Summit Board of Education Communications Chairwoman Katherine Kalin outlines future discussion forum topics during Thursday's board workshop session. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Jefferson School Principal Ron Poles talks about community involvement and staffing changes in his school. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Summit School Officials Urge Patience, Feedback Over Unannounced Visitation Policy
Friday, September 13, 2013 • 7:42am
SUMMIT, NJ - In an effort to increase school security and decrease interruptions of staff during instructional time, Summit school officials announced at the end of the last school year that, beginning this school year, visitors wishing to come into the public schools during the day would have to notify school officials ahead of time.
A number of parents, members of common council and council candidates this summer and at the first governing body meeting of the new school year said the new policy was interfering with parental rights to go to their children's schools and decreasing parental interaction with school staff.
At Thursday's board of education workshop meeting, however, superintendent of schools Nathan Parker and board president Gloria Ron-Fornes said principals thus far reported that the policy had been accepted pretty well and parents did not feel it was decreasing their involvement in the schools.
Ron-Fornes, in her opening remarks before the meeting, said she had spoken to council members and parents, and a few were concerned the new system was “breaking the existing relationship between parents and the schools,” others saw it as a positive move and others “have told us that the change is reasonable and they don't think it will affect their relationship at all”.
She added that a few principals to whom she has spoken felt they would be greatly impacted by the loss of parent involvement on a daily basis and wanted to protect it.
The board president said she has worked in organization change consulting for many years and change scares people because they don't know how change will impact them personally or they feel change will impact their freedom in an unknown way.
These feelings, she said, are normal and necessary, but “in order for a change to really get buy in and work effectively for the purposes for which it was intended, the stakeholders have to understand it, test it, give feedback. The owner of the change has to take responsibility for listening and tweaking to address the big issues that arise during the initial implementation.”
She invited parents and staff to give feedback to their principals, adding, “Dr. Parker and I have also agreed that a few months into the school year, a check point will be taken to see how the change is impacting the schools and families. I ask you to just let it run its course for a few months but be sure to give feedback—what's working, what's not and how to improve.”
Parker added that, thus far, the principals report the city's parents seem to accept the new policy and some of them felt it has helped them become more rather than less engaged with their children's schools.
On another matter, education committee chairman Edgar Mokuvos reported that the school body continues to explore the idea of a pilot fullday kindergarten program to be financed through tuitions charged to parents who could afford it and subsidizing of tuition for parents who could not afford the program.
A board proposal for fullday kindergarten open to all district students at no cost was withdrawn earlier this year after the city's board of school estimate voted down funding of facilities improvements in connection with the proposal because board members said it would be too costly for taxpayers.
In his presentation at Thursday's meeting Mokuvos said the board was seeking a program that would charge a level of tuition to make it “budget neutral” and would require a minimum impact on existing school facilities.
He added that his committee and the board are trying to decide if a greater number of parents than projected will need tuition subsidies and if the district can collect enough tuition from full-pay students to be able to subsidize those who cannot afford the tuition.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools for Business Louis Pepe pointed out that he and district director of special services Jane Kachmar-Desonne did a survey of tuition-charging districts a few years ago and tuitions at that time were about $3,000 a year on the low end, $7,000 in the middle range and $11,000 at the top of the range.
On a related topic, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Julie Glazer said she recently offered representatives of all of Summit's non-public schools the chance to coordinate their programs with programs of study in the Summit public schools and only the Jewish Community Center was interested in pursuing that proposals.
In answer to a question from Melanie Wilson of Speakup Summit, Glazer noted that private schools are not required, as the public schools are, to adopt the core curriculum standards approved in 48 of the 50 states.
One of the prime justifications for fullday kindergarten is that it would help students to meet the core curriculum standards.
Ron-Fornes said the school body would present a discussion at a meeting in October so the public would know where the board stands on the fullday kindergarten pilot program.
In remarks on the extensive reconstruction program planned for the city's schools Pepe said the board would take money out of its capital reserve to fill the gap between the increased costs of the renovations and cost increases since the board of school estimate approved $17.5 million for the projects earlier this year.
Board operations committee chairman David Dietze noted that, due to an increase in construction projects around the state and more construction work available due to rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy original cost estimates on the Summit projects could have risen as much as 12 percent. He added, however, that Pepe's staff had managed to rein in costs so that the increase now will only be about 5 percent.
Pepe added that the school district also expected to save on costs to the city and from the board's capital reserve because of state reimbursement of up to 40 percent of the renovation pricetag through Phase IV of the RODs program.
Dietze noted, however, that some of the original projects had to be scaled back to prevent further cost increases.
Cutbacks will mean, for example, no ticket booth in the renovated middle school auditorium and the science laboratory project will not include relocation of the technical services and special services rooms.
Dietze did say, however, that the board expects to include drainage improvements requested by city officials in the Jefferson School renovations along with correction of traffic flow problems with the city aquatic center located adjacent to the school property.
In official actions at Thursday's meeting the board approved architectural fees for EI Associates in connection with the various renovation projects.
On another matter, board communications chairwoman Katherine Kalin reported that board meeting discussions with public input were tentatively scheduled in December on academic performance, in January on how curriculum planning fits in with the overall academic program, in March on security and safety, next month on planning and allocation of school space and in June on the role of Alison Grill, the new college admissions counselor at the high school.
Board vice president and policy chairwoman Celia Colbert noted school and board officials are formulating a legal agreement for the naming of the middle school lobby for a donor from the city and studying specifics for naming rights in other school facilities in the future.
In a presentation, Jefferson School principal Ron Poles talked about coordination of academic and community service programs between Jefferson and other city schools, Jefferson staff relocations to meet changing student needs and the greater involvement of Jefferson parents in city civic affairs.
A report on academic achievements in the opening remarks by Ron-Fornes included the fact that last year 100 percent of students in Frank Baragona's advanced placement calculus class who took the AP exam in the subject received a five, the highest score possible.