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Regular meetings held at The Hickcok Meeting Room, Summit Public Library, 9:15 a.m.

Speak Up Summit November 15, 2016 Regular Meeting

Nice turnout for our November meeting. We were happy to welcome Deb McCann from the Board of Ed.  Lots of different topics of conversation:

European trip for SHS students. This has been postponed for one year because of low interest. The district was planning on taking four students. Concern for safety was expressed. It is an expensive trip, and much fundraising will be needed. Enrollment in the Holocaust and Genocide class is not necessary to take part in the trip.

PARCC. Test results are important to the district as they help compare schools and help the administration see how principals are doing. When students choose not to take the test it makes it harder to evaluate teachers and schools. 

Deb said that the Education Committee is really looking at the Basic Skills program, and has been collecting data. This includes analysis of English as a Second Language, English Language Learners, and even the Gifted & Talented program. It is hard to make assumptions or recommendations with a single year’s data, but this pool of information will grow. For example, this year there are 14 new basic skills students in 8th grade. Why? Are kids struggling because of a particular teacher? How long should a student remain in Basic Skills? Or ESL? 

We talked quite a bit about the two new programs being looked at: the SHS Culinary Arts program and the LCJSMS greenhouse. Both would be wonderful, and we get that the profit from the Pomptonian program needs to be rolled into something food oriented that supports the district, and our facilities for our foods classes are in need of an overhaul. Perfect match. Pure excitement about the prospect of electives that will teach students the business side of the food services industry as well. Was putting some Pomptonian money put toward the greenhouse as well investigated? It could be Continue reading Speak Up Summit November 15, 2016 Regular Meeting

October Speak Up Summit Meeting Notes

Meeting Photo Oct 2016We loved having New Jersey Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick as our October guest speaker. He was honest, generous with his time, funny, charming, and friendly. And while we appreciated his demeanor, we were saddened by his message, which is essentially: New Jersey government is broken.

The assemblyman shared with us Gov. Christie’s plan for a new school funding formula. The plan is severe, cutting back drastically aid to those schools in the poorer Abbott districts while affording tax cuts to wealthier districts like Summit with a standard cost-14657446_1174284482638687_6029802268368112155_nper-pupil payment. He seemed pretty confident that the plan would not pass in its current configuration, but was hopeful that its purpose would be to begin a dialogue for a better system.

He stressed that the plan should be not about partisanship, but about policy.

So for example, Summit now receives the small sum of $405 per pupil. Under the new proposal, that would be increased to $6,599 per pupil. Total aid for our school then would jump from $1.7 million to about $27 million. Continue reading October Speak Up Summit Meeting Notes

BOE Workshop Meeting 10/13/16 Notes

If you plan on tuning in to last night’s Board of Education workshop when it airs next week to view another drawn-out discussion on the pros and cons of our existing full-day kindergarten program, free universal FDK, or no program at all, you are advised not to bother making the Jiffy Pop. The meeting opened right away with the FDK discussion and Director of Elementary Education Jennifer Ambrose illustrated the short history of the program’s enrollment using the “little bit of data” available. The administration advises making no changes in the current program for next year—either in number of classes or cost—and the board will vote formally on it at the October 20 regular meeting.

Board member Vanessa Primack spoke briefly to the goal of reconsidering a free universal FDK program for all. Former Board President Celia Colbert mentioned the needs of those families who are not eligible for the “free and reduced” rate because they come in barely above the threshold, but still find the cost of the program prohibitive economically. That was about it. There were no additional parents or community members in attendance who addressed the issue from either side.

Two new interesting curriculum possibilities were discussed at length Continue reading BOE Workshop Meeting 10/13/16 Notes

Jon Bramnick to Speak at October 18th meeting

This Tuesday, October 18, Speak Up Summit is thrilled to welcome New Jersey Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick as our guest.

If you are planning on attending this meeting but usually do not come to our monthly meetings, please make a comment below or send a quick note to me so we can plan for space and food. As always, the meeting will be informal.

The assemblyman will share with us some history on the school funding formula, and insights into Gov. Christie’s proposed new plan, which would give every student throughout the state the same $6,599 in aid, regardless of the economic condition of their town. 

We encourage attendance from those in Summit with a history of the creation of the Abbott districts, and a continued interest in an excellent public school education for all.

Yes, as a wealthy district Summit taxpayers are expected to see huge savings: (Summit City Union $3,261) But, does this plan align with our core values and need to provide the best possible education to all students?

(From NJ.com) “Projected “Fairness Formula” Property Tax Savings
The “winners” under Christie’s plan.  This database shows Gov. Chris Christie’s projections for property tax savings if his flat, $6,599 per pupil school funding plan were implemented today. Christie’s office declined to provide data on districts that would see a property tax increase under the plan. You can find a sampling of those districts above. If your district is not included, it likely would not see a property tax savings from Christie’s proposal.”

Here is an article with some details on the plan. There are a TON of articles out there…some objective, and some of both sides of the proposal.

September 8, 2016 Board of Ed Workshop Meeting Recap

Bittersweet: my last Back-to-School Speak Up Summit post. For those of you new to the district, or who have not yet done so, please “like” the Speak Up Summit Facebook page for regular school updates, and click the “donate” button at the top to make your donation for the 2016-17 school year.

The page is where you will find meetings such as this recap of last night’s BOE workshop:

The number of kindergarten students is about the same as last year, 97 at each school. Of these, each school has 66 in full-day. So that is 194 total students, 132 full-day, 62 half-day. They will be evaluating the successes of the program looking at another year of stats, as limited as that may be. The analysis will focus on who needs basic skills support as they age, and what impact FDK has on that need. It will take more time before these stats will become meaningful. Of course, this looks at only one part of the story. Social/emotional skills, readiness, etc. will not be part of this barometer for now. Recommendations for next year will start to be discussed at the October workshop meeting, with a vote possible as early as the Oct. regular meeting. It is anticipated that the number of classes will remain the same: six sections of 22 with the ability to increase to eight if there is demand.

Basic skills programs were discussed. Are the kids improving and then exiting the program? Are the programs effective? The need for basic skills this year has spiked in fifth grade ELA and math and in eight grade ELA. Why?

PARCC results are in and will be mailed home next week. NJ did better than each of the remaining eight states in the program, including Massachusetts. June Chang said that Continue reading September 8, 2016 Board of Ed Workshop Meeting Recap

Speak Up Summit May 24, 2016 Meeting Notes

At the last meeting of the 2015-16 school year, we elected our new board and school reps for next year and chose our meeting dates.

Executive Board
Melanie Wilsonpresident
Laura Coburnvice-president
Teresa Usmetreasurer
Luz Bazalarcorresponding secretary

Board of Directors
Phil Eisner
Andrea Stein
Paola Acosta

School Representatives
Summit High School
Laura Coburn
Laura Schaffer

LCJSMS
Lori Leiter
Serena Healy

Brayton
Torie Bligh

Franklin
TBD

Jefferson
Kathy Clark

Lincoln-Hubbard
Paola Acosta

Washington
Andrea Stein
Lisa Campbell

Primary Centers
TBD

Webmaster
Meghan Terry

Our meeting dates will be:  September 20October 18November 15January 17, (tentative) January 21 State-of-the-District, February 14March 21April 18, May 16

We discussed the exploration by the district of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and wondered how it compared to the AP programs.  No one from the Board of Education was in attendance, so we are sharing this article and hope it provides some answers. http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-school-notes/2014/09/02/discover-the-difference-between-ap-and-ib-classes

We also discussed what is perceived as a difficulty by some with the new Chrome Books.  Some reported that their children have said that are very slow and difficult to use.

Another topic was concern by some parents that some school clubs and organizations use Facebook as their primary method of communication, and some parents do not want their children to have a Facebook account.

Regular monthly Speak Up Summit meeting, April 19, 2016

Representatives were present from all Summit schools, except for Lincoln-Hubbard.  We do hope that someone from LH will volunteer to be a liaison next year and report our discussions back to their PTO, and bring any school concerns to us.

The date of the next (and last) meeting of the school year has been changed to May 24.

Summit High School:
We spent a good bit of time discussing what is perceived as less liberties for students at Summit High School.  This ranges from students now having to bring a pass from the classroom to go to bathroom, and then having to sign in with a teacher who sits outside every bathroom.  Every time.  Sometimes, the kids have to take longer inside the bathroom, and this can result in embarrassment.  We questioned if this was connected with the need for the drug-sniffing dogs that were recently brought to SHS; or is the bathroom policy just because kids were found to be wandering the halls when they were supposedly using the bathroom.  Or was it vandalism concerns?

This conversation led to discussion that the only email announcements generated by Power School over spring break was the following:

Please be reminded of the following from the student handbook:

Students must meet a grade requirement of a B- or better in all of their classes. Citizenship, attendance, and academic standing will be evaluated on a quarterly basis. 

Seniors will lose the unassigned privilege if they decide to: 
(1) Cut a class 
(2) Accrue 8 morning lates to school within a marking period 
(3) Accrue 12 lates to any class within the year 
(4) Commit an act that results in suspension 
(5) Leave school grounds without permission

Again, this was perceived as adhering to more stringent policy, particularly the enforcement of the rule not allowing seniors with a C to have an unassigned period senior year.  Parents said that their students have told them that they are feeling a more “big brother” approach from the high school administrators.

Additionally, for example, some students are taking a very aggressive work schedule with difficult classes, but want to explore new interests and try something out of the “norm.”  If they are getting a C in this class, they are penalized with the loss of unassigned, even if they have all A’s in their academic classes.

Also, there are more threats of detention out there.

Lastly, some students need to “just think” or even rest in study hall.  Perhaps they need to plan an upcoming assignment, perhaps they just need to chill.  There has been some concern that if students were not actively doing academic work during study hall that they were abusing it.

Some students have expressed concern to parents, but just as parents do not want to stir the pot with unfair sports team policies that might result in their children getting benched, parents are often uncomfortable approaching administrators with concerns about in-school policies.  The “it will come back to bite you” mentality was discussed.

Special Education:
Two months ago, we had several parents of special needs students attend our meeting.  Since then, they have been working with the Board of Education, and at tomorrow night’s regular BOE meeting there will be a presentation by the Union County supervisor of child study and by the district director of special services.  SUS BOE liaison Celia Colbert stressed that at SUS the concerns were introduced, she listened and reported to the BOE.  The SE parents came to board meetings and spoke, and now they are responding to the problem.

Celia Colbert:
Shout out to Celia, who has been our BOE representative for several years.  She is going off the board next month and has attended her last meeting in this official capacity.  Celia has always been a lively participant in our monthly meetings, sharing what she could and not only listening to the concerns addressed, but synthesizing them and bringing them back to the board to impactful resolutions.  Celia often offered us a different perspective to our discussions.  We will miss you, Celia, and hope you will return to the meetings soon as a concerned and involved layman!

BOSE Budget Approval Meeting Notes

Thanks to TAP for a great recap of last night’s BOSE meeting, where next year’s near $70 million budget for our school district was approved. Kudos to Summit Mayor Nora Radest for continually standing up for the students and our district’s desire to not merely sustain, but to excel.

Thank you also to Board President Katherin Kalin for continued leadership and the ability to explain clearly and succinctly a multi-tiered decision, where both sides have valid points.

From the below article, “These needs, she (Radest) added, are founded “in a deep concern for our children’s welfare and their futures. In order to meet continuously changing state and federal standards, and continue to provide the quality of education that residents of Summit rely upon, teachers and principals, for the past five years, have been asked to do more, with less. This is not sustainable.”

Citing the fact that many neighboring communities are consistently making greater investments in their schools than Summit, Radest, citing the effect of high quality schools on the city’s fiscal health, said, “after the past years of fiscal restraint, it is time to begin a strong but thoughtful reinvestment in our schools. I believe that spending money on education is not just good for our school-age population. It is a smart, fiscally-prudent community decision.”

Read the full TAP article linked here.

March 22, 2016 SUS Regular Meeting Notes

At the regular monthly March SUS meeting all schools were represented except for Franklin and Lincoln-Hubbard. We really do need to find a L-H rep…so speak to a board member or to me if you know of someone who might be interested.

With nothing “huge and pressing” on the district right now, we talked mostly about what the principals might have deemed lacking enough in the budgets to have made their impassioned plea to go to/above cap in this month’s special BOE meeting on the budget. 

Celia explained the difference between curriculum supervisors and instructional facilitators. Neither works directly with the students. IFs work with the teachers with issues they are having with specific topics. There have been no CS for K-8 since 2010, so “taking them out” of the budget is not a new thing. There are CS at SHS, and they all teach classes.

We talked about the need for strong guidance counselors in elementary schools.

At Brayton, parents are frustrated with having their children learn so many different math programs over the past few years so they have started a parent tutor group to support them. Some classes are very large, and some parents feel that the tutor group is being used to “babysit” some of the more disruptive students in the class.

Celia said that even at 23 students, our classes are smaller than classes at Millburn and Westfield, which often go up to 26-27 students in the class. We agreed that the makeup of the class is more important than the number of students—you can have a very problematic class of 16 students.

While those of us present believe that there were plenty of ways that the $33,000 left on the table by not going to cap could have been used wisely to further the educational/curriculum/sports/arts/tech needs of the district, we acknowledged that plenty of other people in the district want to keep school spending to the bare minimum. We are concerned about the balancing act that the administration/BOE must do to please all parties. It was reported that June Chang told presidents’ council that there were no specific sustainable programs that could have been initiated and continued with the funds. We said that we bet Ron Poles and the other principals might think differently.

We talked about district communication on sensitive topics, such as the recent whooping cough outbreak and security concerns about the return of a suspended student to LCJSMS.

Do you find all this interesting? Then come to the next SUS meeting. April 19 at 8:30am, 175 Colonial. If you already “like” the SUS page, then please share it with your friends with younger children.

Continue reading March 22, 2016 SUS Regular Meeting Notes

Impact of School Budget on Property Values

By Meghan Terry

I attended the special budget meeting held March 7, 2016 at Wilson, and while I was not able to organize my thoughts sufficiently to speak at the meeting, I would like to share them with you now. First off, I join the rest of the community in applauding the BOE’s remarkable efforts to find cost savings in the school budget, and I wholeheartedly agree with those commenters who pointed to the county budget as the real culprit of any funding woes that we may experience in Summit. I will commit myself to becoming more involved on the county level in the future, as I believe that it is unfair to expect our volunteer Board of Education members to keep delivering the same quality of education while being hamstrung by the county budget’s voracious demands.

However, I joined the many people in the room who were disappointed to hear that not only were we not going to cap, but also we were not taking advantage of banked cap this year to exceed the 2% cap. To me, this approach feels “pennywise but pound-foolish.” The Summit Public School’s cachet HAS slipped in the past few years, and as more data accumulates, the residents of this town may well experience a drop in their property values, as potential buyers realize that for an extra few minutes on the train, they can have a larger house with a better rated school in nearby New Providence (and be able to get a parking spot near Starbuck’s, to boot!) So for a few hundred dollars of annual savings in property tax expense, the value of my home may drop significantly over a relatively short time. Continue reading Impact of School Budget on Property Values