CALDWELL, NJ — The Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education conducted their regular monthly meeting via a Zoom platform with approximately 85 attendees during the live stream. Of paramount concern to the majority of the speakers during public comment was the recommendation by Superintendent Dr. James Heinegg to transfer two elementary teachers.
Lori Martino has been a first-grade teacher for 22 years at Washington Elementary and was recommended to be transferred to Jefferson Elementary School. Emily Shapiro who completed her first year in district was also recommended to be transferred to Washington Elementary School from her current placement, Jefferson Elementary School.
Parents and residents questioned why the transfer was recommended and expressed concerns regarding their expected impact upon the students and staff. Business Administrator Thomas Lambe stated that matters of personnel are confidential and therefore discussions regarding staffing decisions are not allowable.
When explaining the broader entitlement for transfers, voluntary and involuntary, Heinegg responded that “our teachers are district employees and so we think of ourselves as an entire community in that way and pretty much every year we look to the particular assignments that have to be made. So, we in general look for a good fit and for different needs at different buildings at different times.” He went on to say: “I have confidence that they will meet the needs of our students and that is really the heart of the matter.”
In anticipation of the recommendation by the Superintendent to the Board an online petition had been started by Stephanie Rosant that has since garnered over 400 signatures.
The petition stated in part: “Ms. Martino is an asset to our school. Our school has seen too much change over the past few years, but we need to stop this one from happening. Families look forward to their child having this incredible teacher in 1st grade as her reputation precedes her. For those who have had the pleasure of Ms. Martino as a teacher, you understand her value at our school. Our Washington School family needs your help. With all the uncertainty and disruption of normalcy in our children’s' lives right now, our children need stability and familiarity when they return to school in the fall. With so much negativity in the world right now, she has been a bright light at Washington School. She goes above and beyond for "her family" and we all love her.”
Parents also voiced support for Ms. Shapiro. Parent Amy Miller stated that Ms. Shapiro has gone “above and beyond to make sure the kids have felt consistency, meeting with them on a daily basis. There are just so many things that she has done for them and for our families and again we are just feeling extremely anxious about going back to school and our children not being able to see her.”
Following the meeting Chris Elko, a West Caldwell resident who has announced his candidacy for the Board of Election this November stated: "The Board has the right to transfer teachers. We understand that. But the district also has an obligation to engage parents and consider their input in the decision-making. Tonight, the district again struggled to effectively engage the community. I'm running to give parents a seat at the table and move Caldwell-West Caldwell forward.”
Board member Julianne Grosso remarked: “decisions are made with the entire well-being of the school community and are at the forefront of all of our minds and the well-being of the staff and the well-being of the students. None of these decisions are taken lightly.
"We hear your voices tonight, but please understand that matters of personnel are highly confidential…we just ask that you trust in the decisions. We ask that you be patient and be open-minded and we promise you that we have done our best to serve the entire school district to the best of our ability.” The recommendation passed unanimously.
Director of Special Education Jessica Abramovich, presented the results of a report compiled by Susan McLaughlin Wright who served as the Interim Director of Special Services from March 2019 through October 2019. As part of her consulting work with the district since that time, Wright developed a report with analysis and recommendations about the district’s special education programs.
The report was a directive of the board of education and the findings may be found in its entirety on the district’s website. The analysis was divided into seven sections: Pre-School, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Program, Paraprofessionals, Child Study Teams (CST), Programs, Transportation/Buildings and State Reporting.
Abramovich noted that some of the recommendations were: to complete evaluations of preschoolers aging out of the program by April/May; increase the ABA in-district classes from two to three; create a brochure for parents that provide a “thumb-nail” introspect of the programs; continue to move to full-time paraprofessionals where appropriate (no benefits provided); continue to provide professional development including restraint training for paraprofessionals; continue to periodically conduct an administrative review of Individual Education Plans (IEPs); formalizing CST operations; development of a hybrid resource/in-class model, continue to bolster transitions services at the high school level and to continue to promote inclusion and foster consistency among the elementary schools.
Other recommendations included were to explore ways to increase classroom space, establish a clear process and timeline for transportation assignments and continue to apply for Special Education Medicaid Initiative funds.
Questions were raised during public comment regarding the level of parental input in the formation of the special education report, particularly the Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG). Heinegg stated that a survey had gone out in January but that “we always welcome parental input”.
The following statement was issued by Jessica Wilson who is the lead facilitator of the district’s SEPAG group: “The CWC (Caldwell-West Caldwell) Family SEPAG was disappointed that those conducting the analysis did not seek any input from the families involved with special education in the district when they set out to perform what in essence was a self-review. On behalf of those families, the SEPAG did pose several questions we were hoping to see answered, but the final results fell far short of our expectations. The SEPAG has plans to request a formal audit from the state that will dive further into the pressing issues that families have about special education services the district provides to students and their families."
During agenda items the board rescinded the following 2020 summer enrichment programs: summer enrichment camp, young explorers program, adventure travel camp, extended day program and the kindergarten camp by Little Scholars LLC. However, there was confirmation that the special education summer extended program will take place but be presented online.
Personnel items included the acceptance of the retirement of Stephen Trivino a Teacher of Science at James Caldwell High School and the recission of the appointment of a school safety specialist.
During public comment parents spoke of their concerns for the upcoming school year and what it may look like. As there has been no decision from the Department of Education (DOE) on the matter yet, the Superintendent confirmed that the district will be preparing for different scenarios as they await direction by the DOE.
The next board of education meeting will be a special public meeting June 29th.