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These highlights are an unofficial  summary of actions taken and topics discussed during the public session of the Board of Education meeting on April 25, 2023. They are intended to provide timely information to the community, but they do not represent an official accounting of the meeting.  Official minutes will be approved by the  Board at its next meeting. 

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Highlights from April 25 

The Princeton Board of Education met Tuesday, April 25, 2023, via Zoom. 

The meeting was called to order by Dafna Kendal, Board President. All board members were present, including Betsy Kalber Baglio (Vice President), Beth Behrend, Debbie Bronfeld, Rob Christopher, Jean Durbin, Mara Franceschi, Susan Kanter, Dafna Kendal, Brian McDonald, and Michelle Tuck-Ponder.

President Dafna Kendal began the meeting by letting the public know that the Board has reviewed all of the communications from the public and acknowledges the frustration from the BOE's inability to share more information on various topics. In response to the public's questions regarding voting on the consent agenda at the last Board meeting, Ms. Kendal assured those watching that there would be more clarity on voting going forward. In addition to announcing three public comments sessions for this meeting (one solely dedicated to budget comments), Ms. Kendal said that the district had increased the Zoom meeting capacity in order to allow all those who wanted to virtually attend the meeting to do so.

Superintendent's Report: Dr. Kelley thanked all district staff for their ongoing dedication and commitment to creating a safe and inclusive learning environment and providing students with the support necessary for their success. 

Dr. Kelley invited Valerie Ulrich, Supervisor of Preschool and Special Projects, and Sustainable Princeton's Jenny Ludmer to present the work that has been done since 2018 to build sustainable practices, with the goal of providing students with opportunities to take on leadership roles in sustainability and drive everyday sustainable practices. Since the inception of the District's Green Teams in 2018, PPS has secured approximately $50,000 in grant funds for sustainable practices. Recently, Sustainable Jersey recognized PPS as an Exemplary District. Programs highlighted include:

  • Support the Sort - a child-led waste reduction program
  • Johnson Park's All Natural Playground - student-designed and implemented
  • School gardens - which donate produce to local area food banks and serve to build community
  • PMS' Outdoor Classroom - built by the school's Green Team for the Food Science program
  • Reclaimed empty courtyard space at PHS - students have built terraced gardens, living labs and outdoor classrooms

Upcoming projects the Green Teams are undertaking with recently awarded grant funds:

  • Naturalization of a storm basin at PHS to better handle water
  • Johnson Park is moving towards reusable flatware/dishware for parties
  • Riverside is recycling plexiglass to build a greenhouse 

Additionally, PPS has initiated the conversion to LED lights in all of the buildings, investigated adding solar to school roofs in the future, and is exploring options to electrify school buses or purchase electric school buses in the future.

Dr. Barnes-Johnson presented on upcoming Advanced Placement and State testing. New Jersey Student Learning Assessments (NJSLA) begins in May. Schools will send out reminders ahead of testing so that students can be prepared. To support NJSLA and AP testing, each building has an assigned tech assistant to be present on-site and there will be extra administrative support in each building during testing.

Dr. Barnes-Johnson reminded parents that, as PPS is a one-to-one district, it is hoped that every family will help the district prepare students for testing by: 

  • ensuring that student devices are charged nightly
  • taking the opportunity to de-emphasize anxiety over testing by letting students know that this is simply part of the process of learning

The district website has testing resources for families, including the refusal form for those opting out of testing. Dr. Barnes-Johnson announced that NJ has eliminated the Start Strong assessment and there will be no Start Strong testing in the Fall.

Dr. Tew provided an update on the upcoming program review of the math curriculum. After a request for proposal (RFP) process that began in the winter, a team of evaluators selected ADL Consulting Meaningful Teaching and Learning. Angela Lalor and her colleague, Charles Sperrazza, presented the scope and timeline of the work. The intended goals of the review are to:

  • Assess the quality of the enacted, written, taught, and learned mathematics curriculum
  • Utilize current research to evaluate mathematics education inclusive of best practices in course sequencing and offering equitable pathways
  • Support the development of a shared vision for quality instruction among leaders, faculty, and staff
  • Co-develop a strategic plan for professional learning

The review process will take place over several months. There will be surveys and focus groups to collect data from administrators, teachers, parents, and students. 

Dr. Kelley recommended a change in the current school year calendar to the Board, making May 26 (the Friday before Memorial Day weekend) a half day, with early dismissal in all schools, for a staff wellness day. For working parents who need support with childcare, Valerie Ulrich has reached out to the YMCA. Dr. Kelley will be working with the calendar committee to make this change permanent for future school years.

Student Board Members' report: The student board liaisons have begun drafting a guide for new student board representatives to understand the norms and rules of the board so that they can best represent the interests of the students and work effectively with the Board.

Budget Presentation: Matthew Bouldin presented the final budget for adoption. The total school levy, for fiscal year 23-24,will be $89.250 million; the tax rate increases from 1.198 to 1.237 per $100 assessed value for calendar year 2023. The tax levy for fiscal year 23-24 is going up by 2.9%.

Beth Behrend encouraged any members of the public who are interested to attend the Operations Committee meetings, which are held monthly and are open to the public.

The budget was passed with one dissenting vote. 

Dr. Tew shared that Princeton University's math department has reached out to PPS and is offering free professional development to the high school's math teachers and expressed gratitude for the University's partnership and support.

Long-Term Planning Committee: Beth Behrend reported on the committee's April 20 meeting. The agenda for the Elementary School Planning Community Forum on April 27 was discussed, and the committee reviewed a preliminary timeline for capacity planning for the middle and elementary schools. The next committee meeting is May 18, at 4:30 PM.

Operations Committee: Susan Kanter reported that the committee reviewed referendum projects that will be awarded this summer, received an update about sustainability and EcoLab, and was informed that Matt Bouldin will work on the renewal of the food services contract for 2024-2025. The committee thanked Mr. Bouldin and the team who made improvements on the upper field at PHS. The next committee meeting, May 10 at 8 AM, is open to the public.

Personnel Committee: Debbie Bronfeld presented an update from the committee's April 13 meeting. The district is actively participating in job fairs, hiring to fill positions, and completing end-of-year reviews.

Dafna Kendal announced that May 2 will be the Board's reappointment meeting, starting at 7:30 PM.

Policy Committee: Jean Durbin said that at the April 14 meeting all of the policies up for a vote were discussed. The committee discussed the attendance policy; publishing a schedule of the school year's testing dates in advance of the school year; and a potential sports booster liaison to coordinate fund raising among sports booster clubs. The next committee meetings will be held May 12 and June 2, both at 8:15 AM, and are open to the public.

Student Achievement Committee: Betsy Baglio reported that at the April 14 meeting there was a summer programs presentation. Patrick Lenahan, Supervisor of Visual and Performing Arts, discussed upcoming international trips. Ms. Baglio emphasized that regardless of cost, all students are able to attend trips. Funding options are available to students who need financial assistance.Brian Dzbenski, Supervisor of Physical Education/Health & Athletic Director & Health Wellness, spoke about a potential new boys' volleyball team and the need for a winter track coach. Dr. Mantuano Lacsamana, an assistant principal from PHS, provided details about a program for English Language Learners at Kean University, and a trip to the Odyssey of the Mind finals competition in late May. The next committee meeting is on May 5.

Retirements were announced for: Lorraine Bray, Elizabeth Collier, Steve Kramer, and Deb Schulterbrandt. 

Several Board members thanked Ms. Collier for her service as Public Information Officer. Beth Behrend thanked Ms. Collier and also spoke about band teacher Steve Kramer and his lasting positive impact on hundreds of students by introducing them to musical instruments. In praise of Steve Kramer, Ms. Kendal described his impact on students, and how Mr. Kramer made all students feel excited about playing instruments, including those with learning differences. Debbie Bronfeld thanked him for instilling a love of music in the students he taught.

In a discussion of agenda items prior to voting, Ms. Tuck-Ponder explained her forthcoming no-vote on overnight trips was about the high cost of the trips, not the opportunities they presented. She cited ongoing work to help support students and expressed concerns about the cost barrier. Ms. Baglio confirmed that it is district policy that every student interested in attending a field trip has the opportunity regardless of cost. 

Ms. Kendal thanked Princeton University for its generous annual donation for the next five years.

There was discussion about the mechanics of referendum project submissionto the NJ Department of Education for review and approval.

There were no speakers during the third public comment session. The consent agenda was passed and the meeting adjourned.

The next Board meeting, for staff reappointment, will be held on May 2, 7:30 PM, in person. The regular May Board meeting is scheduled for May 23.

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