WEST CALDWELL, NJ — As the first board of education meeting of the new school year began on Monday, Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Heinegg provided an opening-week report and members of the Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education approved district goals for the year.

Heinegg announced that the new full-day kindergarten program has been successfully launched and that Grover Cleveland Middle School’s new vice principal, Gary McGeehan, has officially joined the administration team. The new rotating block schedule has also been implemented at James Caldwell High School, but Heinegg noted that there are still “a few things to work out.”

Two high school students attended the board meeting on Monday to provide suggestions and feedback regarding the new schedule and how it has affected the students, primarily during the lunch periods.

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They noted that since the junior class must be split up, with half of the class in the cafeteria and the other half in the gym during lunch, it has created some logistical problems.

Of equal concern to the students was the fact that they are no longer permitted to visit their lockers since sections of the school are not accessible during that time. They suggested that the entire building be made accessible to students who choose to have lunch in classrooms if the teachers are amenable to that option. It was noted that Verona High School, which also utilizes block scheduling, allows both practices.

The general agenda included a vote on a list of district goals, which the board is required to create and focus on each year.

The district goals for the 2019-2020 school year, which were unanimously approved, include: addressing student achievement; engaging students as measured and defined by the Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching; Component 3C (a teacher evaluation model); developing a five-year facilities usage plan; reviewing and revising the district’s Economic and Ecological Sustainability Plans; and identifying and implementing further cost efficiencies.

During committee reports, the board approved the Preliminary Enrollment Report as of Sept. 13, 2019.

The current enrollment for the district is 2,667 students, which includes 39 kindergarten students at Jefferson, 47 at Lincoln, 78 at Washington and 35 at Wilson for a total of 199 full-day kindergarten students. The district will re-confirm enrollment numbers again on Oct. 15.

Also approved on Monday was a new curriculum for several courses, including: Freshman Seminar, Practical Careers, Spanish V, Journalism and School Publications, 21st Century Marketing, Statistics and Introduction to Business.

During public comment, several parents inquired about various topics.

Lorraine Caputo, the mother of a middle school student, requested that the district consider declaring Clinton Road as a “hazardous route.”

“There are no sidewalks, no shoulder at some points, no crossing guard west of Passaic Avenue to assist the children, there were over 60 accidents in a mile-and-a-half section and it is a heavily travelled truck route,” said Caputo, whose Facebook post in the “I Love Living in the Caldwells” Facebook page regarding these concerns garnered nearly 200 responses.

Kevin Murray questioned the status of the “three-year pilot” that is currently only taking place at Jefferson Elementary School and allows for no homework. Noting that the district should have received enough empirical data to determine the effects upon the students once entering the middle school, Murray referenced that the students are “in for a world of hurt because they do not have homework” and will receive required homework moving forward for middle, high school and beyond.

Heinegg clarified that there is no policy that precludes homework, only that homework, as per policy, “should be as meaningful as possible.” Murray countered that “you cannot compare something to nothing” and that the students from Jefferson will be at a complete disadvantage by the lack of continued training by not requiring homework.

Another Jefferson parent with a third grader urged the board members to remember that they may not be “comparing apples to apples to get a clear picture” when they consider the data. She cautioned that consideration must be given if a Jefferson student is also receiving the benefit of outside sources such as tutors.

Chris Elko, a candidate for the board of education, suggested that the board review data to determine whether Jefferson students were under-performing when they arrived in the middle school. Based on Elko's suggestion, Dr. Heinegg indicated that Assistant Superintendent Kaitlin Jones would perform such an analysis.

"I'm not sure if the Jefferson homework policy is good, bad or neutral; but as a district, we have enough data to determine whether there is an impact on student performance in the middle school, Elko said of the homework policy. “In general, we should be more proactive about using information and resources to answer questions and solve problems."

Jones indicated that the district does have access to relevant data and that there “should be equity across the schools.” She also said she would raise the issue for discussion among the principals during an administrative meeting that was held on Tuesday.

The next regular board of education meeting will be held on Oct. 14.