Westfield Board of Education Virtual Meeting on February 23, 2021
By Superintendent Margaret Dolan
5-DAY, IN-PERSON INSTRUCTION UPDATE
As part of the Superintendent’s Report, I announced that students in Cohorts A and B in Kindergarten and Grades 1 and 2 will return to school five days a week, beginning March 15. In-person learning for Kindergarteners will follow the current hybrid schedule. First and second graders will receive 4-hours of in-person instruction per morning, with remote learning in the afternoon. I noted that principals will communicate specific scheduling information to families and that a timeline for Grades 3-5 and intermediate schools was forthcoming. (See my February 26 email for an update.)
The forecast for dangerous holiday spikes in COVID cases unfortunately proved true in Westfield. Regional Health Officer Megan Avallone calculated that January alone accounted for almost a quarter of the total of the town’s cases since March. She noted that if you look at the months of December and January you will find 44% of the total Westfield cases since the pandemic began. Testing and tracing, the science associated with the transmission of COVID-19 and careful adherence to State health regulations dictated appropriate caution. The health and safety of our students and staff was and is our foremost consideration.
Now, a more hopeful landscape is emerging. We are seeing lower numbers as the longer days of an approaching spring prompt a watchful sigh of relief. Our caution has paid off and permits us to move forward with growing confidence.
As reported by the town over the weekend, Westfield is now categorized in the moderate activity level and, with the new CDC guidelines, we can look forward and plan to bring students back for more in person instruction.
Last week, the district Restart Committee met and reviewed options. We are very fortunate to have 3 medical professionals on the committee – district physician, Dr. Susan Kaye; Regional Health Officer, Megan Avallone; and our district nursing coordinator, Carole Stavitski. We asked for their guidance for the safest ways to welcome students, especially our youngest students back for more in-person instruction.
One thing was made very clear – eating is still considered a very high risk. The guidance is still that students should not remain in school for lunch. The medical experts do believe, however, that there are opportunities to focus on bringing back students, especially our youngest students.
Our students in Pre-Kindergarten classes and self-contained special education classes currently attend school 5 days a week in person. And, as I believe everyone understands, the high school is already welcoming cohorts A and B for 4 days of 4 hour sessions. The teachers and administrators are very happy to have these students regularly in the building.
As we prepare to welcome back our elementary students for additional in-person instruction, principals have been reviewing the parent responses for commitments to hybrid or remote learning to determine the class size for each class. They are working with custodians and teachers to determine how to safely place the desks in the classrooms. In some cases, we will not be able to have 6 feet between student desks and it will be necessary to install plexiglass dividers. In other cases, because of the size of the room and the number of students, no plexiglass will be required.
As you can imagine, with more students arriving at school each day, changes will have to be made to schedules and arrival and dismissal procedures. Building principals will communicate those changes with their school communities as we go forward.
Our focus at this point has been on our youngest learners. We have heard from teachers and parents that these are the students who are struggling the most. And, we have observed this ourselves.
Business Administrator Dana Sullivan presented a report on the proposed budget for the 2021- 2022 school year. She reported that this budget is preliminary since, at the time of the Board meeting, state aid information had not been received from the State and was expected on February 25. Mrs. Sullivan noted that once state aid information is received, the Board will adjust the 2021-2022 budget before tentative approval on March 16 and submission to the County Superintendent before the March 22 deadline. She stated that the County has a month to review the tentative budget before the district holds a public hearing and adoption of a final budget on April 27.
Mrs. Sullivan noted that budgetary goals include:
- Maintain class sizes within policy guidelines
- Maintain funding for:
- Recently approved courses
- School Resource Officers
- Maintain fund balance at 2%
- Stay within 2% tax levy cap, plus eligible waivers
- Assess 1:1 Chromebook Initiative
- Ensure compliance with CDC and DOE guidelines
- Determine if reallocation of funds is possible as a result of remote learning
The Board accepted with regret the following retirements, effective June 30, 2021:
- Jack Fariello Wilson Elementary School – Head custodian
- Theresa Paster Special Services – Social Worker
- Lisa Quackenbush Wilson Elementary School – Resource Center teacher
Mr. Fariello began his career in 2012 as a custodian at Wilson. Two years ago, he became head custodian there and has been dedicated to making Wilson a clean and safe environment for the entire community. For the last 20 years, Mrs. Paster has been a valued member of the Child Study Teams at Tamaques, Edison, and Roosevelt. She is highly responsive, tactful, compassionate and is an accomplished advocate for her students. Mrs. Quackenbush has been a special education teacher at Wilson for 23 years who embodies the ideals and goals of her profession.
The Board also accepted with regret the retirement of Sadie Planer, effective February 18, 2021. Ms. Planer is retiring after 26 years of caring attention as a lunchroom aide at Jefferson Elementary School. One way that she has shown her devotion is her perfect attendance year after year.
We wish all of these staff members happy and healthy retirements. Board member Robert Garrison, a Wilson parent, wished Mr. Fariello and Mrs. Quackenbush well while Board Vice President Brendan Galligan also wished her well.
Facilities Committee Chair Michael Bielen reported that opening our kindergarten and elementary schools more fully was the focus of a recent committee meeting, with members discussing plexiglass dividers that have been ordered for classrooms. Mr. Bielen stated that other issues related to our buildings and classrooms were discussed and that a presentation on 2021-2022 projects will be provided in late March.
The Board approved for first reading the following policies:
- 7450 Property Inventory (Property)
- 8462 Child Abuse and/or Neglect (Operations)
The Board affirmed my decision on one HIB incident.
CURRICULUM, INSTRUCTION AND PROGRAMS
The Board approved for first reading the following curricula:
Chemistry I Honors
Engineering & Design
Makerspace (New Course)
The Board also approved a virtual field trip as correlated with curriculum.
The Board accepted with gratitude a gift of $100 from Mr. Kenneth L. MacRitchie to finance the 2021 Ian MacRitchie Information Technology and the Walton Burris Music Awards.
TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATION
Technology and Communication Committee Chair Gretchan Ohlig reported that, at a recent meeting, district Chief Technology Officer Brian Auker and Coordinator of School/Community Relations Mary Ann McGann provided brief overviews regarding district technology and the ways the district communicates.
Mrs. Root noted that Mrs. McGann has prepared a one-page summary containing Quick Links to help the school community find answers to some of the more commonly asked questions. Board member Sahar Aziz mentioned that possible technology cost savings measures were discussed as well.
Mr. Garrison reported that reopening our schools was the topic of discussion at a recent meeting of the Wilson School PTO. Mr. Garrison said that school counselor Frank Uveges and school nurse Mary Beth Finn gave presentations as well.
Board member Sonal Patel stated that she attended a meeting of the Washington School PTO Board where she listened to their ideas and concerns. Ms. Patel said she looks forward to attending the next meeting to hear from all members.
Mr. Galligan reported on his attendance at recent meetings of the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) where next year’s agenda was discussed as well as lessons learned during COVID-19 that could be carried forward.
Approximately 600 people attended the meeting, with Board members hearing from nearly 60 parents seeking more information on district plans to reopen elementary and intermediate schools for five days of in-person instruction. A recording of the entire Board of Education virtual meeting can be viewed on the district website at www.westfieldnjk12.org under the Board tab. An FAQ based on some of the questions is posted on the COVID-19 hub at www.westfieldnjk12.org and will be updated.
Westfield High School seniors Grace Endy, Samantha Salz, and Maxwell Scialabba have advanced as finalists in the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program, having met academic and other standards to become eligible for scholarships which will be announced in the spring. The program honors students who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies. Additionally, Grace Endy joins WHS seniors Mira Mehta and Kailey Zhao as candidates for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, which annually recognizes one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and U.S. families living abroad. The program, created in 1964, honors high school seniors for their accomplishments in academics, the arts, and career and technical education fields. U.S. Presidential Scholars are expected to be announced in May.
The PTC Gifted Education Committee hosted a virtual event on Thursday, February 25 at 7:30 p.m. with college advisor Lisa Bleich who helped students demystify the college application process and focus on their strengths as they think strategically about summers, extracurricular activities, and essays, even during a pandemic.
On February 4, the BOE appointed the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) to conduct the national search for a new superintendent, following the announcement by Dr. Margaret Dolan that she will retire as of July 1, 2021. Community input on the superintendent search is very important. NJSBA has created an online community survey which can be found on the “Superintendent Search” page under the Board tab at www.westfieldnjk12.org. A separate survey for staff members is posted there as well. Survey responses are anonymous and will be used to develop and shape interview questions and candidate review documents. Thank you for taking time to assist us in the search for a new educational leader of our schools! Please complete your input by March 13, 2021. Additionally, a virtual meeting for the community is scheduled for March 11, 2021 at 7 p.m. A link to the meeting and all information related to the search can be found on the Superintendent Search page on the district website.
There are many activities taking place in our schools across the district during Black History Month as we honor Black Americans and their many contributions throughout history. Some examples at the elementary level include 2nd grade biographies and 4th grade research papers. The 8th grade chorus at Edison has been diligently working on a video to share with the community, while 7th graders in a social studies class at Roosevelt created a virtual museum exhibit featuring Black Americans who broke the color barrier in their respective fields. Westfield High School will hold a virtual assembly in early March to welcome WHS alumnus Chris Campbell, a 3-time national wrestling champion and 2-time Olympic champion. Additionally, students continue to explore themes of racial and cultural diversity through grade level texts year round and, at the secondary levels, through our No Place for Hate Committees.
The Westfield Mental Health Council is holding a free, one-hour virtual session entitled “Protecting Our Happy: A Resilience Webinar” on Wednesday March 10 at 7 p.m. The virtual program will provide practical daily strategies that will empower participants to better navigate the challenges of COVID so that they stay healthy. Visit westfieldnj.gov/mentalhealthcouncil for more information. Information on how to register also is posted on the “Community Flyers” page under “Family Resources” on the district website.
Please join the Municipal Alliance of Westfield along with the Albert Anthony Kayal Foundation (AAKF) and the Matthew Thomas Toriello Memorial Fund (MTT Memorial Fund) on Wednesday, March 10th from 7 pm to 8:30 pm for the virtual program: Not My Kid: A Father-Son Parent Program with Stephen Hill of Speak Sobriety and his father, Kevin Hill. Stephen worked with Westfield High School students this past October in celebration of Red Ribbon Week and he is excited to return to Westfield to work with parents this spring. Please register to join this important community conversation by scrolling down to “Health and Welfare” on the Community Flyers page on the district website.
On Friday, February 26 from 7:30-9:30 p.m., the Westfield Community Center will present a free live virtual event during which actress Christine Dixon will take viewers on a walk through history as she explores the life of famed abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman. Visit westfieldcommunitycenter.org for more information and/or CLICK HERE to register.
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Westfield has extended the sale of its “Hate Has No Home Here” lawn signs. Proceeds will sustain the organization’s scholarships and community activism. Visit mlkwestfield.org to learn more.
NEXT BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING
The next meeting of the Westfield Board of Education will be held on Tuesday, March 2, beginning at 6 p.m. The meeting is expected to be held virtually. The Board will move immediately into private session. The public portion of the meeting will resume at 7:30 p.m. Instructions regarding remote access to the public portion of the meeting are on the district website at westfieldnjk12.org under the Board tab. The complete agenda of the meeting is available on the district website also under the Board tab.
Margaret Dolan, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Westfield Public Schools – A Tradition of Excellence
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