Synopsis of Westfield Board of Education Meeting on December 3, 2019

On behalf of the entire Board of Education, Board President Peggy Oster congratulated Washington Elementary School on its designation as a 2019 National Blue Ribbon School.  Principal Dr. Andrew Perry, along with students and staff, welcomed the Board to Washington School with a presentation that included remarks by Dr. Perry and Co-PTO President Wendy Nitche, a video tribute produced by fifth grade teacher John Borja, occasional good-humored (and orchestrated) musical interruptions by members of the school band, and an exuberant flash mob dancing to the song, “Sunshine in my Pocket.”

AUDIT REPORT 

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The Board received an overview of the annual audit of the 2018-2019 school year, prepared by Hodulik and Morrison, P.A., a division of PKF O’Connor Davies. Auditor Bob Morrison reported that the Westfield Public School District’s accounting practices are in full compliance and that our financial information is accurate and consistent in application according to rules of the State and accounting standards. The data was found reliable.

Mr. Morrison’s staff spent weeks in the district testing internal controls and procedures in addition to our compliance with federal grants. He confirmed that the district’s internal controls are operating effectively and designed appropriately. His firm issued a clean report, with no non-compliance issues. Mr. Morrison complimented Business Administrator Dana Sullivan and her staff for using best practices which, he said, he holds up to other school districts as positive examples.

PERSONNEL

The Board accepted with regret the retirement of longstanding and beloved substitute teacher Ellen Shapiro, effective November 1, 2019. We wish her well in her retirement. 

LONG RANGE PLANNING

Long Range Planning Committee Chair Amy Root reported that the committee met immediately before the board meeting to discuss the options for implementing full day kindergarten. She noted that the full Board had previously discussed proceeding with a referendum for constructing additional classrooms and that the Board heard from the district architect in August regarding tentative plans for additions to Washington and Jefferson Schools. 

Mrs. Root stated that the committee continues to explore a few additional options to ensure that all reasonable alternatives are exhausted before committing to a referendum. She said that, as the Board moves forward, it will communicate the information necessary for the Westfield community to understand the options and challenges relative to implementing full day kindergarten.  

POLICIES

The Board approved for first reading the 2021-2022 School Calendar. Policies Committee Chair Brendan Galligan noted that schools currently will remain open on Election Day in 2021.

The Board approved for first reading the following policies:

  • 0146 Board Member Authority (Bylaws) 
  • 0151 Organization Meeting (Bylaws) 
  • 0152 Board Officers (Bylaws)
  • 0167 Public Participation in Board Meetings (Bylaws) 
  • 0168 Recording Board Meetings (Bylaws) 
  • 2418 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – Students (Program) 
  • 5330 Administration of Medication (Pupils)

The Board approved for second reading the following policies:

  • 0131 Bylaws and Policies (Bylaws) 
  • 0141 Board Member Number and Term (Bylaws) 
  • 0142 Board Member Qualifications, Prohibited Acts and Code of Ethics (Bylaws) 
  • 0142.1 Nepotism (Bylaws) 
  • 5611 Removal of Pupils for Firearms Offenses (Pupils) 
  • 5613 Removal of Pupils for Assaults with Weapons Offenses (Pupils) 
  • 8130 School Organization (Operations) 
  • 8465 Hate Crimes and Bias-Related Acts (Operations) 
  • 9150 School Visitors (Community) 

The Board affirmed my decision on two HIB incidents.

CURRICULUM,  INSTRUCTION AND  PROGRAMS

The Board approved district field trips and overnight field trips as correlated with curriculum.

The Board approved for first reading the following curricula:

English 

Journalism I 

Journalism II 

Journalism III 

School Library Media, Grades K-12

 

Practical Arts 

Financial Literacy 

TV Production – The Morning Show (New Curriculum)

 

The Board approved for second reading the following curricula:

Social Studies 

Power, Privilege & Imbalance in American Society

 

Visual & Performing Arts 

Dance, Grades K-2 

Dance, Grades 3-5 

Dance, Grades 6-8 

Dance, Grades 9-12

The Board approved voluntary Student Teacher/Intern candidates for the 2019-2020 school year.

After a motion by Board member Michael Bielen to table a vote on the second reading of the Social Studies elective was not approved, the Board approved the elective — “Power, Privilege and Imbalance in American Society” —  in a 6-3 vote.  Prior to the vote, the Board heard from 27 members of the community who expressed views on why they felt the elective course should or should not be approved for Westfield High School. 

I provided background on the nearly two-year process leading up to this vote, noting that the district’s more than 370 policies — which are reviewed and updated on a regular cycle —  are the bedrock of the school system, directing and guiding the actions and decisions of all the district’s stakeholders, including the Board of Education, its administrators and supervisors, and its teaching staff. 

Two particular policies are salient to the conversation — Policy 2220 (Adoption of Courses) and Policy 2240 (Controversial Issues). The evolution of this particular elective stems from and expands upon the longstanding African American Studies elective at Westfield High School.  Our teachers in the secondary social studies department have been trained to help students develop the skills of participating in civilized discussions and respectful dialogue.  In fact, one of the originators of this elective is a teacher who is in the doctoral program at Rutgers University with an emphasis on “Equity in Education.” 

Many of the resource materials developed for the “Power, Privilege and Imbalance in American Society” elective are grounded in the original African American Studies elective and have been expanded upon, based on careful research. Careful consideration also has been given to the need to offer this elective to more mature students as they prepare to transition into the greater world and society beyond high school; this one-semester elective course will be open only to students in 11th and 12th grade. 

I believe this course will respect and underscore the district’s mission statement which reads:  “The Westfield Public School District, in partnership with families and community, educates all students to reach their highest potential as productive, well-balanced, and responsible citizens who respect individual differences and diversity in an ever changing world.”

Mrs. Oster stated that the decision to vote on the elective had not been rushed and that the course had been vetted fully by the social studies team and members of the Curriculum, Instruction and Programs Committee before bringing it to the full board, a process, she said, takes place each time a new course is approved.

Board members Michael Bielen, Brian Morrissey, and Tara Oporto voted against approving “Power, Privilege and Imbalance in American Society.”  Mrs. Oporto expressed concern over the concept of Critical Race Theory and stated that she feels strongly that the elective course, as outlined, does not fairly represent all members of society.  Mr. Morrissey said that, while he unequivocally supports the thoughtful discussion of racial discrimination in the classroom, he cannot ascertain how the course materials will address all the learning objectives defined in the course curriculum and feels, as a new board member, he did not have enough time to examine the materials.  Mr. Bielen thanked community members for attending the meeting to express their views. He stated that he supports offering the course but feels additional review is needed, including having additional resource materials, submitted by members of the community, vetted by the social studies team.

Board member Gretchan Ohlig suggested that the vote did not need to be derailed by discussion of supplemental materials that could be reviewed at a later date and included in the course, if deemed appropriate by the social studies team. I noted that, for the course to appear in the 2020-2021 Course of Studies, it would need to be approved by January.

recording of the entire Board of Education meeting can be viewed on the district website at www.westfieldnjk12.org.

 

FINANCE

The Board accepted with gratitude a gift of $884.40 from the Lincoln School PTO to purchase four portable radios.

LIAISON REPORTS

Board member Brendan Galligan reported on his attendance at a recent meeting of the New Jersey School Boards Association delegate assembly.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

WESTFIELD HIGH SCHOOL

Congratulations to Westfield High School seniors Brad Hornbeck, Jeremy Kronheimer, Stephen Park and Angela Wang for their perfect scores of 800 on the Math Level 2 portion of the October SAT.

Congratulations to the following Westfield High School choir students who were among the top high school musicians in New Jersey to perform with the All State Chorus in Atlantic City on November 8 and at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on November 17:  Daniel Andrade, Luke Barry, Olivia Ebel, Charles Garretson, Sam Horvath, Zaria Katz, Joshua Madera, Finn McGurn, Matthew Meixner, Vincent Mora, Aishik Palit, Elisa Saint-Denis, and Rachel Seiden.

Congratulations to the cast and crew of Westfield High School’s fall production, “Radium Girls” which was performed before enthusiastic audiences last month. Hats off as well to director Daniel Devlin and the dedicated theatre parent community that supports each production.

INTERMEDIATE

We applaud the cast and crew of Roosevelt’s fall production of “The Outsiders.” Congratulations to our talented students, play director Kimberly Jonny and the parents and others who work behind the scenes to help bring these amazing productions to the stage.

ELEMENTARY

A team of six Jefferson School fifth graders will compete in the state championship of the First Lego League, a robotics competition that has students, ages 9-14, designing, building, programming and testing an autonomous robot while applying real-world math and science concepts. Team Legorio, made up of Luke Jenner, Neev Nedungadi, Mahie Panjwani, Aaron Rudnick, Evan Tukaczynski and Wilson Wright, was one of 5 teams out of 24 to advance during a qualifying round on November 24. The team also won the Project Award for outstanding innovative project. Team Legorio, which is run by parent volunteers, will compete against 80 teams from across the state on Dec. 14 and 15.

DISTRICT 

There is no shortage of year-round examples of our students, staff, and families giving back to the community in a variety of ways, with the holiday season an important time to remember those less fortunate.  We thank all of our school communities for their food drives, winter coat collections, holiday gift giving, and many other service-based initiatives to support others in times of need. 

A total of 29 winter concerts are taking place in Westfield Public Schools, beginning December 3 and ending on February 8. The entire schedule can be found on the district’s website at www.westfieldnjk12.org in the December-January edition of Arts a la Carte. Westfield senior citizens are once again invited to the final rehearsal of Westfield High School’s Winter Choral Concert on Wednesday, December 18 from 10:45 to 11:45 a.m. in the high school’s auditorium at 550 Dorian Road. There is ramp access at the front of the auditorium.  For security reasons, all senior residents planning to attend this special daytime performance should contact Coordinator of School and Community Relations Mary Ann McGann at (908) 789-4463 or mmcgann@westfieldnjk12.org at least 24 hours in advance to make an appointment to attend.

Congratulations to Westfield High School social studies teacher Kimberly Leegan and English teacher Steven Cohn, who gave a presentation at the annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies in Austin, Texas on November 23-24, 2019. The presentation proposal was selected through a rigorous, juried process from among more than 1,300 submissions. Mrs. Leegan and Mr. Cohn’s presentation was entitled “Choosing to Participate: Lessons Learned from Maycomb” which looked at the ways students can develop empathy, apply knowledge and take informed action through service learning projects built upon lessons inspired by the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.  Andrea Brennan, Supervisor of K-12 Social Studies, also attended the conference.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction & Programs Paul Pineiro and other New Jersey educators recently welcomed a Chinese delegation of elementary school principals to the Garden State as part of a Kean University program that pairs elementary, middle and high schools in New Jersey with counterparts in China.  Mr. Pineiro visited China in June as part of this educational partnership that focuses on innovation and development in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  The full story on this STEM partnership can be found on the district website at www.westfieldnjk12.org.   

KINDERGARTEN & FIRST GRADE REGISTRATION 

Looking ahead to the 2020-2021 school year: In January, the district will conduct kindergarten registration for all children who are residents of Westfield and will reach the age of 5 on or before October 1, 2020. First grade registration also will be held for children who are residents of Westfield and will reach the age of 6 on or before October 1, 2020 and have not yet attended the Westfield Public Schools. The registration schedule and forms are posted on the district’s website on the Family Resources tab under “Student Registration.” 

SCHOOLS CLOSED 

The Westfield Public Schools will be closed for winter break from Monday, Dec. 23 through Wednesday, Jan. 1. 

NEXT BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING 

The next meeting of the Westfield Board of Education will include the reorganization of the Board and will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at 302 Elm Street. The complete agenda will be available on Friday, Jan. 3 on the Board section of the district website. 

Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season.