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Back on Track, The Board of Education Meeting of Jan. 12, 2012

PERTH AMBOY — The Board of Education meeting of Jan. 12, 2012 was alive with progress reports and improvements regarding the education of children.  It apparent early on that the tone of the meeting had improved once the Board returned from its two-hour executive session to start the public meeting at nearly 8 p.m.  A statement by President Samuel Lebreault was made that stricter adherence to Robert’s Rules for meetings will occur.  Some of the good news included:

Various donations were announced.  Dr. Dulce Rodriguez spoke of a generous donation by the family of staff member Mary Howell so that students from Patten Elementary could visit the Camden Aquarium; Bill Carrey explained a donation of media equipment from the news division of WPIX-TV Channel 11 – as that station upgrades theirs, Shull School will receive the previous equipment.  It is likely Channel 11 will visit the school, as this is the first middle school they have connected with.  Shull could feasibly become a school dedicated to Communication and Arts, this thematic practice by school is being introduced.  Thirdly, the Elk Lodge 784 has raised $1,500 for teachers to utilize according to a wish list.

Maria Bermudez and Edgardo Vasquez described a program in Brooklyn that they had gone to see in action:  School of One.  They requested a vote on piloting this in April, which passed.  Innovative components of this program include wall-less classrooms of 80-100 students with 4-5 teachers in place, individualized learning schedules for each student daily and daily assessment for each student to determine their lesson content/activities for the next day.  Students view their learning schedule at the beginning of each day and proceed accordingly.  Such tailor made programs could allow students to leap ahead or receive more reinforcement, based on their needs.

A report by Mary Ann Tsoukalas. Food Service Manager, explained how our food program surpasses both state and federal guidelines and requirements and was given recognition this past September by Advocates for Children of NJ.  The program will be used as a model by other schools.

Dr. Vivian Rodriguez gave updates on Quantum Learning, the Cambridge Company/assistance with creation of assessments, Instructional Realms training for administrators and Atlas Rubicon curriculum mapping software.  Mr. Jim Baio, IT Director, gave an impressive demo of new Access/Excel software recently developed by his team, informally titled SID – Schools Integrated Data – which provides real time data at a snap for nearly every conceivable piece of data related to attendance, discipline, grades and test scores for individual students, classes, grade levels, a particular school or the entire district at a glance.

Student Rep John Parrish reported that tutors are coming very soon in the areas of math, science and language arts.  “The Learning Center is experiencing a lot of use; can you imagine when the tutors arrive?” Also, a dual-enrollment program is being worked on with Kean College.

Secretary Derek Jess reported that the district’s audit (6/30/11) received the best rating allowable by the State of NJ and the surplus of 12 million dollars will be added to next year’s budget.

Mr. Lebreault also acknowledged the passing of various staff’s family members and also that of Mr.LeRoy Nanton, who had been a “teacher’s teacher” and a moment of silence was held for all.  The newly re-organized Parent/Teacher Organization at the high school was congratulated (see details forthcoming in the Guardian).

Under Old Business, Board Member Mark Carvajal discussed revamped policies soon going online.  Ms. Roman asked for a follow up to the offer made by Wells Fargo Bank on financial responsibility workshops for young people – staff member Mrs. Morgan reported this had occurred and had been a fantastic workshop.  Clarification was also given by Superintendent Dr. Janine Walker Caffrey regarding the addition of a Performing Arts Academy for music and theater, which is an improvement over the previous system which allowed only a very limited number of students to attend and students were missing too much regular instruction to attend (including travel time).  The visual arts program is still available and research into working with a community college is underway so that students can earn some college credit for their portfolios.

Board Member Israel Varela asked if student teaching was still occurring?  The response was that impact on learning through that program will be completed by the end of the month.  No student teachers are in place yet for the year ‘12-‘13.   Mr. Varela also sincerely thanked the various community groups that provided an abundance of holiday gifts during this past season.  Board member Mark Carvajal remarked on a few final topics.  First, he looks forward to the upcoming Board Retreat.   He stated community input is critical for both planning to spend the $39M and the 8th Grade Graduation.  He concluded by acknowledging that the appointment process last week had not been “seamless” and regarding ball dropping, “We all dropped the ball.”

The public portion included statements ranging from “Where do teachers and staff turn when they feel bullied?” by Linda Nagy, Counselor.  One parent asked when answers to questions previously asked at previous Board meetings (in this case, on some personnel matters) would be forthcoming?  She was assured a report would be coming soon.  One student asked for the guidelines on ROTC fundraising.  Parent Donna Stewart advised of the next high school PTO meeting:  Feb. 6, 2012 in the high school library.  Teacher Lynn Audette expressed her concern of individualized curriculums in each school.  Finally, Board Member Ken Puccio encouraged teachers to “keep on coming to express your concerns.”

By Tracy Jordan

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