PERTH AMBOY – Despite a relatively impressive retreat meeting held by the Perth Amboy Board of Education, the big story was the lack of parents and teachers in attendance.
Only four teachers from the school district showed up to hear the future plans of the Perth Amboy education system, which was noticed by not only the board but also some residents that came to listen. The concerns of disinterest within the city were brought up during the public session of the meeting.
“How is it that when the board and superintendent are talking about the negative morale in the school district, none of the teachers come to listen?” resident Cecil Graham asked the board. “There was a lot of good stuff said here today, but most of the city won’t know about it because they’re not here or won’t want to look for it.”
There was confusion on whether or not the parents and teachers were notified about the meeting, which was unusually held on a Saturday morning. Richardson Elementary Kindergarten teacher Lynn Audet, who was one of the few teachers to speak, explained that none of the teachers knew about the meeting.
“There was no clear vision amongst the teachers of this meeting taking place, and there was no announcement about what time to be here,” Audet said. “The only reason why I’m here is because the Educational Leaders of the district just got out of another scheduled meeting upstairs and I heard this going on.”
Resident Veralouise Davis, a parent of two Perth Amboy students, noted that she did receive a phone call from the city informing her of the meeting, but was disappointed that other parents weren’t in attendance. She feared that there was a stigma coming over the city and not enough was being done to unify Perth Amboy.
“I got three phone calls about today’s meeting and checked the website for the available times, yet there’s still nobody here with me,” Davis said. “I don’t see how a community can move forward with our education system if nobody is here to listen.”
Davis also noted that Perth Amboy was becoming a temporary living location because of the school system, and she was worried that her family would have to move because of the current plans in place. She had originally moved from Piscataway to Perth Amboy because of the pre-school program, but told the board she may have to pack up again.
Mobility was one of the main problems that Superintendent Janine Caffrey talked about in her Intra-district presentation to the board. She noted that mobility within the district ranged from 17-27 percent last year, and it has become an issue that the board will have to work toward fixing in the 2012-2013 school year.
“More things need to be done in order to get everyone on the same page,” Davis said. “Teachers need to be on the calling list or something because there’s a stigma that Perth Amboy’s system is not up to par and I’m afraid I’ll have to make plans to move once my daughter hits the fourth grade.”
Board of Education Vice President Kenneth Puccio was very vocal following the open comments from the public, explaining that the board did make it known that the meeting would be taking place. Puccio understood why the public was so upset, but explained that messages were sent out to the residents of Perth Amboy.
“We all do our due diligence to make sure things get done and are done right, and I only open my mouth when I’ve done my due diligence,” Puccio told the audience. “I know for a fact that 1,000 e-mails went out to parents a week ago and phone calls were made to notify them of the retreat, so things were done to get people here.”
Resident Lou Vargas also admired the work of the council and took the microphone to praise the job they did on the presentation. He wanted to make it clear to the public that it wasn’t just the board who was at fault.
“We have to remember that it’s Saturday and the board members don’t get paid to be here. They volunteer their time and energy and the only reward is the furthering of our children’s education,” Vargas said. “Let’s spend more time on the problems the city faces and move forward as a team to reach our ultimate goal.”
However, Puccio was still upset about the lack of teachers and administrators in attendance and didn’t understand how the leaders of the district didn’t make time to come. He believed that it would have been beneficial for them to be there if parents had a question about their child’s school.
“I’m disappointed that not every principal and department head was here today, and I think all of them should have been here,” Puccio said. “If parents would have come and had questions about certain schools, then the principals at least should have been here to step up and answer the tough questions.”
By some surprise, Mayor Wilda Diaz voiced her opinion during the public session after sitting in the audience to hear the Superintendent’s presentation. She praised Dr. Caffrey’s eye-opening lecture and urged the board to work together to do more for the city’s children.
“I just wanted to note the suburb presentation that Dr. Caffrey gave us today, but with that we must realize that we have to change the way business is done around here,” Diaz said. “I believe we have great teachers in Perth Amboy, but we need to continue to change with the times and update our curriculums to prepare our children for the future.”
One of the most popular presentations came from Dr. Nestor Callazo, who proposed the idea of bringing the S.T.E.M. program to Perth Amboy High School and the rest of the public school system. S.T.E.M., which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, is something that he believed would not only change the way things are taught but prepare students for the world’s top rated jobs.
“Of the 20 fastest growing professions known today, 15 of them require significant science and math educations,” Callazo explained to the board. “More then half of our students don’t go into the career choice they want because they don’t know how to start, but with this program we will bring the professionals to them and advance their education to prepare them.”
Mayor Diaz agreed with the need to advance the use of technology and better the way teachers presented themselves to their students. She once again praised the great presentation, but believed the word had to be spread to the town to get things moving.
“We are blinded by the current state of technology in the world, and we need to start getting with the times,” Diaz said. “The information we’ve seen today needs to be shared with the rest of our education system. We need to get this out there and show that we truly care about our children.”
Despite the back and forth beliefs of the board and residents, Israel Varela concluded the meeting by attempting to unify the two sides. He explained that nothing can get done if everyone is against each other.
“Let’s not point fingers, we are all at fault for what’s going on with the education system,” Varela said. “I believe in the saying ‘Collaboration, Consensus, and No Fault’. Let’s not fault each other but rather come together and fight this together. Don’t point at one another.”
The meeting was recorded and will be televised in the next week or two. The presentation made by Dr. Caffrey will also be posted online in the future, and the Board of Education urges those who were not in attendance to read up on the information regarding their children.
by Joseph L. Kuchie