Clifton Parents and Paraprofessionals Ask the Board of Education for Help; New Calendar is Approved
Thursday’s Board of Education meeting opened with district PBSIS Coordinator Paula Raygoza sharing a presentation from School 8’s PBSIS team. In their second year, School 8 is doing an impressive job of implementing the Positive Behavior Supports In Schools program. You can watch it here, starting at minute 0:22. School 8’s motto is “We C.A.R.E.” - Courteous, Acting Responsible, Respectful, and Encouraging Kindness. The C.A.R.E. team meets weekly and in order to extend the responsibility for the program to the students themselves, they created The Junior Care Team. This consists of 12 students in grades 3 to 5 who help with various aspects of the PBSIS program in their school and serve as examples of the behaviors the program exemplifies. These students were honored at the meeting, receiving certificates and well-deserved applause.
During the public portion of the meeting, several parents from School 9 addressed the Board. School 9 does not currently have a dedicated school nurse due in part to a widespread nursing shortage. The parent commended our superintendent and nursing supervisor for being very responsive to her concerns and also mentioned that the school principal, her child’s teacher, and the secretary jumped in when her child was experiencing a medical issue but noted, “they shouldn’t have to; it isn’t their job.” Another parent with a medically fragile child spoke about the same topic and a third addressed the issue of traffic safety at their school, which is on busy Brighton Road.
A large group of paraprofessionals, assistants who work in the classrooms with students with special needs, showed up. More than 50 district paras have left Clifton for better hours, pay, and benefits. The resulting shortage affects everyone working in our schools where morale is low and stress is high, one speaker said. “We are more than just a body.” The speaker stressed the important job they do, advocating for students, helping them to communicate, assisting with a wide variety of tasks that range from basic self-care to academics. “We need more paras and we need to do better for the ones who are here now, working hard for our students.” [We] “Need more help and support.”
Superintendent’s Message: Dr. Robertozzi addressed the parents who spoke about the nurse shortage. Although acknowledging that it doesn’t fix the wider problem, he assured them that Nurse Dawn would be back soon. He reiterated that we are facing a nationwide shortage of nurses and said that even though the district is offering more money than ever before we still can’t get enough. “We are not leaving any school without a nurse on purpose; we are trying very hard to address this.”
Referencing another parent concern he also mentioned that there is an ongoing traffic study happening around several of our schools, in conjunction with City Hall. There is a traffic issue everywhere around the city. He thanked the paras and acknowledged that it’s brave to show up and to speak about this. He assured them that they, nor any district employee, should ever feel afraid to come and speak and said that it will never be held against them. “We hear you, we’re going to work on it…we want to help you. We know you’re part of the backbone of our district.”
He reminded everyone of the Superintendent’s Scholarship Fund, started in memory of his parents. Last year the scholarship fund gave out $22,000 to Clifton High School seniors. Tickets for an upcoming scholarship fundraiser - a Wizards basketball game with Clifton staff - are on sale now: https://pretix.eu/harlemwizards/clifton/.
In recognition of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week schools are collecting items to donate to St. Peter’s Haven. Donations can be dropped off at any school.
All referendum projects have been bid and final contracts should be finalized at the next board meeting, he said. South Wing bathroom renovations at CHS are coming along nicely and the contractor will move to the East Wing when these are complete.
The district calendar for next year is on the agenda and was passed with the following changes - Dr. Robertozzi asked to add Veterans’ Day as a label to the calendar but noted that it will be a day of school where students will learn something about the holiday. He also said that he was adding an extra day onto Labor Day weekend for teachers and students. Teachers will report back the day after Labor Day and students will report the day after, on Wednesday. The last day of school will be moved one day forward, to June 20.
Presentation on testing: Janina Kusielewicz, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, gave a state-mandated presentation on our district’s local assessments and the new NJGPA, which is being piloted as a field test for the next two years. District SAT scores, which are more reliable as the SAT has been around for a long time, show that our students are scoring above the national average.
Her report indicated that average reading scores are improving from last year and that contrary to claims, there is actually little evidence of learning loss in reading from the pandemic years. There were big gains in independent reading, measured by the number of books read. When looking at our locally developed assessments, which measure students against themselves instead of the nation, she found an increase in the percentage of students passing the writing assessments. In math there was significant growth from beginning-of-year placement tests to end-of-year testing. Data from those initial tests was used to drive instruction for the 2021-22 school year. Overall, local data in math shows growth.
Education committee report: November 30th is the next meeting, held virtually, of the Clifton SEPAG. SEPAG stands for Special Education Parent Advisory Groups which are an integral part of ensuring a “free and appropriate public education” for every child. Referrals to SPEd have increased this year, Commissioner Alan Paris said. There are an unprecedented number of students in ELL (English Language Learners) programs, leaping from 652 in October of 2021 to over 1,060 to date. There’s been a sharp increase in asylum seekers and refugees, primarily from Peru, Colombia, Ukraine, and Turkey, which contributes to these numbers. The district has added multiple ELL sections and staff and, based on enrollment, may need two additional bilingual programs in Ukrainian and Turkish for the 2022-23 school year.
The district is required to continue to add preschool classrooms under the state’s Preschool Expansion Aid program. Clifton currently has 60 preschool classrooms and must add up to another 20 by the 2023-24 school year. Our public schools are already at capacity and the district is actively seeking other venues and ways to maximize existing space.
The final Board of Education meeting of 2022 will be on Thursday, December 8th at 7 pm.