Clifton Superintendent Discusses Calendar Controversy

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The calendar survey, sent out to the entire community and the subject of some criticism on social media, was the focus of Thursday’s Board of Education meeting. Dr. Robertozzi presented the problem and the findings, ending by opening the topic for discussion with the Board. “My job is to give the Board all of the information necessary in order to make a good decision.”

He started by reminding everyone that it’s very difficult to create the district calendar due to the number of holidays, the addition of new holidays, and the state’s 180 day requirement. He noted that the 180 day minimum is linked to state aid; if we fail to provide that number of contact days, we would be jeopardizing our significant state aid.

Dr. Robertozzi also pointed out that students can be excused for religious holidays, according to the New Jersey Department of Education. There are over 130 approved holidays on the NJDOE’s list. All that is required is for the student’s parent or guardian to submit a note requesting that an observance day be excused.

To help him come up with a recommendation for the Board, Dr. Robertozzi formed a diverse committee of staff, parents, students, and other concerned community members to discuss these issues and they met a couple of times to come to a consensus on whether ending school earlier was a priority and if yes, how best to do that. Ultimately the committee, along with Dr. Robertozzi, decided to poll the community to give the superintendent the best picture of what stakeholders actually want. Despite the district’s multiple efforts to promote the survey (three separate emails, social media blasts, and a link posted on the district website), only 3,402 people responded and approximately one fourth of those were staff.

A substantial majority of those respondents, which included parents, staff, middle and high school students, and other community members, were in favor of adjusting the school calendar to allow schools to close earlier in June. Approximately three times as many people were in favor of this than those who were not. However, a much smaller majority agreed that we should do this by eliminating non-federal religious holidays and other holidays where we aren’t required to close. Dr. Robertozzi was not comfortable with recommending that we eliminate those days based on the survey results. You can see his presentation here, starting at 1:30:00.

Given the lack of a substantial majority on the question of removing holidays from the school calendar, Dr. Robertozzi declined to make a calendar recommendation but instead made a few other suggestions for moving the last day of school back. For this year, that day is June 24. Had the survey results supported removal of non-federal religious holidays and other holidays, it could have saved nearly two full weeks of school in a year with a similar calendar.

Robertozzi suggested that we could remove holidays but keep the February winter. break, remove holidays and the February winter break to save the most days, keep all existing holidays but reduce the February break to a four day weekend (instead of a week off), or start school before Labor Day as many other communities in the country do.

The superintendent specifically mentioned Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, and Juneteenth and asked if it was better to stay in school and learn about the history of these days rather than have them as days off from school.

The board commissioners all offered their thoughts. Nearly all supported a reduction in the February break to a four day weekend. Commissioner Dana Beltran said that staying in school for Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, and Juneteenth made sense as they would then be opportunities for ensuring that all students understood the relevance of those days and would save three days on the calendar.

Dr. Robertozzi said that he will make a formal recommendation to the board at next month’s meeting on November 17th.

Superintendent’s Report

Clifton High School is hosting an Open House for eighth graders on November 2nd at 6 pm. Although this event is aimed at our middle school students, Dr. Robertozzi said that the entire community is welcome to come check it out and to see all that CHS has to offer.

Responding to a community member who spoke during public comment, the superintendent said that most parent events, like the upcoming information session on the updated Health and Physical Education Standards on October 25, are offered online because participation is much higher than events held in person. He also clarified that he has met with two of the people who continue to speak in opposition to the health standards, one on one, and is always happy to meet with parents who have questions about the district.

President’s Report

The band field is complete and looks great. From Mustang Band member Isabel, “The new turf field is fantastic to work on and will definitely benefit us during our halftime shows since we are able to practice on a field similar to those we perform on.”

President Smith also reported that the CHS tennis courts are almost done. With five tennis courts, we are now set up to be able to host tennis tournaments, which we could not do previously. The Wizards will square off against Clifton teachers and staff in a benefit game on November 30 at 6:30. Funds raised support the superintendent’s scholarship fund for CHS seniors. You can buy tickets here.

State Assessments Presentation

Janina Kusielewicz presented data on our NJSLA scores. The New Jersey Student Learning Assessments for English Language Arts and Mathematics measures the extent to which students are on track to being college or career ready in math and English. The vast majority of our students fell into categories 3-5 on a five point scale, indicating “approached expectations” through “exceeded expectations.” For science, which changed its focus from previous years from information testing to skills testing, nearly half of tested fifth and eighth graders fell into the lowest category of not proficient, and 62% of 11th graders were found to be not proficient. These numbers become our new baseline from which to grow.

NJQSAC Report

NJQSAC, Quality Single Accountability Continuum, is the state’s monitoring system for school districts and this year, Clifton is again being evaluated as happens every three years. We must score at least 80% in five categories: fiscal management, personnel, instruction, operational, and governance. Scores are obtained via a district self-evaluation and an on-site review. According to the state’s website, linked above, “These performance areas are reviewed to determine the extent to which school districts are providing a thorough and efficient education.”

Committee Reports

Alan Paris reported that Clifton has seen large increases in both ESL (English as a Second Language) and refugee students from last year, which is a draw on our resources as we need additional staff and the space in which to educate them. The district must educate any school age child living within our city, as per the law.

However, the district was able to save $120,000 when the Residency Committee discovered eight students who were attending PCTVS (formerly PCTI) on Clifton’s dime but who do not live here. The residency team found and removed them, saving the district approximately $15,000 per student.

The Board of Education will next meet on Thursday, November 17th at 7 pm in the BOE building at 745 Clifton Avenue. You can check here for the agenda once the date is close.

Photo credit: Clifton Public Schools

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