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Speak Up Summit Advocates for Quality Public Education in Summit NJ :: Speak Up Summit

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Advocating for Our Schools

President’s CornerMelanie Wilson Head Shot



By Melanie S. Wilson


Speak Up Summit

2007 - Present



FALL 2015 Meeting Dates


September 22

October 20

November 17

**January 23** STATE OF THE DISTRICT (9AM location TBA)



All regular meetings take place at 8:30 AM at 175 Colonial Road, Summit.  

For more information contact Melanie Wilson at 908.598.1617.


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2015 SUS and BOE Meeting Notes


Published by Melanie Janowsky Wilson · October 16 at 11:33am  Main takeaways from last night’s October 2015 Board of Education Workshop? A lot more still has to be discussed and decided.


Full-day kindergarten: The district’s $5,000 investment toward the $25,000 that funded a study of last year’s FDK students was inconclusive. A study of 40 students (less, actually, because some dropped out) cannot provide the answers that the district is looking for on the success or failure of the program. Superintendent June Chang said that in the future, the study should be moved in-house. Board Member David Dietze said that it is important to have independent experts weigh in. It was decided that the annual lottery should be done earlier this year to give families more time to make decisions. The goal is December. Education Committee Chair Celia Colbert said that 86.9 percent of NJ school districts have FDK. Board Member James Freeman said that by third grade, any differences that put the students ahead because of FDK have evened out, and questioned if a FDK program in Summit is the best way to enhance education. “The case has not been made,” he said. Board President Katherine Kalin said that the community demands for the program are there. Celia asked the question that best sums it up: It is a foundational question, she said. Is FDK the right thing to do? So here we are again on this topic. After the meeting someone commented to me that that they have not been to a BOE meeting in a year, but the topics were exactly the same as a year ago. This should be discussed again at the November meetings. Board member Rick Hanley clarified that the discussion will be on the continuance of the tuition-based program. I think it will be put officially on the agenda at one of them…so stay tuned.


Nepotism. A few years ago, the district made the decision not to allow any new hires who are related to any current district employee. Lately, the ability to fill all the substitute teacher positions has been very difficult. They are able to fill about 80 percent daily, but about three spots per day remain open and the principals and administrators have to scramble for coverage. Policy Committee Chair Debra McCann said that they are looking to amend the nepotism policy to allow for relatives to be able to sub. The state recently said that a sub can’t work more than 30 hours without receiving health benefits, so this makes filling the positions even harder. Katherine Kalin was concerned that loosening the policy a little may lead to more and more acceptances of relatives, rendering the policy ineffective.


TV Coverage. Communications Committee Rick Hanley said that there is not enough support to continue the discussion on televising live the BOE meetings.


Parking at the high school. Operations Committee Chair David Dietze said that the proposed $950,000 parking lot addition is not a “must have,” but a “need.” He requested that the topic be put on the agenda for discussion at an upcoming meeting. There was discussion about options that have been ruled out, such as parking at Tatlock. It was requested that when the topic is put forward for public discussion that there be visible boards outlining all of the options that have been discussed, and why some have been disregarded.


School voting on Election Day. School will remain open on non-presidential election years. There will be a police presence at all schools and voters will be kept separate from students.

Positive feedback on block scheduling at the high school, the new elementary Go Math program, and the rollout of the SEF-funded Chrome Books at SHS. Paul Sears will videotape a presentation on the various school ranking reports and it will be available online. On October 22, June Chang will present his vision for the district.


Speak Up Summit

Published by Melanie Janowsky Wilson · September 28 ·

Last week’s back-to-school meeting had such wonderful attendance! We had plenty of first time guests.

Reps: from Washington we had Lisa Campbell and Andrea Stein; from Franklin we had Serena Healey; Kathy Clark was the rep from Jefferson; Lori Leiter and Torie Bligh both represented Brayton; Lisa Campbell for LCJSMS; Laura Coburn was there from SHS; and Paola Acosta was there from the Wilson Primary Center. Lincoln-Hubbard was not represented officially. Katherine Kalin was the Board of Education rep and Karen Greco was there for the administration.

Also in attendance was Lisa Allen, Phil Eisner, Tracy Keegan, Luz Bazalar, Tere Usme, Laura Schaffer, Debra McCann, Richard Sun, Allison Chieffo, Nora Radest, Diane Gallo and Melanie Wilson.

Candidates’ Forum: Once again, SUS is co-sponsoring the Forum with the League of Women Voters. Since the meeting, it has been agreed that it will be broadcast on TV-36, Hometowne TV. They are charging a fee, which the Republicans and the Democratic parties will pay. The format will follow LWV rules, which means that because Candidate Mary Ogden is running unopposed, once she gives her opening statement she leaves the dais and moves into the audience. Questions may not be addressed to her. Last time we ran the forum, these rules were not followed properly and people got upset that the unopposed candidate did not speak more. This year, all parties have been given copies of the rules beforehand and any concerns have been pre-addressed.

We spoke for a while about the difference in reporting what percentage of students received “3 or better” on the AP exams, vs breaking it out to how many received 3, 4, and 5. There was support for both ways. The data should be public available, as other districts report it this way.

We discussed the lack of Honors Science classes in the high school. This is not a new conversation at all. Once up on a time, we had them. Two years ago at a SHS PTO meeting, Department Chair Tom O’Dowd said it was because the demand is not there. But now, classes at SHS have never been larger. If it was offered, there would be a demand now. We discussed having Paul Sears come to a future SUS meeting to address this point. He said yes, and I gave him dates for October and November. Hopefully on of them will work for him.

The kids seem to love the block scheduling and are adjusting well. Next regular meeting will be October 20 at 8:30am at 175 Colonial Rd. Please invite 10 friends to “like” this page…particularly those new to the district.

Candidates’ Forum October 17, 9am at Summit High School.



Speak Up Summit

Published by Melanie Janowsky Wilson · September 10 ·

Sure was an information-packed first Board of Ed workshop tonight, and a fabulous glimpse into how decisions are made (or not made) in our district. There was much thoughtful discussion on a couple of long agenda items with really good checks and balances on all sides of the issues. The take-away: multiple options and their possible outcomes need to be explored before changes are put up for an official vote.

A few examples:

Should we live televise BOE meetings?
This was discussed in the communications committee originally, and brought before the board tonight. There is the question of the initial $2,500 outlay, which is affordable, but how would they secure the 3-6 people necessary to operate the one or two cameras required. Could they find students—either high school or college—to commit to filming a long (boring) event? If they used students as part of a class assignment, would they have to rewrite the curriculum? If they used staff, this non-classroom event would use up budget. What would happen if (when?) someone accidentally divulged the name of a student or teacher that should not have been mentioned. Are we setting ourselves up for lawsuits? There is no editing when it is live TV. That was one of June Chang’s main concerns. Some say that live TV would change the dynamic of the meeting. Celia Colbert was very forthcoming when she expressed that it just is not an issue of enough importance to continue to eat up so much time and energy. There was an informal vote to decide whether or not to continue the conversation, but even a decision on that was difficult to reach. It was put before the board and answers were mixed, with two yay, two nay, two abstain and one no-show.

Should we add more parking for students?
There was a time at the end of the school year when it looked like it might have been a fairly easy fix to make some of the lower field down by Morris Avenue available for students, which would alleviate some of the shortage of student spots. Now, not so much. This summer, a $10,000 comprehensive facilities assessment was done for the high school, with parking as part of it. They were to see what impact, if any, the proposed parking lot would have on future possible additions/improvements to the school, and what else in the high school needed a facelift. The study showed that the lot itself would pose no hindrance to any of the many necessary improvements which could include projects as varied as art, music and computer room upgrades; small group instruction areas; media center carpeting repairs; air conditioning; gym lighting and lockers, home etc improvements; STEAM upgrades and a lot more. HOWEVER, no one expected the price tag that came back for the parking lot itself, which checked in at a whopping $950,000 for 73 parking spaces. This is mostly because of the required underground filtration system for the displaced water. Also necessary would be an 11-14 foot wall to protect the lot from errant balls, fencing, and lighting. Even if the lot was made of gravel instead of paved it would still necessitate the filtration system.

Funding options were discussed. Could they use capital reserve? This was slated to be for roofing but possibly roofing could be RODS-grant eligible. Could they bond the roofing? What about annual costs like snow removal and line repainting? It was suggested that there be a fee attached to student parking, and that will be explored. Katherine Kalin suggested major fundraising from city businesses. James Freeman was concerned about using up green space. He pointed to the need to hear from the parents of younger children who have difficulty finding fields for their children to play on—they might not want the fields that are used to host the younger kids’ games to become a parking lot. (The committee did ask the architects if they could park on an artificial turf to keep the best of both worlds, but that is not possible.) In the end, another decision to make no decision right now was made. Lou Pepe said that because of the price tag associated with the project and what would be required to spend such a sum, the earliest that a lot could be ready would be September 2016. The committee will continue to explore options.

So right there are two great examples of how the decision-making process works in our schools.

Lots of other items were discussed: teacher evaluation reports, school report cards, construction updates, the possible development of new state curriculum requirements to replace the Common Core, policy decisions as when teachers and staff may be on their personal phones, “conscientious objections” to the Pledge of Allegiance, and why your kids will soon be celebrating Commodore John Barry Day. Cup of coffee to anyone who can tell me why!

For more on all this, come to the Speak Up Summit meeting on September 22. And take yourself to the next BOE workshop. If you have read this far, you care enough! (Methinks you won’t be watching it anytime soon live from your family room as you lounge in your pajamas!)


Speak Up Summit

Published by Melanie Janowsky Wilson · June 21 ·

Take-away thoughts from the June 18, 2015 Board of Ed meeting:

Now more than ever, it is critical to ensure that the makeup of our Board of Education is reflective of the makeup of our school district because some of our sub-groups who are not represented on the board are not necessarily armed with all the information they need to make the best choices for their students. How do I come to this sentiment following a meeting which consisted primarily of a presentation to our district’s esteemed retirees, a status report on the plans of our 2015 grads, and a recap of how the PARCC testing went?

Simple. Let’s focus on Dr. Julie Glazer’s PARCC report. Our district fared much better than lots of districts out there. Julie credits this in part to the fact that Summit was one of the pilot districts, and kind of knew the drill. For the first go-round of testing, most students participated. However, our refusal rate dropped like crazy once it was ascertained that the test results didn’t really “count” for anything having to do with placement for individual students. For the second round of tests, parents of students at all grade levels at Summit High School filled out the forms that kept their kids out of the tests. But this refusal was not across all demographics. Our African-American and our Hispanic students took the test. It was our white students who did not participate. What does this mean? Clearly, they had more information. I am not saying that refusing the test is the smart thing to do. My son took the test; the district needs the information from the tests. However, I don’t think that all of our communities were armed with enough information to make knowledgeable choices for their families.

This is but one example of why it is imperative that our BOE reaches every demographic. Information is power. With true representation on the board, more time and effort would be placed on ensuring that each community had the information to make informed decisions. And while it is the responsibility of the entire board to work to better the school district as a whole, this just shows that there is a communication breakdown to our non-White community. Having a BOE member from this demographic—which has historically been the norm—would not necessarily guarantee absolute communication, but it is a step in the right direction.

Speak Up Summit

Published by Melanie Janowsky Wilson · June 2 ·

Minutes from May 19, 2015 Speak Up Summit meeting. This is from two weeks ago, but was never posted! It has been amended with any updated news.

The final meeting of the 2014-15 school year!
In attendance:
Melanie Wilson, Celia Colbert, Nora Radest, Lori Leiter, Phil Eisner, Andrea Stein, Kathy Clark, Terese Usme, Luz Bazalar, Torie Bligh, Laura Coburn. (Missing were reps from Lincoln-Hubbard and Franklin School)

We started by discussing the publicized demise of the Independent Press, and the fact that TAPinto’s top notch reporter covering Summit is said to be leaving. There is a real and a perceived problem with our district getting the news out to the general public. In recent years, the IP did not even send a reporter to cover board meetings, and on occasion just summarized the TAPinto story. But even a thorough but only factual report does not always cover the essence of the meeting: the tension in the room, the amount of back and forth that was required before a decision is made, the action behind the scene, for example. At the last BOE workshop, there was a discussion about broadcasting live the BOE meetings. Support was mixed. If this was a viewing option, the thin crowd that does attend might not make it out, particularly on evenings when the weather is inclement. People would come out, it is believed, when the issue to be discussed is near and dear to them. But that audience ebbs and flows with the issues. It was just announced that Barbara Rybolt, the IP reporter has joined TAPinto.

This conversation morphed into the role of the Speak Up Summit liaisons to the schools. With less and less public reporting of events, the SUS rep needs to attend board meetings, or, at a minimum SUS meetings, where they can learn about what transpired at the BOE meetings and how SUS interprets it. The role then is to share it with schools at the monthly PTO meetings. It would be nice to have dual reps from each school, that way if one cannot make it there will always be coverage.

Next up: FDK and a perceived problem of such a large percentage of incoming 1st graders completing a FDK program, whether privately or through the district. After next year, 120 students will have completed a paid FDK program through the Summit schools. This might not be any different a number from those already participating in a FDK program, albeit mostly privately. The current half-day program cannot cover the full spectrum of Common Core requirements, but it hits all the critical stuff. In a half-day program, there is just no time to do it all. A full 81 percent of NJ school districts have FDK. With the addition of FDK classes, those who can afford FDK or a similarly structured wrap-around program do so. We discussed those families whose income is just over that which would qualify them for free or reduced lunch who could not afford the $7,000 tuition. These are the ones who will most likely be hit with the disparity between those who went to a FDK program, and those who did not. Celia said that the Madison School District also currently uses a paid program…families pay for the wrap-around piece, but they have no shortage of space. She also reiterated her support for a completely free full-day kindergarten program, which SUS also supports.

There is a question about whether or not the board will “go backwards” in the future and not have any FDK at all.
We discussed extensively how the makeup of the school board should be a reflection of the community. This means that there should be representation from people living within each of the five elementary school districts on the BOE at any given time. At the last BOE workshop, Ellen Dickson said that she offered the position that was recently filled by Debbie Chang to two people who live in the Jefferson district, but that one opted for a spot on the Board of Recc, and the other moved away. It is critical that all of the schools be represented on the BOE, and be reflective of the diversity of our town.

We talked for a while about substance abuse at SHS and how much rumor should be refuted/news should be shared. It was agreed that the most impactful assemblies for the kids are the ones where the message is delivered by someone that the students can relate to personally, or someone whose life has been impacted directly by the topic of the assembly.

The Going Clear fundraising event held on May 21 at The Elks Club was very successful. Speak Up Summit made $300 for its treasury.

Our next meeting is tentatively scheduled for September 22 at 8:30am at 175 Colonial Road.

The Candidates’ Forum is scheduled for October 17 at 9am at SHS.


Speak Up Summit

Published by Melanie Janowsky Wilson · April 25 ·

The longest post ever. I dare you to read it all and then prove that you did!!!

April Meetings Summary

This ridiculously long blog post will summarize things that happened at three separate meetings that you may not have heard about somewhere else: the Board of Ed workshop on April 16, the Speak Up Summit meeting on April 21, and today’s BOE coffee at Batavia.

First up: focus areas. The focus areas are recreated every three years. This time, the district sent out a survey to the community ahead of two meetings to which everyone was invited, and then a discussion at the BOE workshop and subsequent regular BOE meeting. If you have read the media report of the workshop meeting where the focus areas were discussed, you will know the outcome of the discussion, but not the process by which the members arrived there, which is important to comment on because of the amount of emotion and passion with which the board members argued their points.

Focus Area One: Academics. The purpose is to raise achievement to allow each child to reach his or her potential. (The word gap was removed from the previous few focus areas, and this has concerned some parents.)

In the past, we have seen less dissention between board members than has been evidenced lately. Dissention is not always a bad thing, as it allows for a free flow of ideas and promotes brainstorming. However, there is a degree of discomfort felt by everyone in the room when the members clearly have such inherently differing viewpoints.

In this particular instance, members were deciding specific wording as it related to social and emotional growth of the child, and whether it is the school’s responsibility to provide for these “non-academic” endeavors. It is Speak Up Summit’s belief that the school should educate the whole child; you can’t back out just the academic piece from the whole equation.

The survey showed that the community holds academic achievement as its top priority, but in that sentiment is a need to teach for the love of learning, and not just to succeed on the ubiquitous tests.

Some of the dissent came in saying that it is the job of the family to teach values and support the emotional side, not the school’s. But, as we know, issues such as bullying, social media etiquette, and community citizenship are certainly necessary parts of the child’s complete education. In the words of Summit High School Principal Paul Sears, for student to succeed, you must take into consideration the brain’s social and emotional components. This, he said, comes from 35 years of teaching experience.

Focus Area Two focuses on supporting and valuing our teachers and staff. “Inspirational instruction” was added as part of the wording. There was a discussion about mentioning specifically the guidance counselors, as survey results showed that even though the department has seen great improvement lately, there was still a need to “beef up” our high school guidance/counseling department. It was discussed that if guidance was highlighted that other departments might feel miffed, so it was not included. There was also a discussion (at both the workshop and at the SUS meeting) about the disparate need of having important “non-academic” information follow the child from either elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school. There were arguments for allowing the child to have a clean slate if they have matured and behavioral issues are behind them, balanced with alerting new teachers/staff about what has been learned about the child’s learning style and demeanor. And how much of that is the parent’s responsibility to ensure? Additional concern (mostly at SUS) had to do with entering any confidential information into a computer system which might be accessed by someone who should not see it.

Focus Area Three: Financial. At the workshop meeting, they moved the word “investment” higher up in the focus area to illustrate the importance of improvement. Bravo. Speak Up Summit advocates for going to cap on our budget, and vocally stated this during this and other meetings. SUS Board Member Diane Gallo, who served on the BOE in the 1990s said that one time when the BOE did not go to cap the community was up in arms because they were leaving money on the table that could be used to make the district more valuable and competitive. For the upcoming 2015-16 school budget, there is an increase of 1.79 percent. If we went to the 2 percent cap, more programs, such as those in the STEAM area, could be funded. This sentiment is tempered greatly by those who feel that keeping the budget below cap sends a message of fiscal prudency to the community, and that this example will allow for emergencies and contingencies that might arise which would soften the blow of a larger future expenditure. Or that it will just save money and keep taxes down.

General: It was also discussed that communication in the district has improved, but not enough. Communication is no longer part of a focus area. Is there enough opportunity for the parents to make their voices heard and give their opinions so that the district may react? (The converse side of this says that parents are not the experts: let the district do what they are trained to do and do best.)

My intention of sharing with you all of the above is so that you can see just what goes into forming a focus area. (Refer to the BOE web site for the actual wording of the focus areas.) The most important thing is to get your own voice heard, and the best way to do that is to go to either a BOE workshop meeting, or a SUS meeting, where the BOE is always present. (I prefer greatly BOE workshop meetings to regular BOE meetings, as there are committee reports given and actual formations of policies and programs and you can witness more the interaction between the players. Also, they are very conducive to speaking up in a more comfortable, more intimate setting—the meeting room in Wilson School over the SHS Media Center.) SUS meetings are held in a home, and they are very comfortable. The BOE and the administration listens to and acts upon what they learn at SUS meetings.

Also at the BOE workshop, Superintendent June Chang said that they are looking to heighten security for Election Day voting in the schools. There is no better news to report on getting voting out of the schools.

At the SUS meetings (and again at the BOE Batavia coffee) there were questions about RIF—Reduction in Force, something that is happening now at Lincoln School. Apparently, a super-dynamo teacher there is being laid off due to RIF. BOE President Celia Colbert said she could absolutely not comment on personnel matters.

Assistant Superintendent Julie Glazer came to SUS and shared the reasons why the district chose to discontinue the use of the Pearson-published enVision Math program at the end of the current school year for Kindergarten and all Summit elementary schools. She said that a large part of it had to do with undelivered promises: enVision was supposed to have an important component for home enrichment. This critical piece was available during the pilot, but has not been able to be accessed during the actual implementation. Dr. Glazer said that the district will not suffer any financial loss because of the change. She said that she is very appreciative of all the screen shots and notes that she received from parents alerting her to inconsistencies and problems with the program.

SUS complimented the SHS administration for making the changes in the upcoming PARCC testing to allow for less disruption in classes, particularly AP classes.

BOE coffee. A very interesting mix showed up at Batavia this morning. From the BOE, there was President Celia Colbert and Rick Hanley. From City Council, there was Al Dill. Former Mayor Jordan Glatt was there, as was Mayoral Candidate Nora Radest. From the SUS Board, it was Lisa Hartmann, Phil Eisner and I. A parent from the Wilson Primary Center was in attendance. SUS had not officially attended these regular BOE coffees before, but last night I was made aware of a letter, authored by Parent Erica Malik, that was driving a petition being circulated by email and was sent to the BOE, the administration, and the mayor on Thursday, so I asked any available board member to attend.

Although this was a regularly scheduled coffee with no informal agenda, the chosen topic on the table was FDK. The argument was that since the BOE was now able to increase the number of classes offered from two to six (for a $7,000 price tag) that those who were not part of these 120 participating students would be at a severe disadvantage when they showed up for first grade in September as a graduate of a half-day kindergarten program, particularly those from middle income families who do not qualify for free and reduced lunch who did not win a spot through the lottery.

The letter made very valid points, and Mayor Glatt was passionate in supporting the need for a free, full-day kindergarten program for all the children of Summit. Various concerns were addressed during the 90-minute meeting, most focusing on educating the community on the correlation between home values and FDK. The problem, Glatt stated, was that people are being short-sighted by lamenting on the increased taxes that would be incurred with capital expenditures necessary for the increased classes, but and not thinking about the long-term and sustainable increased property values.

When the BOE was proposing the complete program, the cost was going to be about $5 million, but the current construction projects will alleviate some of that burden. Celia said that if there was some way to find space for the program at existing locations without having to build, that the annual operating costs would be about $1 million. The choice would be to approve it via the traditional BOE/Board of School Estimate process via the school budget, or to go to a town-wide referendum through Council.
Councilman Dill said he is in support of FDK if the money could be found.

The BOE had a prolonged, in-depth discussion spanning several years on free FDK for all, which, because of a lack of community support, morphed into the current two paid classes, which will become six next year. SUS came out in full-support of universal free FDK. You can Google the issue and see tons of articles detailing the leading arguments for all viewpoints. The bottom line: while the educational value of FDK is generally supported, the financial commitment is not there. No one anticipated the impact that these increased classes would have on the children of those not chosen in the lottery system. It seems that this conversation is going to continue.

The next—and last—SUS meeting of the year will be held on May 19. The woman who was at Batavia today (so sorry I did not get her name) and others like her who are new to the school system and want to get involved, are strongly encouraged to attend. If you are reading this, please pass along an invite to “like” this SUS FB page to the families with younger children who probably do not know about SUS.

I am writing this quickly, and apologize to all for my less-than-stellar reporting here…but I wanted to get the info out. (Is anybody actually still with me…anybody at all??? ) smile emoticon

Thanks for listening!


Speak Up Summit

Published by Melanie Janowsky Wilson · March 28 ·

Great March 2015 meeting; it was the first meeting attended by new Superintendent June Chang.
In attendance:

Melanie Wilson
June Chang
Beth Dorer
Kathy Clark
Phil Eisner
Lori Leiter
Torie Bligh
Serena Healy
Kristen Pierotti
Laura Schaffer
Laura Coburn
Tere Usme
Luz Bazalar
Maureen Alviderez
Donna Miller
Karen Greco
Celia Colbert
Lisa Colbert
Debbie Chang

We talked extensively about the district focus area surveys and the first follow-up meeting that was held at Summit High School. Some highlights of our discussion:

• Attracting and retaining quality teachers should be an important priority. June said that he encourages special training for the younger teachers just coming out of college. Many are in their early to mid-20s and don’t have adequate training for dealing with Summit parents, as one example.
• There needs to be a better way to reach the non-school-parent community; after all, these taxpayers need to understand that the health of our school district is the single most important factor impacting their property values.
• “Financial efficiency” should be a given and not be a focus area; we need to INVEST in our schools as needed. Focus areas should be about improving the schools, and unless there is an incident of corruption or great waste, having a budget focus area is a mistake. June said that the fiscal prudence the district has shown over the past four years or so will give credibility if/when there is a need to go to cap.
• Many people said that communications between the PTO/Principals/BOE and the community has improved, but many others say much more improvement is still needed.
• Many offered specific academic subjects as worthy of more attention, while others said we are not putting enough emphasis on that “average” (not AP, not IEP) student. Similarly, others are looking for more challenge at the top and more resources at the bottom.
• We need more STEAM emphasis
• College counseling has been improved, but not enough

June said that one of his goals is to open up STEAM opportunities, and take great initiatives in technology. He said that everyone in Summit is “a little hungry,” and that is what drew him to the district. He also said that he wants teachers to take risks, without being careless. He wants to find a good middle ground between our veteran teachers and the “high-flying younger” teachers.
Security in the schools was another discussion topic. A lack of volunteers, particularly from parents with kids in the lower grades, was becoming a trend long before the new “keep parents out” feature of recent years came into play. June said it is a national trend.

We discussed the role of technology in the classroom, and how different teachers have different policies on, for example, using a tablet or laptop in class.

The increasing number of students who refused to sit for the PARCC test in SHS as the testing progressed was discussed. Paul Sears and Stacey Grimaldi are working with teachers to make sure that there will be less disruption to AP classes. There were more timing issues than had been anticipated. Now, teachers should be making missed lessons available by podcast, but it is up to the students to watch it on their own time. June said it is the first year, and many of the kinks will be addressed. There was discussion of some of the students writing “inappropriate” essays, since the word on the street was that none of the results mattered.

The League of Women Voters/Speak Up Summit Candidates’ Forum will be held on October 17. If a candidate is running uncontested, they will be able to make an opening statement, but will not participate in the subsequent debate, per LWV rules.

We talked for a while on the process that the district uses to hire coaches. It was stressed that if the BOE does not hear from the parents about issues with ANY topic, then they can only assume that the status quo is acceptable.

A Cultural Arts presentation, given at Lincoln-Hubbard, focused on how to make ethical choices in life and was deemed a good district-wide topic of discussion.

Speak Up Summit

Published by Melanie Janowsky Wilson · March 12 ·

Great discussions at tonight’s BOE meeting.

Most lively discussion involved PARCC testing. Up until today, only 13 students “refused” the test, but today 31 high schoolers refused. This had to do with the fact that some sophomores and juniors missed AP classes. Students who were scheduled for the math class, for example, in the morning missed the class, but those scheduled for the class in the afternoon got to attend. Paul Sears and Stacey Grimaldi are working on a solution to the problem. This just came up today. Otherwise, there were no problems reported. Any technical issues that were reported did not come from issues in-district, but had to do with the platform. Even with these 44 refusals, we are not in any danger of approaching the 5 percent refusal rate that would impact our federal funding. PARCC test results will not be used for placement next year. Standardized testing was only one component of five used for placement. It is likely that the COGAT test will be brought back this year for placement purposes.

Much time was spent on discussion of a presentation on the district survey that was conducted over the past several weeks. The survey was comprised of mostly open-ended questions and the results offer a very broad range of discussion topics from curriculum to personnel to FDK. A goal will be to engage the community members—empty nesters, senior citizens, private school families, families with young children, singles, and couples with no kids as they also are vested in the health of our school district. Two upcoming group discussions will readdress some information from the surveys, which will be used to shape the district focus areas for the next three years.

The tentative 2015-16 school budget was approved, with an increase of 1.79 percent, which is below the allowable 2 percent cap. This will be an increase of $129 per year on the average home. There are several Board of School Estimate meetings coming up for discussion and final approval.

An exciting new Option 2 program was discussed in detail. This Option will be offer students a wide variety of subjects to explore, either through online classes, internships, or independent studies. Most likely, a student will be able to take 7.5 credit hours per year through Option 2, but at the principal’s discretion this could be increased.

June Chang plans to attend the March 24 Speak Up Summit meeting. Come meet him if you haven’t already!

Speak Up Summit

Published by Melanie Janowsky Wilson · February 25 ·

Our February 24, 2015 Speak Up Summit meeting was very well attended, with representatives from all schools present, as well as the board of ed, the administration and the community at large.

“Summit parents are being sane, rational, and reasonable.” That is the sentiment that prevailed at the meeting in regard to the reaction of our parents to the PARCC test. Since Summit uses many benchmarks to assess our students and does not rely heavily on standardized testing for placement, our parents—for the most part—have not taken part in the frenzy that is gripping New Jersey and the nation for opt-out options. Board of Education President Celia Colbert reported that the board has not received too many letters or requests to opt out. They are being “blessedly rational.” Students have reported no excessive “teaching to the test.” Speak Up Summit agrees that the smart thing to do is just take the test, and see how we do. Karen Greco reported that the district is prepared from a technology standpoint.

We discussed Millburn Superintendent Jim Crisfield’s letter and the subsequent rebuttal from a former Millburn student. In Millburn the stakes for test results are much higher, and this goes for all standardized tests. For example, in Summit we require all of our students who take AP classes to take the AP exams. In Millburn, the students take a practice AP exam, and if they do not score the top grades of 4 or 5, they are prohibited from taking the test.

The discussion turned philosophical for a while, as we talked about the mentality of some parents of not wanting their children to have to face failure. Teaching our kids that it is okay to struggle is a smarter message. The PARCC test is quite difficult, and that may be okay.

Other items of discussion: Block scheduling is moving forward at the high school next year. The teacher contracts are waiting to be ratified and then voted on.

Luz Bazalar suggested to Karen Greco that it would be very important to have the district survey translated into Spanish.

There was some talk about the difficulty of meshing the physical education exemptions up exactly with the sports seasons.

Speak Up Summit received $130 in membership donations at the State of the District. We paid Marco Polo $320.

In attendance:
Melanie Wilson
Laura Coburn
Karen Greco
Laura Schaffer
Lori Leiter
Tere Usme
Serena Healey
Beth Dorer
Diane Gallo
Kathy Clark
Luz Bazalar
Celia Colbert
Patty Schneider
Torie Bligh
Lisa Campbell

Speak Up Summit

Published by Melanie Janowsky Wilson · January 30 ·

Delayed recap of Speak Up Summit meeting on January 20.

We had 11 people in attendance, including reps from Washington, Jefferson, SHS, Lincoln-Hubbard, the Board of Ed, and the Administration.
First topic was the teacher contract negotiations. Several teachers have been asking parents for support, particularly asking them to speak up for the teachers at the Board of Ed meetings. Some parents find it difficult to speak to the problem, without knowing exactly how far apart the SEA and the district are. Others came out in blanket support for the teachers. There were problems with the rebroadcast of the meeting, and the Q&A period was cut short.

Celia asked if the meetings were broadcast live would the public be more likely to tune in.

We discussed plans for our State of the District meeting. Nathan was able to rearrange his travel plans, and he will be there, as will Julie and Celia. We expect high attendance. We have reserved Marco Polo restaurant, and they will charge us $8 per head. We will encourage people to pay their membership dues either at the meeting, or before via Paypal through the Speak Up Summit web site to help defer the cost. We have traditionally had this meeting in people’s homes…but it has gotten too big. We tried it one year in the SHS library, but felt the atmosphere too formal and not conducive to the message we want to relay. Melanie and Laura will go meet with Agapios at Marco Polo and figure out the best set up for the room. Everyone is welcome to attend the meeting. We expect parents, community members, teachers, BOE members, Common Council, and parents with younger children interested in the FDK topic.

We talked for a while on PARCC testing. Julie is running a series of talks for 3-8 and at SHS. I spoke to her and said that we would like a recap of the presentation at the State of the District meeting. Also, we are always told that standardized tests are just a “snapshot” of a given day, and are not necessarily indicative of a child’s overall performance. But it was brought up that the test scores have followed the students in terms of their MAP placement in 4th and 5th grade, and for the forensics cycle at LCJSMS. People want clarity as to how the common core relates to PARCC. Many schools statewide have cancelled midterms and finals because of the implementation of PARCC.

There was much discussion about the latest rounds of “teaching to the test.” There is much disparity between the elementary schools.

Summit has been pretty quiet about PARCC testing woes, while many districts in the state and other states have expressed great reserve. There are several articles posted on the Speak Up Summit Facebook page about some of the concerns. When Julie went to the Washington School PTO to discuss the test, the turnout was very high with 33 parents attending.

Concerning the achievement gap: What is the difference between the makeup of our Honors and AP classes compared with the makeup of the district in terms of minorities?

We talked about two types of exit surveys. One member asked if the district does any type of querying as parents move to private schools. Was it all academic? Class size? Economic boom? The other was the survey that was done of college freshman as to their level of preparation for college. Did the Summit public school prepare them well for their college experience. In the past, students had said that they were well prepared to write research papers. Is this survey of freshmen still happening?


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