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Upcoming 2019-20 Meetings

Sept. 17
Oct. 22
Nov 26
Jan 28*
Feb 28
March 20
April 24
May 15

Regular meetings held 3rd Floor Mondo, 8 :15 a.m.

*Special meeting held at The Hickcok Meeting Room, Summit Public Library,6:30 pm.

BOE February meeting highlights

Yesterday’s meeting was a long one, with 2 presentations and a budget report.

Three things striking me last night:

A dramatic increase of kids struggling with serious mental issues.
Mrs. Doreen Babis, Director of Special Education Services, mentioned in her strategic vision presentation that there has been an alarming increase in the number of kids facing serious mental issues, as well as, an increase in behavioral problems in schools. The cases requiring interventions have more than double and this affects not only the student and their families but has a ripple effect on fellow students, teachers, school counselors, nurses, etc. She has been advocating for widening the services provided in-situ. By having a specialist in the district, not only the costs are reduced but most importantly, intervention and effective risk assessment can occur early, providing more efficiently the help our kids need before issues continue to escalate further. She introduced Sonia Rodrigues-Marto, Director of School Programs of Rutgers University Behavioral Healthcare Care (UBH), who will be working as a Heath Clinician to provide more behavioral and emotional support to aid in students’ mental health issues.

-A call for eliminating the Achievement Gap
A group of concern citizens made a call to the BOE to take a more radical approach to eliminate, not just incrementally reduce, the achievement gap in our schools. It is remarkable how this issue has been on the table for more than 16 years and there is still a sense that not enough has been done to tackle this problem.

-Budget ORAL report
I’ll start by saying that the take-home message was that most likely the budget will not exceed the 2% cap. Although the wild card is how much state aid Summit will receive since there’s no official information yet. The BOE and administration have been working hard to keep the budget under the 2% cap by continuously looking for efficiencies, like continue leasing some equipment or switching to LED lighting as a green way to reduce costs.
Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific with the details, given this was an ORAL report ant NOT a visual presentation of the budget, maybe it’s just me who requires/prefers a more tangible medium to learn about the way the budget is discussed. I was looking for some specific numbers, like how many sections they are projecting to have next year, especially since this was a big issue last year and considering that enrollment seems to be on the rise in my kid’s school.
Again, maybe It’s just personal preference, but by not having information accessible for me to look at and analyze, the possibilities of learning about the decision process and clarify questions to provide feedback, are significantly reduced. They reassured the data would come at a later meeting.

To be clear, after several years of attending the BOE meetings, I have no doubt of the commitment of the BOE and the administration to have a balanced budget with the minimum impact on the tax-levy while providing an excellent education for our kids. I have enough confidence in their decision-making process to be willing to hear attentively – in case they indeed consider going over the 2% cap- why they are taking that unconventional decision before providing any input. They reassured the data would come at a later meeting.

Seeing how the budget discussion has evolved from having very detailed presentations from different departments (Special Education, Tech department, etc.) to having general overviews of different departments in the -now removed- workshop meeting, to seeing a summary presentation of the budget draft by Mr. Louis Pepe at the regular BOE meeting, to just hearing about it, I’m starting to have the feeling that is the BOE and the administration the ones not interested in having that conversation.

November 2019 highlights.

Superintendent’s contract revision.
At the October Board of Education (BOE) meeting, it was announced that Mr. Chang asked the board to renegotiate his compensation plan. This will be the second time Mr. Chang’s contract is revised. In June 2017, he received a 19% salary increase and currently Mr. Chang’s base salary is $204,525.99 along with a merit bonus of $30,658.45. The revision will be approved at the Board of Education meeting on December 12, 2019. According to a Board’s notice (last page of the Agenda 11-14-19), a copy of the proposal will be placed on file in the board’s business office and will be available for review prior to or at the public hearing .


SHS STEAM program ranking:
Summit High School was named to Newsweek’s list of the best 5,000 STEM high schools with a score of 93.75, placing them 190 on the list. (

National Report Card:
-The good news: New Jersey’s results ranked among the top three states on virtually every one of the tests.
The bad: less than half of the New Jersey students taking the tests passed what is the NAEP’s well-respected standard of “proficiency.


News from another district: Chatham School District has started discussions about starting school later.


Speak up Summit unequivocally condemns any expression of hatred. We are shaken and deeply saddened by the recent use of anti-Semitic symbols in our schools. We believe that diversity is our strength and as a community, we should reinforce our commitment to inclusion across race, gender, age, religion, identity, and experiences.
It is reassuring how many voices have delivered messages of unity and love, but in moments like this, it’s essential we take a step back and recognize that these acts are not the first ones, they are not happening in the void, and they didn’t come out of nowhere.

This should be our wake-up call.

I have no doubt of the greatness of this city, but if some kids felt bold enough to commit such acts, we have failed them. We have failed to communicate to them our common values of respect, compassion, and inclusion. It’s imperative that we acknowledge that sometimes by not taking a stand, by not looking carefully of how we are interacting with each other, by neglecting or downplaying the importance of small acts of prejudice, bias or just plain rudeness, we are sending the wrong message to our kids. If kids failed to recognize the real meaning of these symbols, we have failed to educate them.

A joke is not a joke when someone is going to be hurt.

A symbol is not just an emoji when it embodies the suffering of millions of people.

A chant is not a catchy tune when it conveys a message of repudiation against others.

Above all, it should be clear for everyone, that in Summit, there is no room for hate, period.

I share the belief that this is a teaching moment for our children and for the whole community. We must actively work to strengthen our connections, trust, and mutual understanding. We must embody our shared values with actions that bind us together and make cooperation possible. We must care for the marginalized, unrepresented members of our community just as we care for our own.

We must advocate for effective anti-bias education and policies, as well as restorative practices in our schools. We must ensure we have created a system able to respond adequately to wrongdoing, one fast to restore a healthy and positive environment where ALL our children can thrive. We must continuously and mindfully work on educating ourselves too.

After all, as Malcolm Forbes said: the purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.

Bad Medicine and Frappuccinos. Final.

Instead of keep reviewing the concerns about the proposed calendar, like sports and the NJEA convention, I would like to make my position clear:

I don’t like the idea of starting before Labor Day either.

But even if I don’t like that idea, it doesn’t seem so unreasonable to consider building in more snow days, given the kind of weather we have experienced and the late school has ended in the last couple of years. It might be bad medicine but:

More than questioning Why we need to do this change, I think the question is How can we make this change better? Continue reading Bad Medicine and Frappuccinos. Final.

Bad Medicine and Frappuccinos. Part C

3) Temperature-controlled environment

Although I don’t wish to talk only about legal issues, I do believe it serves us well to know what the regulations and guidelines are mandated by the State (in Speak Up Summit lingo, I shall say ‘to stay informed’) about what is the minimum we can expect from the administration. Note: expecting is not the same as demanding.

Like with Virtual Instruction, I couldn’t find any regulations about the temperature-controlled classroom in NJ. There had been at least 3 different bills submitted in the last couple of years to the State Legislature for establishing temperature control guidelines and standards for school facilities with no success.

There are guidelines though for Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), which is affected with higher temperatures. For instance, at 85 F, if the HVAC system (see 6) is not running, it is very likely that Carbon Dioxide is building up causing sleepiness and other IAQ issues. this will not be a suitable environment for learning or working in general (N.J.A.C.12:100-13.1-13.8). As I understood, what the administration should be monitoring is the levels of Carbon Dioxide -not necessarily temperature- inside the building and providing proper air ventilation, mechanical or not mechanical, to keep compliance with IAQ standards.

Although in NJ school districts are not mandated by law to install temperature-controlled systems in the classrooms, Continue reading Bad Medicine and Frappuccinos. Part C

Bad Medicine and Frapuccinos. Part B

2) Virtual Instruction and school attendance.

Currently there are no guidance for Virtual Instruction in NJ. In February of this year, the bill A3321 was submitted to the Assembly Education Committee to allow the use of virtual instruction to meet minimum 180-day school year requirement under certain circumstances, it’s still under review (see 3).

Regarding attendance, according to the NJSMART guidance for Reporting Student Absences and Calculating Chronic Absenteeism (see 4), a student must be present at least two hours to be recorded as present for the full day, when the school is in session and under the guidance and direction of a teacher in the teaching process. (N.J.A.C. 6A:32-8.3(k)). For a half-day preschool or kindergarten session or half-day, the student must be present for at least one hour to be considered present. (New Jersey School Register, Ch.3). Continue reading Bad Medicine and Frapuccinos. Part B

Bad Medicine and Frappucinos. Part A

School is in session! Hope your transition from leisure to full schedule has been smooth despite the heat.

It’s no secret that over the last couple of weeks parents have been commenting about the proposed changes in the school calendar. There are many concerns about the consequences this change will bring and some arguments about the benefits driving this change. If this change is welcome or not varies mainly because its impact it’s different for different families, its pros and cons are not defined equally across the district and what is more, it will not only affect students but also teachers and staff alike.

Yesterday the administration published the proposed 2019-2020 calendar and some of its key points. I have been analyzing many of the concerns and questions and these are some of my findings (in installments) : Continue reading Bad Medicine and Frappucinos. Part A

Welcome to the 2017-18 School Year!

All Welcome!

I have been trying all summer to write a welcoming note so motivating that many of you will be curious enough to join us for a cup of coffee and bagels in our new cycle of Speak-up Summit meetings. I have been writing and erasing paragraphs trying to decide what subject will be the more sought-after. Changes are happening on many fronts, from new appointments in the state and local Boards of Education, student loans forgiveness policy to a discussion about the constitutional right to literacy, etc.

Speak-up Summit is a non-profit, non-partisan group, open to all parents interested in the improvement of our kid’s public education system, with the main purpose to offer a space where discussions can happen in a relax and amicable manner, where we share our worries -not only about schools and policies- but also about the challenges we face daily while our kids are growing up in this ever-changing digital era. Regardless my intention to focus on policies and regulations, my mind keeps wondering towards issues happening outside the classrooms. If you had the chance to visit the Lincoln-Hubbard commons, you’ll notice some wonderful quotes decorating the walls; one of them reads: “You are the author of your life story”. I believe that to be true for everyone: for an individual, a couple, a family or a community. We are so convinced that schools are the best platform for the transfer of knowledge that we are committed to sending our children -sometimes against their own will- for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for most of the year. However, this transfer of knowledge doesn’t happen in the void. School is an important pillar of the development of skills and character of our young, but what surrounds them has also a weight on their development. A happy kid is a better learner. A kid feeling safe, appreciated and well taken care of has more chances to flourish. We are the authors of our own life stories, but our individual stories are interconnected; other people’s experiences shape our own, changing our perceptions and enriching our vision.

Reading the story of Michel Oher as part of the “One Book One Community” initiative has strengthened my conviction that we all have an important role to play in transforming the lives of those around us, for the worse or for the better, by taking action or by neglect. We all praise individual accomplishments but for some, the importance of our collective effort to support their individual and sometimes unnoticed struggles can have a life changing impact, an impact so big as to prevent their life stories to be short. The suicide of Mallory Grossman, a six grader in the Rockaway School District should serve as a reminder that no one is immune to tragedy. Everyone is entitled to their own personal opinions based on their religious beliefs, work ethics or cultural backgrounds and although there’s perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree, more often than not, it’s vital that we reach consensus for the betterment of everyone. Sometimes our disagreements can be resolved if we take the time to “read” a bit more of other people’s life stories, if we decided to understand better what substantiate their concerns and addressed them instead of just dismissed them, only if we recognize our strengths and weaknesses we can grow stronger as a community.

We advocate for Speaking up-but this time, I invite you all to join us and start speaking, just speaking to each other, to create a strong bond and open communication for when the time comes we are ready to join our efforts and Speak up together. I invite you all to be part of this new chapter of Speak-up Summit and to participate actively in making the story of this wonderful community a story worth telling!

TIME CHANGE- April 18th

TIME CHANGE: Please note that the April 18 regular monthly meeting will begin at 10am (not 8:30 am.)


Speak Up Summit, of course, is an organization about Summit’s public education. Sometimes, news and events a little outside the box are of importance to our members. It’s not too much of a stretch to note that the current choice for Secretary of Education, Betty DeVos, is no friend to public education. Therefore, because of choices like this and many others impacting our citizens, it is imperative that we share three local post-election events and activities which will be very well attended by Speak Up Summit’s members. 

First up is a three-part postcard-writing event, “Summit Marches On!” which begins tomorrow morning. Three area women– Tracy Allocco KeeganBeth Keane Little, and Lacey Cotter Rzeszowski are opening up their homes so that people can write to their legislators and express their concerns about the choices the administration is making. This article details the events and locations.

Second is a Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre performance on Thursday, February 2 at 7:30 pm. “Continuing the Conversation, an Evening of Short Plays in Response to the Election” Eight 10-minute original plays, all written since the election, will be read at this one-time only performance. This link tells more about the impetus for the show and how to buy the $20 tickets.

Third is an event run by the Summit Municipal Democratic Committee, “Stand Up/Speak Out: A User’s Guide to Democracy.” This Feb. 9, 7-9 pm program will show the community how to get your voice heard, from contacting elected officials, using social media, and fundraising, and will provide a practical introduction to effective community participation. The free event will feature current and former elected officials, local party leaders and other active citizens sharing their experience and insights.  Click here to RSVP and read more.

Hats off to those mentioned here along with Andrea J. SteinTerri Gamier Tauber, and Laura Ekstrand —some of our strong local community activists, who were impassioned enough to dream of these projects, who have faith in the democratic process, and who understand that a grassroots-solution is the best way to impact large scale change.

Many of us at Speak Up Summit will be attending all three events and hope to see great community participation!