Board president Peggy Oster announced that master technology teacher Jeanine Gottko is the recipient of the 2020 Rotary Club of Westfield’s Philhower Fellowship in recognition of outstanding teaching at the elementary school level.
Ms. Gottko taught first and fifth grade at Franklin School for 15 years before working with both students and teachers as a master technology teacher in grades K-8 for the past 7 years. Mrs. Oster noted that Ms. Gottko will be recognized for her tremendous achievement at the next Board of Education virtual meeting on Tuesday, May 5 beginning at 7 p.m. Instructions for how to access our virtual Board meetings can be found on the district website at www.westfieldnjk12.org. Click on the Board tab and choose “Virtual Board Meetings” in the drop down menu.
I discussed the importance, during this isolating time, of focusing not only on our physical health, but also on mental wellness. I encourage any person who is struggling to reach out to a trusted friend, counselor, or colleague. We also have included mental health resources on our “Coronavirus Information” page on the district website, including a free, confidential telephone support line. This level of uncertainty from day to day can take its toll and, as a school community, we are here to support one another.
I have been energized by the many ways our community has found to connect with one another. Here are just a few examples:
- An evening virtual trivia game at our intermediate schools.
- Morning announcements at the high school, recorded twice weekly by members of the student government and posted on the website.
- Elementary school Spirit Days.
- A student-led virtual tutoring service created by one of our enterprising seniors.
- The many virtual staff meetings to discuss distance learning, along with these virtual Board of Education meetings to continue the important business of running a school district remotely.
- The ongoing culture of kindness as our PTOs, students, and staff participate in charitable efforts to help first responders, health care professionals, and families in need.
Our teachers, students, and families have settled into a digital learning routine that strikes an instructional balance of live and pre-recorded lessons that are appropriate to a child’s age and development. Posted assignments and extra-help sessions also are provided.
Our administrators and I meet frequently to discuss options for important end-of-the-school- year events, as well as what an eventual return to school might look like. Please know that we will continue to base any decisions on factual information, medical science, and the guidance of our government and public health officials.
I remain thankful for our resilient school community and hopeful for the future.
Policies Committee Chair Brendan Galligan reported that current Board bylaws did not address virtual Board meeting procedures as required by law. Mr. Galligan recommended that certain bylaws be suspended immediately in favor of updated bylaws so that the business of the Board could be properly conducted under virtual meeting conditions.
The Board approved suspending Bylaw 0131 requiring two Board readings to adopt a Bylaw and adopted the following bylaws on first reading:
- 0161 Call, Adjournment and Cancellation (Bylaws)
- 0163 Quorum (Bylaws)
- 0165 Voting (Bylaws)
- 0166 Executive Sessions (Bylaws)
- 0167 Public Participation in Board Meetings (Bylaws)
- 0168 Recording Board Meetings (Bylaws)
- 0170 Virtual Board Meetings (Bylaws)
PUBLIC HEARING ON 2020-2021 BUDGET
The Board unanimously adopted the school district budget for the 2020-2021 school year. The budget, which was adopted on a tentative basis by the Board on March 10, 2020, was approved by the Executive County Superintendent of Schools on March 25, 2020. Business Administrator Dana Sullivan presented a summary highlighting the financial and educational aspects of the budget. She gave examples of the high level of academic accomplishments by our students and noted that the majority of the budget is allocated toward instruction.
- The total operating budget is $111,214,016.
- The budget:
- maintains class sizes within policy guidelines;
- maintains funding for recently approved courses, school resource officers, and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL);
- maintains fund balance at 2%;
- stays within the 2% CAP.
- The budget demonstrates the district’s record of efficient spending and cost containment through self-insured medical and prescription plans, cooperative purchasing, solar energy savings, shared services with the Town of Westfield, and other measures.
- Non-essential capital and maintenance projects will be delayed due to the uncertainty caused by COVID-19;
- Although the district will receive an increase of $724,434 in state aid, the amount continues to be well below the amount due Westfield if the state formula were fully funded.
- The tax rate increase is 1.4%; the average increase to homeowners is approximately $141.
- Westfield continues to maintain its cost per pupil at less than similar school districts and the state average.
Mrs. Sullivan responded to questions from Board members about the possible impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the 2020-2021 budget. She stated that certain budget transfers for unexpected expenses are allowable within limits and that it is unclear what, if anything, will happen to state aid. When asked about tax payments due the district, she said the town does not expect to be delayed in payment this year. She said that her office works well with the town administrator and town treasurer and that the district will work with the town should they encounter financial difficulties due to COVID-19.
The Board accepted with regret, the retirement of the following staff:
- Steven Cattron, Maintenance, 8/31/2020
- Roy Chambers, Art Teacher, Westfield High School, 6/30/2020
- Donna Corea, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Lincoln School, 6/30/2020
- Maureen Ferraro, 2nd Grade Teacher, Jefferson School, 6/30/2020
- Elizabeth McDermott, Guidance Counselor, Westfield High School, 6/30/2020
- Audrey Zavetz, Principal, Lincoln School, 6/30/2020
These six staff members have given a total of 141 years of service to Westfield’s students. Mr. Cattron has worked in maintenance for 25 years. As a skilled electrician, Mr. Cattron does essential repair work for the district, performing each task with care and accuracy. He says he will truly miss being in our 10 schools and seeing the smiles of our students and the hard work of our teachers. For 16 years as both a pre-kindergarten special education teacher and a transitional kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Corea has been adept in finding enriching learning activities that hold the attention of our youngest learners and creates a sense of wonder and excitement in her classroom. Mrs. McDermott is a senior member of the high school’s counseling department where she has shown dedication and caring in her work with students and their families for 19 years. As a counselor, she has helped her students learn the importance of self-advocacy and independence. It’s hard to think of the high school without Mr. Chambers who has been a graphic design and drawing teacher for 21 years and who has challenged his students to expand their thinking and skills while successfully incorporating technology into the department. Mrs. Ferraro began her career in Westfield 34 years ago, first as a basic skills mathematics teacher at Tamaques, then as a beloved 2nd grade teacher at Jefferson who created a student-centered environment where students learn to be kind and respect one another. Audrey Zavetz is retiring after a full career in education, 26 years of those years spent in Westfield. As Lincoln School principal, Mrs. Zavetz has been the quintessential Lincoln Lion with her contagious enthusiasm, tremendous pride, loving commitment, and individual nurturing. We wish all of our retirees a happy and healthy retirement.
Facilities Committee Chair Michael Bielen reported that the committee recently reviewed the district’s 5-year plan. He gave a brief account of facilities and maintenance projects that are completed or nearing completion. While, as Mrs. Sullivan reported, certain non-essential capital and maintenance projects will be delayed due to COVID-19, Mr. Bielen stated that some summer maintenance projects that occur each year will continue.
CURRICULUM, INSTRUCTION AND PROGRAMS
The Board approved for first reading the following curricula:
AP Environmental Science
Visual & Performing Arts
- Concert Band
- Marching Band
- Symphonic Band
- Wind Ensemble
The Board also approved a voluntary Student Teacher/Intern candidate for the 2020-2021 school year and the purchase of Big Ideas Math for Algebra II.
The Board accepted with gratitude a gift of $1,799 from the Jefferson School PTO to purchase a greenhouse kit.
TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATION
Technology and Communication Committee Chair Robert Garrison reported on a recent meeting at which committee members heard reports on district communications, instructional technology, and the considerable efforts of our technology department to support distance learning. Coordinator of School and Community Relations Mary Ann McGann outlined the ways the district is communicating during this public health crisis, including my weekly emailed updates and responses to individual parent emails, a Coronavirus Information page on the district website that contains important resources, and social media posts with examples of our resilient and supportive school community. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Programs Paul Pineiro discussed the digital tools and instructional practices being utilized for distance learning. Chief Technology Officer Brian Auker reported on usage of Webex, Google Hangouts and other platforms and on how his team continues to support the technology needs of students and staff. Mr. Garrison noted the importance of instructional and technological support and praised Ms. Gottko, Mr. Auker and his technology team and our teachers. Board member Kent Diamond and Mrs. Oster also commended our teachers for their ability to quickly learn the technology, noting the long hours they are working to support their students.
Mr. Garrison also thanked the PTC and PTOs for their amazing fundraising and outreach efforts on behalf of the community. Additionally, he pointed out the distance learning tools and mental health resources available on the district website to help students and families during this stressful time.
I noted that all of our school counselors are working hard to address the needs of our families and, again, encouraged those who are struggling to visit the district website for mental wellness resources. Our page also links to the Westfield Mental Health Council’s webpage which is a tremendous resource. There are many people out there who are ready to help.
Mr. Galligan mentioned that the Union County and New Jersey School Boards Associations were holding virtual meetings on Wednesday, April 29 and that the NJSBA would host a virtual wellness webinar on Friday, May 1. He noted that I was invited to participate in an NJSBA podcast entitled “Conversations with Educators” on Thursday, April 30 to discuss the many ways our district is meeting the challenges presented by COVID-19.
Board member Kent Diamond reported that refunds for cancelled events and the officer slate for 2020-2021 were among the topics discussed at a recent meeting of the Tamaques PTO.
Mrs. Oster stated that the town continues with its plans for Westfield 300 and are examining options for a possible virtual celebration.
I attended a recent virtual PTC meeting where discussion included refunding money for food days and cancelled events as well. The PTC/PTOs also have raised quite a bit of money to purchase grocery store gift cards and are working with our business office to distribute the gift cards to families who need food.
Congratulations to Westfield High School 11th graders Claire Campbell and Jacob Delforte who earned perfect scores on the Reading portion of the February 8 ACT and to 11th graders Karan Chulliparambil and Jack Lehavi for achieving perfect scores in Math on the March 14 SAT.
The Westfield High School Marching Band will hold a virtual interest meeting via Webex on Thursday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m. for all interested 8th grade students and their parents. An email with information and an interest form was sent to all 8th grade families on April 20. You must complete the interest form to receive the link to the virtual meeting. Please contact band directors Chris Vitale at firstname.lastname@example.org or Trevor Sindorf at email@example.com with any questions.
This is a reminder that helpful digital learning resources for parents – including Webex, Google Hangouts, Google Meet, Google Classroom and more – can be found on the district website at www.westfieldnjk12.org on the “Coronavirus Information” page. Tips to improve video conferencing performances for Webex and Google also can be found there.
Margaret Dolan, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools