WEST ESSEX, NJ - West Essex Board of Education President MaryAdele Wojtowicz began the meeting by recognizing administrators, custodial and teaching staff, and the graduating seniors as she congratulated all for their efforts, professionalism, and decorum during the recent commencement ceremony.  Wojtowicz referenced “an amazing day” and that it was “a nice way to close out the school year giving the students an opportunity to be together one last time”.  She stated she was particularly touched by the way the students all cheered for each other during the ceremony ensuring that their classmates were all equally celebrated as they walked to the podium.

Members of the board reflected on the graduation.  Debra Sacco-Calderone stated that the graduation “was truly a surreal event with no audience and all students truly permeated an appreciation to be there with their class.” Frank Perrotti thanked the administration for their “well thought out graduation and drive-thru parade.”  Perrotti continued that the students “took it seriously and were proud and dignified.”  Ray Stampone whose son graduated stated it was “a beautiful ceremony and gave a sense of closure for our students”.  Jill Marcus noted “it was quite a year” and extended congratulations to the class calling them “the most resilient we have ever seen”.

Wojtowicz reported that the administration has been working diligently to plan for different scenarios for the new school year with the primary goal of providing for the safety and health of returning students and faculty.  The administration has created multiple committees inclusive of representation from every job description in the district, parents, board members and health officers.  Data that is being reviewed are the results of school surveys, New Jersey Department of Education guidelines and deadlines, Center for Disease Control, State and Federal requirements.

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Superintendent Damion Macioci stated that the meeting was not intended to be an open forum event but that a special meeting will be added for July 30th when there will be an opportunity for stakeholders to engage in a dialogue as plans are discussed.  He reminded the public that the “health and safety is always a priority and every decision we make we resort back to that as we move ahead.”  Macioci’s superintendent report provided the public with the timeline that the district has been working with as they formulate plans for school’s opening in September. 

On Friday, June 26th the New Jersey Department of Education issued directives from their “The Road Back” 106 page report that stated:  “Accordingly, absent a shift in the public health data, school buildings will open in some capacity for in-person instruction and operations in the Fall….To that end, each district will be expected to develop, in collaboration with community stakeholders, a plan to reopen schools in the Fall that best fits the district’s local needs.” The document may be accessed at https://www.nj.gov/education/reopening/NJDOETheRoadBack.pdf.

Districts are required to submit their plans for opening by July 31st and are required to disclose to their communities plans for schools reopening no later than four weeks before schools begins.  Classes are set to resume on September 2nd.

By July 2nd the district had created six task force groups to address and formulate critical components of a reopening plan.  The task force groups are focused on:  Social Emotional Learning and School Climate and Culture, Facilities, Medical, Building Operations, Extra Curricular/Athletics and Distance Learning.  A powerpoint detailing the individual committee’s charge may be found on the district’s website.   In addition to the internal task force groups which are comprised of board members, staff members, parents, and health officers Macioci confirmed he is in daily discussions with the sending districts in addition to neighboring superintendents.

A timeline of action items was presented as follows: 

  • Week of July 13 - Data review, committee selection, meetings
  • Week of July 20 - Meetings, surveys (transportation and students)
  • Week of July 27 - Meetings, special BOE meeting, review plan
  • Week of August 3 - Refine/Revise, BOE Meeting.

Regarding sports, the superintendent stated the district is complying with the guidelines set forth by the New Jersey School Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) who has already pushed back the fall season.  Information may be found at: https://www.njsiaa.org/events-news-media/news/njsiaa-builds-return-play-plan-provides-updates-fall-sports-season.

Most of the members of the board thanked the administration for their efforts and hard work for the unprecedented spring semester, graduation and continued planning for the upcoming school year particularly in a time that is normally an opportunity for administrators to take some time off and spend time with their families.  This summer the administration and the board will have no down time and will put in extraordinary time and effort as they try to conceptualize and plan for a school year that can change in a nano second.

Agenda items included approving with “deepest regret” the letter of resignation for retirement purposes, after 18 years, of Patricia McCarthy as a social studies teacher assigned to the middle school effective October 1st.   The board and the West Essex Custodian/Maintenance Association have negotiated a successor collective negotiations agreement from 2020-2021 school year through the 2023-2024 school year and the board unanimously ratified the contract.

Under miscellaneous on the agenda an item subject to board approval was approving the New Jersey Department of Education’s School Self-Assessment for Determining Grades Under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act for the 2018-2019 school year.  Board members Jill Marcus and Jann Skelton had questions about the self-assessment and Skelton noted “any time I see a self-assessment with a perfect score I have questions.”  Skelton made a motion to table the item, seconded by Marcus.  The motion did not pass, and the item was approved by a 7:2 vote. 

Senior board member Ann Fahey advised the freshman board members moving forward if there are questions on agenda items, the protocol would be to reach out to the board president prior to the meeting so questions can be forwarded to the superintendent for clarification.  Board attorney Stephen Fogarty who was present for the meeting confirmed that the self-assessment was not dealing with substantive matters on individual cases but rather confirmation of compliance with process and procedures such as confirming trainings and assemblies.

Public commenters did thank the staff for their efforts this past semester, though many were critical of the administration particularly as it related to the timeline moving forward as the administration formulates plans for school’s reopening.  Although Macioci referenced the district’s timeline with parameters set forth by the NJDOE residents expressed their concerns noting their anxiety, criticisms of last semester’s online learning experiences, the need for more professional development of the staff, the presentation of special education’s related services and IEP implementation amongst a myriad of other issues. 

Other concerns were about addressing the retention of last year’s curricula, concern for medically fragile staff and students who may be unable to return, plans for SAT and ACT testing as well as getting letters of recommendations for colleges.  Most of the speakers identified themselves as residents of North Caldwell although a resident of Essex Fells towards the end of the meeting came on to thank the board and administration for all that they have been doing under the most trying of circumstances.

The next board meeting will be July 30th.