Westfield Board of Education Virtual Meeting on October 6, 2020
By Superintendent Margaret Dolan
On behalf of the entire Board and in recognition of National Custodian Day on October 2, Board President Peggy Oster thanked the district’s custodial and maintenance staff who have worked tirelessly to ensure that our buildings and grounds are safe, clean, and running smoothly. Mrs. Oster pointed out that the Buildings and Grounds team has been maintaining the facilities, even as they closed down in March due to COVID-19.
I gave an update on hybrid and remote instruction in our schools, with a continued focus on health and safety. This includes wearing masks, maintaining six feet of social distancing, proper ventilation, and not allowing lunch to be eaten on school property due to its high-risk nature. We were happy to welcome back our high school students and staff to in-person instruction on October 1 and greatly appreciate the cooperation from the high school community. We heard from some parents that the rules for isolation/quarantine are confusing so we created a 2-page summary which was included in my October 2 update. Please take note of an important aspect of that guidance: If a student or staff member is exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, they must self-quarantine and monitor symptoms for fourteen (14) days from the last date of exposure. Exposure is defined as being within 6 feet of a COVID-19 positive person for 10 minutes with or without wearing a mask. The 14-day exposure period is necessary because it can take up to 14 days for the symptoms to appear in exposed individuals. For that reason, if you test negative for COVID-19 or feel healthy, you must remain quarantined for 14 days before a return to school.
We continue to reassess our instruction, procedures, and every aspect of our work. Our middle school principals have listened to parents and made adjustments to the lunch study period to include lessons on technology and executive functioning skills. I have also heard from parents of students in our youngest grades who wish for more in-person instructional days and from those who thank us for the afternoon remote hours. We continue to listen, examine, and discuss all of the challenges at all of the grade levels. Going forward, we are open to changes, but we must thoroughly vet them to ensure that we keep everyone safe and well. Our new normal is challenging for students of all ages, our teachers, our administrators, and certainly for our parents. I thank everyone for doing the best they can in what truly is an impossible situation.
In answer to a question about a staff member testing positive at Lincoln School, I reiterated that the Westfield Regional Health Department has important protocols and interviewing processes in place and that I rely on their skill, judgment, and expertise when making decisions.
Mr. Garrison thanked Westfield Health Director Megan Avallone and her staff for working with the district and our school nurses to keep the community updated.
Week of Respect
I also reported on the Week of Respect, observed by public schools throughout New Jersey from October 5-9. In Westfield, we call it the Week of “Extra” Respect because respect for self, respect for others, and respect for the community is an ideal reinforced in our district throughout the school year. Each of our ten schools continues to focus on social and emotional learning and character education. Special activities taking place at our elementary schools during the Week of Extra Respect included a continued focus on the Six Pillars of Character, lessons and stories on inclusiveness and promoting tolerance, as well as kindness motivational videos and songs. Kindergarten teachers read respect-themed stories including the aptly named What if Everyone Did That. At the middle schools, students were reminded of the importance of Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) Prevention while, at Westfield High School, the “No Place for Hate” committee now has nearly 80 members. One example that illustrates how the Week of Respect is practiced year-round in Westfield Public Schools is the tutoring program supported by the Police Athletic League (PAL) so that all WHS students have access to tutoring assistance. This program, in existence for many years, continued even as the pandemic hit, with teachers and students gathering virtually once a week to help one another with assignments and to engage in discussion and socialization. To volunteer or to receive tutoring, please contact WHS Assistant Principal Warren Hynes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Board accepted with regret the retirement of substitute Arleen Burstein, effective December 31, 2020. As a mathematics instructor, Ms. Burstein has been a substitute and home instructor since 1986. We thank her for her years of service to the district and wish her well in retirement.
Facilities Committee Chair Michael Bielen noted that an architectural firm hired by the Town of Westfield is developing a plan for how the fields at Edison Intermediate School might be improved for use by the community. In answer to a question from Board member Brendan Galligan, Mr. Bielen stated that, as a Town of Westfield initiative, the Town is paying for the architect and other consultants while including the Board of Education in discussions about the Edison fields.
CURRICULUM, INSTRUCTION AND PROGRAMS
The Board approved a voluntary Student Teacher/Intern candidate for the 2020-2021 school year.
The Board accepted with gratitude the following donations:
- A gift of $20,000 from the Westfield Education Fund to purchase diversity books for students in grades three, four and five.
- A gift of $250 from Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs, for Franklin School teacher Mrs. Vaglio to use for student needs in the class, in which their grandchild is a student.
- A gift of $250 from Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs, to Franklin School for their grandchild’s teacher, Ms. Neuhaus, to use for student needs in the class.
A Westfield resident inquired about Board oversight regarding the supplemental diversity texts and asked that the list of book titles be available for the public to review. I pointed out that the proposed elementary school supplemental texts are for young children, aimed at helping youngsters see the world through other children’s eyes, a concept that is not controversial nor particularly new. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Programs, and Instruction Paul Pineiro said that district supervisors review award-winning titles that are age-appropriate, promote inclusivity, and represent a diversity of different people within the text. A parent or member of the community is welcome to bring any concern about a book to the district, Mr. Pineiro stated. Board President Peggy Oster and Board member Gretchan Ohlig noted that Board policy does not require Board members to review or approve supplemental texts and that they rely on district administrators to follow best practices in purchasing these titles.
TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATION
Technology and Communication Committee Chair Robert Garrison reported on a recent meeting at which Chief Technology Officer Brian Auker and Coordinator of School and Community Relations Mary Ann McGann provided updates. Mrs. McGann discussed the importance of keeping the school community informed using a variety of platforms, especially during this year of COVID-19. These communication methods include Friday emails from Dr. Dolan, the School Reopening/COVID-19 Information page on the district website, social media posts, custom signage and infographics, district videos produced in-house, The NEWS Letter, and principal emails. Mr. Garrison stated that a lot of good information is provided by the district and encouraged the school community to join the district Facebook and Twitter pages (facebook@westfieldpublicschoolsnj and twitter@westfieldnjk12).
Mr. Garrison reviewed the update from Mr. Auker, stating that approximately 5,000 Chromebooks have been distributed to students in grades 1-9 and to those who needed a device in grades 10-12. More than 100 iPads have been distributed to Kindergarten students. All district security and filtering policies are in effect on all district-issued devices. Mr. Auker reported that new HD cameras with dual microphones have been purchased and are being distributed to teachers. He stated that the improved picture and sound quality will improve the remote experience for students. Mr. Auker also reported that his team rebuilt the Genesis server to address initial issues with the Parent Portal, with no problems reported since the server was rebuilt.
Mr. Auker pointed out that, in this time of COVID, his technology department has gone from supporting the students and staff in district buildings to helping families with their individual networks at home. To help improve remote instruction and correct technology issues, Mr. Auker said that efforts are being made to help teachers, students, and families understand what steps to take to ensure that the Chromebooks are not overburdened.
Board member Kent Diamond reported on a recent meeting of the Tamaques PTO, with the group brainstorming ways to hold PTO events while adhering to COVID restrictions. Mr. Diamond said PTO members reported that Tamaques students are doing well with mask-wearing and social distancing.
Mrs. Oster stated that Jefferson PTO members praised teachers and students and also discussed how they might be able to recreate PTO events in a remote fashion. She noted that PTO members remain upbeat and determined to support the schools.
Mr. Garrison reported that discussion at a recent meeting of the Garden State Coalition of Schools included a recap of school news and notes and an update on NJDOE policies. Mr. Garrison thanked the GSCS for its efforts on behalf of school boards and school districts.
Members of the Westfield Public School community submitted questions regarding hybrid, in-person and all-remote instruction. Based on many of those questions, the district has updated its FAQ on the School Reopening/COVID-19 Information page.
In addition to our three Westfield High School National Merit Semi-Finalists – Grace Endy, Samantha Salz, and Maxwell Scialabba – who were announced at our last Board meeting, we would like to congratulate nine 12th graders who have been recognized for their exceptional academic promise as Commended Students in the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program:
- Kyle Azzaretto
- Karan Chulliparambil
- Olivia Ebel
- Jonathan Keenan
- Mira Mehta
- Sophia Nazzaro
- Aprina Wang
- Benjamin Zakharenko
- Kailey Zhao
Congratulations to the following Westfield High School students who earned perfects scores on the August 29 SAT:
- Conor Daly, 11th grade – Math
- Vijay Sreenivasan, 11th grade - Math
- Justin Shen, 12th grade – Math Level 2
- Lillian Qin, 11th grade – Biology-M and Chemistry
Additionally, congratulations to Westfield High School senior Mira Mehta who earned the Academic All American Award from the National Speech and Debate Association. Fewer than 1% of the more than 141,000 student members of the association earn this prestigious award every year. The award recognizes academic rigor, competitive speech and debate success, and personal excellence.
Prior to COVID-19, buying food and household items presented a challenge to some of our Westfield Public School families. COVID-19 continues to magnify these challenges. To assist our local families, the Westfield Parent Teacher Council has set up a fundraiser. All money raised will be distributed – in the form of gift cards to local grocery stores – to families in the Westfield Public School District who need help. To protect anonymity, the school district will make these distributions. If you are a family with children in the public schools who does not qualify for free or reduced lunch, yet could still use some help, please reach out to Director of Guidance Maureen Mazzarese at email@example.com. To date, the PTC has raised over $22,000 for Westfield Public School families in need. These funds were distributed throughout the spring and summer as grocery gift cards. Information on how to make a donation is posted on the “Community Flyers” page under “Family Resources” on the district website. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
The Rotary Club of Westfield is asking families to continue to contribute to the Rotary-sponsored Second Lunch Program. The collected food is so important to the families experiencing devastating hardships due to pandemic-caused unemployment in our neighboring community of Elizabeth. Instead of students bringing lunches to school, the Rotary has designated two drop-off locations on Wednesday mornings before 11 a.m. They are on the south side, at the home of Ray Kostyack, 438 Poe Avenue, and on the north side, at the home of Ellen and Kevin Windorf, 529 Hanford Place. The Rotary Club requests sandwiches be labeled, and non-perishable groceries are also greatly appreciated. Saint Joseph’s Social Service Center has provided a list of items that are most needed. The list, along with more information, is posted on the “Community Flyers” page under “Family Resources” on the district website.
The mission of the Westfield Coalition for the Arts is to act as an advocate for the arts in our schools, including music, fine art, theatre, visual art, and dance. The Coalition raises public awareness of the arts’ programs currently in our schools, utilizes sources of community and financial support, and encourages our students’ artistic endeavors. For more information, including how to support the Westfield Coalition for the Arts, visit the “Community Flyers” page under “Family Resources” on the district website. You can also visit the Coalition’s website at www.westfieldcoalitionforthearts.weebly.com.
The New Jersey School-Age Tuition Assistance Program can help families pay for care for school-age children in need of child care as a result of COVID-19 remote learning school schedules. To be eligible for this assistance, you must be a New Jersey resident; your child must be attending school remotely, either part-time or full-time; and your annual gross household income does not exceed $75,000. More information can be found at childcarenj.gov/COVID19
The Here-2-Help Mental Health Coalition will hold a special virtual session entitled “Strategies to Help Students with Social Isolation” on Tuesday, October 13 from 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. The session will help parents and caregivers recognize signs that a child may be struggling and will offer strategies they can use to provide support. More information, including how to register for the virtual event, can be found on the “Community Flyers” page under “Family Resources” at www.westfieldnjk12.org.
The Westfield Municipal Alliance hosted a Virtual Community Connections meeting on Wednesday, October 7 from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. The Municipal Alliance remains fully committed to its mission of educating the community and our schools about alcohol and substance use prevention.
All schools were in session for hybrid and all-remote instruction on Monday, October 12 for students and staff. The professional development day originally scheduled for staff on October 12 was moved to September 9 to help our educators prepare for the new school year.
NEXT BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING
The next scheduled meeting of the Board of Education will be on Tuesday, October 27. The time and location of the meeting will be announced later. Should the meeting be virtual, instructions for the public regarding remote access are on the district website at www.westfieldnjk12.org under the Board tab. The complete agenda of the meeting will be available on Friday, October 23, also under the Board tab on the district website.
Margaret Dolan, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Westfield Public Schools – A Tradition of Excellence
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