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Federal Holidays to Serve as Make-up Days, Teacher Evaluation System Approved and More at Westfield Board of Education Meeting

Patricia Harris

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 • 1:06pm

WESTFIELD, NJ—At the November 13 Board of Education meeting, the BOE members began dealing with the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy on Westfield’s schools.

In the first place, the board approved a revised school calendar for the school year. Because schools were closed for eight days in late October and early November, the district has to make up school days.

Superintendent Margaret Dolan made a presentation in which she explained the state requires 180 school days and has a firm date for the end of the school year.

“It’s a tight year,” she told the board. “There are no good options, but we have to make a decision.”

The calendar as it existed had 184 school days, including three days built in for snow days. Those extra days have now been used, but the district effectively gained two days on its calendar when the state cancelled its annual teachers’ conference earlier this month.

To make up the remaining two days, Dolan proposed using Monday, Jan. 21, which is designated as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Monday, Feb. 18, which is designated as Presidents Day.

For Jan. 21, she suggested a four-hour session, which qualifies as a full school day. That will enable students to participate in the town’s annual celebration, which begins at noon.

“It’s a day that’s important to recognize,” she noted.

The Feb. 18 date is a full day.

The board discussed the possibility of using some days during the December holiday break, from Monday, Dec. 24, through Tuesday, Jan. 1, but the superintendent pointed out that many families have already made plans for those days and people might be away for all or part of the week.

In response to questioning, Dolan also said she had discussed the proposed make-up days with the teachers union and they were in agreement with the plan.

“They’re willing to work on federal holidays,” she noted.

Now that this year’s snow days have been used, the policy committee is to meet to develop a contingency plan if there are more closures due to weather. The committee is to make its recommendation at the next board meeting.

The recent storm also propelled the chairman of the board’s technology committee, Mitchell Slater, to gather his committee this Friday to discuss the district’s communications.

“Obviously, our server and our website were down, and I think that impact has to be addressed,” he said. “Most importantly… a holistic solution to keep us in communications when all our backups fail us is something we desperately need to address.”

Part of the discussion, he continued, will be social media. “The takeaway from the last few weeks is that people live in real time,” he said, noting that many people used Facebook and Twitter as sources of information.

Slater promised his committee will report back at the board’s next session.

In a related vein, Dolan noted that the district’s instant alert system worked well during the school closing. Parents who had signed up for the system received about 15 messages sent by the board’s public information officer.

In other business, the board approved the Kim Marshall teacher and principal evaluation system after hearing a recommendation from Barbara Ball, the district’s human resources specialist. The board is required by the state to institute such a system by next year.

Ball said the Marshall model provides for more frequent and unannounced visits to classrooms and principals’ schools and offers opportunities for feedback and coaching.

Software for the program will cost about $12,000 in the first year, and perhaps $4,000 less in succeeding years, she said. The district has funds in its budget for the purchase.

Before approving winter coaching assignments, the board heard from athletics supervisor Sandy Mamary about the evaluation system she has devised in the past year.

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