Recap of Board of Education Meeting - October 7, 2021

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BOARD OF EDUCATION Meeting Recap 10.7.2021

The Clifton Board of Education met for their regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, October 7 at 7:00 pm in the Clifton High School auditorium. Though a couple were a few minutes late, all commissioners were in attendance.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance and a brief moment of silence Vice President Frank Kasper read the district’s mission statement: “The mission of the Clifton School District, in an open and reciprocal community partnership, is to provide all students with a quality education to develop the skills necessary to become literate, life-long learners who are responsible and productive citizens contributing to a democratic society in an ever-changing world.”

President Jim Smith made an announcement reminding everyone about the governor’s mandate requiring masks in all schools. He said that masks could be lowered when a speaker is at the microphone but that everyone should be masked other than that.

SUPERINTENDENT’S REMARKS

Dr. Robertozzi announced Friday’s Homecoming game and encouraged the public to come out to what promises to be an exciting match between two teams with a 5-0 record. The game will open with the Mustang’s pregame show and an annual Band Night tradition of the middle schools’ band students joining our marching band on the field for the National Anthem before the start of the game.

The superintendent offered his congratulations to Anissa Fraser, who is an athlete on our Special Olympic teams. This year, Anissa made it to Team NJ and will be proudly representing us in the National Games in Track and Field next summer.

Over 7,600 students have taken the Imagine Math benchmark assessment to develop a baseline score for the Imagine Math program, he said, which adapts to each student’s level as they work independently. CCMS, WWMS, School 13, School 2, and School 11 were specifically mentioned for their outstanding use of this program just this week.

He also mentioned our successful PBSIS (Positive Behavior Support In School) program and the outstanding accomplishments seen at School 5, where in the first 17 days of school students earned 11,625 “star bucks,” each of which represents an act of kindness or some other meeting of behavior expectations.

Dr. Robertozzi announced that School 16 will reopen on Tuesday, October 12, thanks to the hard work of many people. “I’m very, very, very grateful.” He did acknowledge that not every single thing has been completed (new desks are on the way and borrowed ones are filling classrooms for now) but the goal was to reopen as quickly as possible and that will be happening in just a few days.

PUBLIC RECOGNITION

Mark Brunciak of Clifton stepped forward to speak about the importance of voting for all citizens ages 18 and older. He reminded everyone that voting gives all adult citizens the chance to voice their opinions about how their government functions. “All citizens get an opportunity to choose who represents them.”

Lori Lalama, president of the CEA, thanked Dr. Robertozzi and Eddie Maldonado for their hard work at School 16. She asked about the plastic dividers, which are not always useful at the high school where some of the students are actually taller than these dividers. Ms. Lalama brought up the topic of unpleasant, unkind comments made by district employees and/or board commissioners on social media. “I want us to work together to be a positive school district.”

Al DeBois began by complaining about the mask that he was asked to wear, stating that he never wears them and isn’t used to them. He asked about a Citizens’ Advisory Committee to discuss Covid, masks, and vaccine mandates. He called the mandate to wear masks extortion if the district is concerned about losing money from the state.

COMMITTEE REPORTS

The Residency Committee
- Feras Awwad, chair, reported on the security related bond referendum items. Work in the middle and high schools should begin in mid-October. The committee made inquiries to a security company about various software, including AI programs which can detect weapons and accidents. Our notification system is being enhanced to ensure that announcements can be heard in all areas of a school. Work will start in the middle and high schools since that is where most incidents related to this need occur. JTC Cameras will soon begin walk-throughs of our elementary schools.

The Clifton Police Department has been helping at crosswalks as approximately half of the district’s crossing areas are unstaffed, he reported, due to a massive shortage of crossing guards.

On Monday, October 11, faculty will have a Professional Development (PD) day while students have the day off. The PD will focus on security and safety training.

Residency investigations throughout the summer and the past month have followed up on hundreds of residency questions. In the past month, 10 of these investigations resulted in an out-of-district student’s removal from our schools, saving the district more than $275,000 in student costs.

The Diversity and Inclusion Committee - Chaired by Fahim Abedrabbo, this committee discussed their goals for the current school year, professional development goals for staff and the possibility of cultural sensitivity training, a survey that will go out to the two middle schools to address various topics regarding inclusivity and acceptance, and the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our curricula.

Education/Special Education Committee – chaired by Frank Kasper, they discussed highlights of the district’s reopening and the focus on social/emotional needs of both students and staff. Heather Rotolo, coordinating supervisor of special services, thanked the district for the additional staff she was able to hire. The committee discussed the Start Strong assessment, which is a short assessment in English/Language Arts and Math and one in Science for specific grades. The intent is to assist the district in pinpointing areas where students need extra support.

The committee also discussed new state legislation (S854 – Wooten’s Law)
for stand-alone Civics classes in middle school, starting in the 2022-23 school year.

Municipal Alliance Committee – Dr. Lucy Danny, chair, reported on this joint meeting between the Board of Education and the City Council. They discussed adding tennis courts to Tatarenko Park. Additional courts could be added if the BOE wanted to contribute funds. The approximate cost is $160,000 per court. Additional parking at School 6 was addressed but that project is already underway. Nick Villano, our city manager, said that the city would look into possible ways to address the flooding and traffic at School 16. A few other items were reported on, including public sessions at meetings. Mr. Villano said that phone callers are no longer allowed to participate during meetings with the exception of open public hearings related to an ordinance vote.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

The Board of Education likely will be moving their meetings to the media center at CELA B. The next meeting on October 21st
will be the last one in the CHS auditorium as the high school has many other activities starting and the auditorium will no longer be available.

Joe Canova mentioned the issue of allowing public participation via call-ins and President Smith said that he was waiting to hear from legal. The district attorney then weighed in, saying that the board was not required to allow remote participation if the meetings are held in person but that the board could choose to allow it. If allowed, the issue would have to go to Technology to work out the logistics. President Smith asked that a resolution be added to the next agenda as an item for discussion. He then, on the suggestion of Dr. Robertozzi, took a roll call vote to ascertain interest from the other commissioners regarding the issue of allowing for call-in participation. The majority indicated that they were interested in pursuing it.

RESOLUTIONS

A resolution regarding Breast Cancer Awareness Month passed without discussion, whereas the Board of Education recognized and paid tribute to survivors.

Other education resolutions passed easily with just a quick question.

Personnel resolutions also passed without discussion.

Finance/Facilities resolutions were passed without discussion, as well.

President Jim Smith offered congratulations to Tracey Morigi, the newly appointed principal of School 4, who then spoke briefly about her new position. “Today’s treasures, tomorrow’s hope” is the motto which hangs above the School 4 front door and she said that she already knows that this is absolutely true in how the staff sees and treats their students. “There are so many wonderful things that are happening in Clifton and at School 4 and I am very, very grateful to be a part of this family.”

BOARD MEMBER COMMENTS

All board commissioners offered their sincere condolences to Judy Bassford on the recent passing of her brother. Several also mentioned Board Secretary Michael Ucci, whose wife lost her grandfather.

Dana Beltran said that she was happy that the Board was considering allowing for remote participation for the public.

Joe Canova mentioned the importance of breast cancer awareness and reminded everyone to go to their doctors and to get checked. Suggested that anyone with questions about following the mask mandate in schools check with the BOE, which has a written policy which spells out the criteria.

Jim Daley encouraged everyone to support the various extracurricular activities and the students who work so hard at what they do outside of their classrooms.

Lucy Danny congratulated Ms. Morigi and wished her well as she faces the many challenges of her new position.

Fahim Abedrabbo – mentioned several opportunities for the public to learn about the candidates for the Board of Education: The Republican’s Club at the Elks Lodge on October 12th, in Clifton News and Community (Facebook group) on October 13th, and a forum hosted by the PACC (Palestinian American Community Center) on October 19th. He asked that we look into the plastic dividers and thanked John Biegle for the Health Department’s involvement in helping the district to respond to the pandemic.

Feras Awwad spoke about the recent birth of his daughter and Islam’s view of motherhood which says that our mothers are so important – even more so than our fathers – that jannah (heaven) lies at her feet. “I do miss sleeping,” he joked.

Judy Bassford thanked the Board for the beautiful flowers they sent for her brother’s memorial service. She shared some memories of her brother and again expressed her gratitude for the support of her colleagues during this very painful time.

Frank Kasper thanked all of the retirees from the district for their service and congratulated all Students of the Month. He thanked donors who have contributed to the district and reminded everyone that there are three ways to vote – early voting, vote by mail, and in person on November 2nd.

Jim Smith commented on the Board’s ability to put differences aside and to support each other in times of need. He announced that the state-of-the-art kitchen at CHS should be ready for a ribbon-cutting ceremony sometime later this month and said that students can expect to start enjoying it in early November. Today the parking lot at School 6, which houses the Board of Education offices and the Welcome Center, was finished and fresh parking lines were painted.

NEW BUSINESS

Joe Canova asks that Public Recognition be moved to a later position in the meetings so that the public can comment after hearing the committee reports in case something came up that generated questions. He also requested that the full board be given the agenda and minutes for every committee meeting.

There was no Executive Session and the meeting was adjourned.

The next Board of Ed meeting is scheduled for October 21st at 7:00pm. This will be the last meeting held at CHS.

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