Board of Education Highlights: TheTransparency Report
PPS Board of Education, November 17, 2020
Please note: This is an unofficial summary of actions taken and topics discussed during the public session of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education on November 17, 2020, intended to provide timely information to our PPS community. This summary is notan official accounting of the meeting. Official minutes will be approved by the board at its next meeting.
Community members are welcome to attend the board's public sessions, currently being held via Zoom. Links are available on thedistrict website.
Board President's Report Video—5:33
Board president Beth Behrend thanked everyone for attending; noted her appreciation for the members of the public who attend these meetings to further communication between the board and the community; and turned the meeting over to the student board members.
Student Board Member's Report Video—8:43
Student board membersMaya Khan and Yash Roy congratulated the recently re-elected board members and newly elected member Jean Durbin. They noted that their focus has included outreach to strengthen the sense of community among students, with an emphasis on making new students feel welcome in our hybrid and remote environment. They are also working to inform students about the board's activities, and planning events in conjunction with the Student union, Asian Club, and various identity-based student groups to foster understanding of other cultures and create an inclusive school environment where all feel welcome, and heard. They are conducting a survey and plan to have information from that for the board in December.
They are also focused on connectivity and wellness, noting that many students feel overwhelmed by online learning. They are working to ensure that students are aware that mental and emotional health support is available.
Board President’s Comments Video—12:50
Beth Behrend asked Betsy Baglio to update the board on the search for a new superintendent of schools. Betsy reported that the consultant charged with vetting candidates has identified seven semi-finalists who will meet with board members in December.
She added that as we approach the holiday season it is especially important to take precautions to protect ourselves and our families from exposure to Covid, and urged everyone to visitPrincetonNJ.gov,where the mayor posts regular updates regarding safety measures. Households with children returning home from college are especially encouraged to follow the specific guidelines from the health department to keep their holiday gatherings safe.
Superintendent’s Report Video—15:55
Dr. Barry Galasso noted how fortunate we have been to have had school open during the past two months without a single case of Covid originating in a school, to the best of our knowledge. He thanked the medical team and teaching and administrative staffs for their diligence in taking precautions.
He said that following a meeting with the health department, he is recommending to the board that school be remote for one week following the Thanksgiving break, to allow time for symptoms that may appear following gatherings to be addressed and, if necessary, contact tracing to be conducted. Hybrid learning would resume on December 7 with a high degree of confidence that students and teachers are returning to a healthy environment.
The board has traditionally distributed a summary of the proceedings following its meetings; this summary will now be known as the Transparency Report and will go to all faculty and staff the afternoon following each meeting. It will also be posted on the district website, with a link that will allow students and community members to sign up to receive it.
Dr. Galasso introduced a presentation by PUMS Principal Jason Burr regarding the process for renaming the Princeton Unified Middle School, formerly John Witherspoon School. The process, designed as a comprehensive K to 12 educational engagement program, is evolving, and its outcome is not pre-determined by the board or a committee. "It is crossing all the racial and literacy and social justice programs we're operating in our schools," he said.
Presentation on Renaming The Princeton Unified Middle School, by Principal Jason BurrVideo—21:21
- Mr. Burr outlined the history of the renaming process, which began when the board approved a resolution to change the school's name from the John Witherspoon School in August, 2020. The school was temporarily given the name Princeton Unified Middle School (PUMS), with a decision regarding a permanent name due in June, 2021.
- Mr. Burr praised the educators who worked to engage students in the renaming effort, especially highlighting the contribution of Katie Dineen, who teaches US History 1 to freshmen at the Princeton High School. Ms. Dineen assigned her students to research the merits of prospective names while conversations were launched with teachers, students, alumni, and members of the historical society, resulting in a list of potential distinguished Princetonians for whom the school might be named.
- Through this organic process, students are wrestling with issues such as who should be honored and why, and why was the Witherspoon name removed? This leads to larger discussions of reckoning with history and controversies such as those regarding confederate statutes, Woodrow Wilson, and the Washington Redskins football team. Students have created projects, including websites and slideshows, advocating for the luminaries they believe the school should be named for.
- The high school students will present their projects on Friday, November 20, during a webinar moderated by alumni and attended by PUMS students, the first step in engaging younger learners in the re-naming process. The following week, these projects will be posted on a website that will invite comments and suggestions from members of the community.
- Following Thanksgiving break, PUMS civics teachers and media specialists will use the website as a starting point for involving their students. The PHS students who created the projects may be engaged as ambassadors for the effort and informal advisors to the younger students, forming a link between former and current middle school students. The PUMS students will create videos and handouts illustrating their reasoning behind their choices of names; they will present this work to their classmates during class time.
- The six to eight most successful of these projects will be presented to the rest of the PUMS community via Community Period, followed by a PUMS school-wide vote. This will help to create the list of finalists.
- Three to six exemplary student projects will eventually be presented to a panel of community members via Zoom, most likely following winter break.
- In early February, PUMS students will share their projects with the fifth grade classes as the first step in engaging them in the re-naming process. The fifth grades will then work on a project, not yet determined, to reinforce their involvement in the process.
- March 15 is the target date for submitting a final list of names for consideration.
- Mr. Burr explained that the primary focus of the project is currently its educational aspect; conversations over the coming months will more deeply involve community partners and the public at large.
An article on the effort, published in the November 18 edition ofTown Topics, can be found here.
Following the presentation, Dr. Galasso introduced a video featuring Science Supervisor Mridula Baja jand PHS biology teacher Steffanie Shoop that demonstrates the creative and innovative instruction being conducted during Covid. Video—51:52
Public Forum Video—56:00
Teacher and head football coach Charles Gallagher expressed his appreciation to the board for their decision to proceed with a fall sports season, and thanked the faculty and staff who supported the teams. He noted that being able to play was beneficial to the social and emotional growth of the players, and helped some develop their leadership skills.
Kristen Muenzen asked that the board to continue to be thoughtful when making decisions about remote learning, noting that some students struggle with learning online and that the needs of specific students and classes need to be considered in decision-making.
Facilities Committee Report Video—1:02:10
Susan Kanter reported that during a November 2 meeting the committee received an update on the completion of work being done on the referendum and the continuing work at middle school, and that a contract has been signed for JP construction next summer. A timeline for the PHS work is being developed, and a roof audit is being conducted. The administration is looking at sustainable and environmentally friendly improvements to the schools.
Equity Committee Report Video—1:04:00
Michele Tuck-Ponder reported that on November 9, she, Valerie Ulrich, and Keisha Smith-Carrington reviewed the equity programs currently funded by grants, including providing students with connectivity and wifi, noting that "access is equity." Their focus includes the continuation of equity literacy, teacher training, and professional development for teachers surrounding equity issues.
Finance Committee Report Video—1:05:58
Brian McDonald reported that expenses directly associated with operating during Covid are at $1.6 million and rising; they could reach or exceed $2 million to make sure our schools are operating as safely as possible. There are some savings that result from a remote or partially remote environment, and methods to track those savings are under discussion. He also reported that the state of New Jersey has reimbursed the district for some special education costs from the prior year at a higher than expected rate, evidence of its commitment to more fully fund special education. The budget process will be changing from its current priority-based process to a zero-based process, which will provide more detail regarding spending.
Personnel Committee Report Video—1:09:56
Debbie Bronfeld reported that the board will approve two new positions—a revised custodial supervisor description, which will improve the reporting structure; and a new position for an HVAC technician/foreman with the skills required to manage the new upgraded equipment. They will also approve a few more EPES as well as positions related to library coverage, and robotics. They will also be approving a sidebar with the union for a cheerleading assistant and head coach.
Policy Committee Report
Peter Katz reported that this committee's meeting is scheduled for Friday, November 20.
Student Achievement Committee Report Video—1:11:32
Betsy Baglio reported that PHS teacher Jacqueline Katz and science supervisorMridula Bajajattended a November 13 meeting to obtain approval for a student research project. A student in the independent research class is administering an anonymous survey to gain a better sense of how PHS students perceive racism; the committee asked that the student return to the committee with what she has learned. They also heard an update about the special education program during remote and hybrid learning, including the benefits of Canvas and schedule changes that have facilitated better engagement.Looking ahead to summer programming, the program is in the process of scheduling focus groups with parents and discussions will begin in January 2021, with a report due in June.
The board approved all Action Consent items as noted in all sections of this agenda as appropriate.
Beth Behrend wrapped up the meeting by thanking everyone, with special thanks to Dr. Galasso for arranging such informative presentations highlighting the great work of teachers and staff.Video—1:16:10
Upcoming Dates(all public meetings held via Zoom unless otherwise noted)
Nov. 19 - Policy Committee Meeting, 8 AM
Nov. 26-27 - Schools and Offices closed for Thanksgiving holiday
Dec. 4 - Student Achievement Committee, 11:30 AM
Dec. 7 - Facilities Committee, 8:30 AM
Dec. 7 - Finance Committee, 10 AM
Dec. 10 - Personnel Committee, 9 AM
Dec. 15 - Board of Education Meeting, 7:30 PM
January 5, 2021 - Board Organization Meeting
The full schedule of Board of Education Meetings for 2021 will be posted on the district website in January.
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