Acknowledging that COVID-19 again prevented us from welcoming students in person for special recognition, Board president Peggy Oster opened the virtual meeting with a video that gives us a glimpse into recent student achievement in athletics, volunteerism, and visual and performing arts. Included in the video were members of the Jefferson Green Team, which received the Student Recognition Award for Union County from the State Board of Education. Jefferson principal Dr. Susie Hung joined the meeting to talk about the Green Team and their prestigious recognition.
Also joining the virtual meeting were Buildings and Grounds supervisor Sean McArthur and Custodial Staff Coordinator Tony Cuccaro who not only have worked tirelessly to keep our buildings safe and secure but who also have lent their time and expertise to help the Westfield Police Department and other township departments. Mrs. Oster read a resolution for each of them, citing a March 25 letter from Westfield Police Chief Christopher Battiloro in which he commends Mr. McArthur and Mr. Cuccaro for their help in regularly disinfecting department offices and patrol vehicles.
SUPERINTENDENT’S REPORT I noted that I have spent a great deal of time listening to suggestions for what we could do better or differently, in terms of our Black History curriculum and our response to acts of hate. We are supporting and checking in on our staff members and students. We have begun to plan professional development for teachers at all levels. We have received suggestions for better resources and will review them. And, we have already held a number of class and grade and school conversations. I outlined some examples of these important conversations including the recent virtual “Social Justice 5th Grade Summit” hosted by McKinley School, an honest and open discussion in an 8th grade Advanced Debate class at Roosevelt, and a Summer Discussion Series and other initiatives planned by the WHS “No Place for Hate” Committee.
I also spoke of ways that our technology and buildings and grounds departments are preparing for September, with Board members Robert Garrison and Michael Bielen providing details later in the meeting during their committee reports.
I provided a brief reminder of State guidelines regarding the number of people allowed to gather together outdoors for an in-person graduation. Each school district is trying to determine what works best for their school communities under changing guidelines. We are no different. We will continue to ask questions and seek additional guidance from the State, as we plan for and look forward to an in-person graduation to celebrate the Class of 2020 on Wednesday, July 8 at 3 p.m. Mrs. Asfendis continues to communicate the details with WHS families.
In response to a question from Mrs. Oster, I stated that the virtual ceremony originally planned for June 23 has been modified. It will no longer be a virtual formal ceremony but families of seniors will receive a link to a special Senior Tribute video on that day which will be posted afterwards on the high school webpage.
The Board accepted with regret the retirements of Westfield High School Industrial Arts teacher James Hart and Lincoln School kindergarten teacher Joellen Surace, effective June 30, 2020. Mr. Hart is fond of saying that he has never worked a day in his life because he loves sharing his woodworking and technology skills with his students. Mrs. Surace has taught kindergarten for 26 years, 12 of those years as part of the original team at the Lincoln Early Childhood Center. We wish Mr. Hart and Mrs. Surace all the best in retirement.
The Board approved the appointment of Elizabeth Reilly as acting English Language Arts Supervisor for grades K-5 and Warren Hynes as acting English Language Arts Supervisor for grades 6-12. The two educators will share the position on an acting basis, as current K-12 ELA Supervisor Dr. Tiffany Jacobson becomes interim principal at the Lincoln Early Childhood Center for the 2020-2021 school year. The new appointment for Mrs. Reilly, a fourth grade teacher at Washington School, is effective August 17, 2020 through June 30, 2021. Mr. Hynes will continue with his primary responsibilities as assistant principal at Westfield High School, while assuming the acting ELA position for grades 6-12 from August 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. Before becoming assistant principal, Mr. Hynes was a longtime English teacher who is respected, knowledgeable, and skilled. Mrs. Reilly is a literacy coach and leader in her building who is extremely excited to give back to the district in this new way for the 2020-2021 school year.
Facilities Chairman Michael Bielen reported on a recent meeting at which topics included a town proposal to renovate the field at Edison Intermediate School and efforts to safeguard our buildings against COVID-19. Mr. Bielen mentioned a feasibility study commissioned by the Town of Westfield to see if the Edison fields can be expanded and utilized by the community when not in use by the school district. He noted a variety of steps would need to be taken before any decisions are made, including a review by a committee that includes representatives of the Town and the Board.
Mr. Bielen stated that Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Sean McArthur attended the meeting and provided an overview of what his department has and continues to do to maintain our facilities during COVID-19. Our custodians continue to disinfect and sanitize our buildings from top to bottom, using all EPA-certified products. We are installing ultraviolet air cleaners for our nurses’ offices to eliminate viruses, bacteria, and other germs in the air, as well as air purifiers for areas with central air conditioning, including auditoriums and cafeterias – both measures produce better indoor air quality. We have purchased additional freestanding and bottles of hand sanitizers, masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for all facilities staff. The maintenance and custodial staff continues to run water at the buildings to prevent possible water contamination, open all rooms for air circulation, and run the HVAC and air conditioning units periodically to prevent mold or mildew issues.
Committee members discussed summer projects for 2020 and 2021, including upgrading air conditioning units in the high school computer room this summer and classroom and bathroom renovations for summer 2021, Mr. Bielen said.
Mr. Bielen also reported that the district will apply for a school security grant as outlined in the preliminary guidelines of Alyssa’s Law, which requires that each elementary and secondary school building be equipped with at least one silent panic alarm that is directly linked to local law enforcement authorities. The district has installed a panic button in each school and is in the process of upgrading the connection to the police department. Mr. Bielen said any grant money received will be put toward security programs as determined by the district and the Board.
LONG RANGE PLANNING
Long Range Planning Committee Chair Gretchan Ohlig noted that a number of topics, including distance learning and full day kindergarten, would be discussed at the committee meeting on June 17.
The Board approved the Memorandum of Understanding between the Westfield Board of Education and the Westfield Police Department.
CURRICULUM, INSTRUCTION AND PROGRAMS
Curriculum Committee Chair Amy Root reported that distance learning and summer enrichment opportunities for families would be among the topics at a committee meeting on June 18.
Business Administrator Dana Sullivan provided clarification on several agenda items, stating that the amounts listed for transfer into Capital and Maintenance accounts are maximum numbers and do not reflect the actual amounts that may be transferred in the fall. Mrs. Sullivan also noted a change in the district’s prescription benefits provider, which was discussed with the presidents of each educational association.
TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATION
Technology and Communication Chair Robert Garrison read from a statement written by Chief Technology Officer Brian Auker regarding a recent meeting at which multiple aspects of distance learning were discussed. Mr. Auker reported that the district loaned over 250 devices to families for distance learning over the past three months. These devices are scheduled to be returned on Wednesday, June 24. Families will receive an e-mail with instructions explaining the return process. Students who need devices for summer programs – for example, the Extended School Year (ESY) and English Language Learners (ELL) programs – will be able to pick up the devices during the week of June 29.
Mr. Auker noted that while September will bring challenges, like the rest of the district, the Technology Department is preparing to deal with all of these possibilities. The redeployment of Chromebooks to each student on a 1:1 basis to minimize the sharing of devices is among the plans being considered. The Technology Department will announce specific plans as we receive guidance from the State about school operations for September.
In response to a question from Mr. Bielen, Mr. Auker stated that the district is purchasing additional Chromebooks to ensure that each student will have one if it is decided to issue them.
Mr. Garrison thanked Mr. Auker and his team, our teachers, and all district staff in pulling together to do “an amazing job” with distance learning.
Mr. Garrison reported that the Wilson PTO met last week and elected its new leadership for the 2020-2021 school year. He noted that Mr. Malanga also addressed a number of issues, including distance learning and the status of summer activities. Mr. Garrison also expressed well wishes to retiring head custodian Vinh Ho and his successor, Wilson custodian Jack Fariello.
Mrs. Oster noted that, while she has thanked the district staff and community for all of its efforts this year, she wanted to thank her fellow Board members as well for their commitment and the considerable giving of their time as they juggle their own jobs and family responsibilities.
I also extended my appreciation to Board members for their support of and commitment to our students.
A recording of the entire Board of Education virtual meeting will be posted on the district website at www.westfieldnjk12.org under the Board tab.
The WHS “No Place for Hate” Committee is offering a Summer Discussion Series for Westfield students entering grades 9-12 who wish to talk to peers and educators and to further their education on the subject of race. The group will meet virtually via Google Meet at 10 a.m. on six Tuesdays during the summer – June 30, July 7, July 14, July 21, July 28, and September 1. If you are interested in joining this important discussion, please email Warren Hynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kimberly Leegan atkleegan@westfieldnj12,org. Additional details are available on the district and school home pages at www.westfieldnjk12.org.
The next scheduled meeting of the Board of Education will be on Tuesday, September 1 at 7:30 p.m. The location is to be determined as we await further guidance from the State about what a return to the new school year will look like. The complete agenda of the meeting will be available on Friday, August 28 under the Board tab on the district website. Mrs. Oster noted that the Board may need to hold additional meetings during the summer.
Margaret Dolan, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools