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Princeton Board of Education

February 20, 2024

These highlights are an unofficial summary of actions taken and topics discussed during the public session of the Princeton Board of Education on February 20, 2024. They are intended to provide timely information to our community, but do not represent the official minutes of the meeting. You can watch the full Board meeting on the district’s YouTube channel.

Board President's Report

President Dafna Kendal asked the group to take a moment to recognize the loss of 2023 PHS grad James Li. Acting Superintendent Kathie Foster noted that James was "passionate about science" and read a portion of a quote from one of his teachers, who said, "James was one of those gentle souls who surprised us with his thoughtfulness and wisdom."  

Minutes from the previous meeting were approved.

Ms. Kendal noted the death of Patricia Wray, PHS's longtime beloved drama teacher who retired in 2018 and passed away in November. "There was never a boring day in her class," a student wrote. "Miss Ray was one of the teachers who made PHS special...she went above and beyond her commitment as a teacher.... She pushed and nurtured her students and knew what they were capable of, even if they didn't."

The board extended its deepest condolences to her family.

Sarah Moore, elementary school supervisor, introduced Scripps Spelling Bee winners, citing "the joy and tenacity" of her students and praising their leadership and support of their teammates. The winners shook hands with the board members, who wished those students moving on to the next phase of the competition the best of luck. 

Students presented a report on MSAN, the Multicultural Student Achievement Network, and their project, T.I.G.E.R. Talk.

The district has been an MSAN partner for over a decade. The organization focuses on racial equity in schools. Its headquarters is in Wisconsin, and a group of students recently attended a conference there, with expenses paid by the district. Its theme was "You Belong," and the students, who met with over 300 fellow MSAN members, said they appreciated the opportunity to connect with "like-minded student leaders of color who attend AP classes and have big plans for their future, but often feel a lack of belonging in the school community."

The students had been asked by MSAN to create a social justice project that could be presented at the conference and later implemented in their schools. The Princeton group wanted to create a platform where the achievements of students could be highlighted, with an emphasis on diversity groups and clubs. They created a short TV show/podcast called T.I.G.E.R. Talks. Tiger stands for Talking About Inclusivity, Greatness, and Equitable Relationships at PHS. They showed a video of their work.

Next steps related to this work will help the students further their knowledge of video production. They hope to see support in creating media platforms with an emphasis on inclusivity, the creation of AP courses with a focus on diversity, and greater hiring and retention of educators of color and bilingual educators.

Ms. Kendal asked what the students thought the district could do to make the culture at PHS more welcoming; the students responded that improvements have been made, largely due to the teachers and administrators who support them and noted the observance of Black History month as a sign of improvement. They said that making all students feel seen and heard will be a gradual, ongoing process.

School Calendar Revision

The 2023-24 calendar is being revised. "Sometimes listening means changing your mind," said Dr. Foster, "and we listened to parent and staff concerns about taking the Monday of spring break away" following snow days. Instead, school will be in session with early dismissal on June 4, which is a primary day. Elections will be held in the elementary schools, but extra security and building monitors will allow classes to run safely while polling is underway.

Acting Superintendent's Report

Dr. Foster introduced Dr. Tew to talk about the possibility of ensuring access to Dual Language Instruction (DLI) via a lottery system. This would be only for the incoming kindergarten Class of 2024-2025; no other classes are affected. Based on district demographers' advice, the plan is to have two  DLI classrooms and two traditional classrooms.

Families will be informed by May 1 if a lottery is necessary. If there is a wait list, they will be notified by April 23.

Ms. Kendal thanked generous donors, Mohak Vilas Mhatre and Joydeep Kumar Banerjee, for giving a Yamaha piano to the Princeton Middle School, then introduced the student board members. 

Student Board Members' Report

Student reps Oliver Huang and Alex Margulis reported that the PHS Girls School Swim Team is undefeated, the PHS Ethics Bowl Team qualified for the nationals, and the jazz group has earned honors, evidence that "education and school success don't end at the final bell."

They also discussed the important role the guidance office plays, adding that it can be difficult for students to meet with counselors because they're so busy. They suggested having open hours might make it easier.

Public Comment

Two students expressed their appreciation to Mr. Ferguson and reported that the Math Club at PHS offers peer tutoring on Wednesday, adding that they hope to make math "a more friendly environment."

Michele Tuck-Ponder spoke on behalf of Princeton Parents for Black Children to let the community know that applications are being accepted for the Shirley Satterfield Scholarship Fund. The group advocates for equity of opportunity and experience for all Black children in the Princeton Public School District; she said that members of the community who would like to support this work can do so at Princeton Parents for Black Children.

A parent asked the district to make sure that the DLI website is clear and transparent so that families can understand the requirements and options.

A student and his mother spoke out in support of Mr. Ferguson and expressed concern about instructional time in math. Dr. Tew pointed out that tutoring is available for students who have concerns about maintaining their progress.

Committee Reports

Updates were provided by the Equity committee, Long Term Planning Committee, Operations Committee, Personnel Committee, Policy Committee, and Student Achievement Committee. Topics included the status of equity in the district, updates and refinements regarding demographics and architectural plans related to the proposed expansion of school buildings, roofing projects, future electric bus purchase plans, and planned field trips.

Board members thanked retiring staff members for their service—Nurse Kathleen Bihuniak after 23 years; First Grade Teacher Mary Gutierrez; and Supervisor of Preschool and Special Projects Valerie Ulrich.

Betsy Baglio reminded the community that there is a gospel festival Friday night, February 23, at 7:30 p.m.  at the high school; the Princeton Middle School will present Mary Poppins March 7-10; and the High School will present Beauty and the Beast March 14-16. "Come see what our students are doing."

The Asian Festival is March 8 at the high school.

The Consent Agenda was passed, and the meeting adjourned.

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 19 at 25 Valley Road. The public session starts at approximately 7:30 PM.


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