School will be implemented.
Operations -- Michael Colon, chair
Colon reported that much of the emphasis for the committee has focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown would impact the budget. He discussed the impact of the safety measures that have been taken, and said that, through funding and grants, the District is offsetting “a large amount if not all” of the incremental expenses, and will remain on budget.
He said the committee was looking at safety in each building prior to opening and during the first week; classroom setup; traffic flow signage; PPE supplies and how they are distributed; air circulation and filtering systems.
The Board, Colon said, is satisfied that the work done by the Administration and business office ensures that students and teachers are learning and teaching in a safe environment.
He updated the Board on the status of the three major projects -- the upgrade to the telecom system, which is complete; retrofitting the lighting in most buildings to be more energy efficient, a project which is on hold at the moment; and the Summit High School roof, which has been delayed for several weeks but is almost completed.
Colon said that there was an “unfortunate event” at Summit High School when an inspector, working on the roof, was injured when he fell off a ladder onto the roof. He said that the inspector is “recovering well,” and that the contractor is responsible.
Policy -- Chris Bonner, chair
Several policies had a first reading. The first covered the compliance of a restart / recovery plan from the State and how the District would be adopting it; the second concerned remote-learning options; and the third looked at what the District would have to do to convert to an all-remote-learning plan. Several others looked at immunizations, medication, and antidote administration.
Policies for second reading were about the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act; student athletes and heat participation; student assessment; eligibility of resident / non-resident students; suspensions; expulsions; and personnel records.
Communications -- Josh Weinreich, chair
Weinreich said the committee talked about the importance of continuing to communicate about PPE shipment updates, technology, remote learning experiences, and classroom setup. They discussed the importance of communicating by video, particularly Hough’s back-to-school message to the Summit school community.
If those community members who were watching the meeting remotely via Zoom were eager to discuss the September 1 reopening of the schools, they could not speak up. Unlike the previous Board meetings that have been held remotely over the past five months, write-in questions from Zoom participants were not allowed. In order to ask a question or make a comment, in-person attendance was required.
In introducing the segment of the meeting where community members are offered the chance to speak up, Miller said that Board members, who may not necessarily engage in conversation about comments, “hear, take in, and discuss” them.
Only two public questions and comments were made.
Former Summit Ward I Councilman Tom Getzendanner asked about enrollment figures and overall percentage of in-person and remote students. Hough said that total enrollment is 3,998, 80 percent of whom are in-person students.
Summit Education Association -- which represents Summit teachers, secretaries and custodians -- Vice President Wendy Donat asked for continued support for the teachers, in both continued professional development and emotional support, saying, “We’re exhausted. Last spring was incredibly difficult. We need support from the Board, the Administration, and the community.”
Donat added, “Last spring, parents discovered teaching is much more challenging than they realized.”
Recognition of Newly Tenured Professional Staff
The meeting began with a presentation for newly-tenured professional staff, and recognition of those employees who have 25 years of service in the District. Those recognized are:
Catherine Alberico - Franklin Elementary, 4th grade teacher
Meredith Cohen - 8th grade teacher at LCJSMS
Maria Corall - LCJSMS, science teacher
Lauren D’Onofrio - Summit High School (SHS), special education teacher
Angelica Da Silva - School Psychologist Washington, Franklin, and Brayton Elementary Schools
Danielle DeGraw - Health and Physical Education teacher at LCJSMS
Daniel Del Piano - Wilson Primary Center, special education teacher
Lara Donohue - Washington Elementary 4th grade teacher
Karin Dorieux - Franklin Elementary, world language teacher
Ashley Fuchs - 5th grade teacher Lincoln-Hubbard
Caitlin Gabriele - 3rd grade teacher Lincoln-Hubbard
David Howarth - Social Studies teacher SHS
Megan Kaczka - special education teacher LCJSMS
Anna Kasbo - JPC, special education teacher
Justin Liss - LCJSMS, special education teacher
Jacek Lodziato - LCJSMS, social studies teacher
Nicole Macias - language arts teacher LCJSMS
Andrea Manzo-Rivera - kindergarten teacher JPC
Holly Nemeth - kindergarten teacher WPC
Jessica O’Connor - washington elementary, learning workshop teacher
Danielle Ridge - Washington Elementary, special education teacher
William Rohrbach - LCJSMS, technical education teacher
Kara Saley - kindergarten teacher JPC
Brittany Schwartz - Enrichment teacher, all elementary schools
Jennifer Sheehan - LCJSMS, special education teacher
Barry Bridges - LCJSMS custodian
Matthew Carlin - Principal, Lincoln-Hubbard
Ricky Cooper - SHS custodian
Stefan Dodrv - LCJSMS custodian
Robert Kersting - LCJSMS custodian
Neal Munjack - SHS, English teacher
Angelo Palumbo - Director of Facilities
Thomas Simmons - Physical Education teacher, Lincoln-Hubbard
Miller said, “In the past few months our school community has demonstrated its collective capability, what it can do when we work calmly with one another. It’s only September and look what we’ve achieved.”
“Let’s keep believing,” she said. “Let’s decide, together, today, that this school year will be wonderful, perhaps even our best.”