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BOARD SUMMARY/December 15, 2020  

Please note: These highlights are an unofficialsummary  of actions taken and topics discussed during the public session of the Princeton Public Schools  Board  of Education on December 15, 2020. They are intended to provide timely information to our community, but they do not represent an official accounting of the meeting.  Official minutes will be approved by the  Board  at its next meeting.  

In an effort to keep the PPS community informed about the work of the Board of Education, a summary of every Board meeting is sent out following each meeting. The public is invited to participate in Board meetings via Zoom, and we hope these updates are helpful if you are unable to observe.  You can  watch the full board meeting on the district’s YouTube channel.    

The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education met on Tuesday, December 15, 2020.  

Tribute to Departing Board Member Jessica Deutsch   (Video—7:40)

President Beth Behrend noted that she was “sad to say goodbye to our departing member tonight” and read a resolution recognizing Jess Deutsch’s many contributions to our district and education in general in, among many other areas, service on the equity committee, the policy committee, the student achievement committee, and as a liaison to the Riverside PTO and a member of the Princeton Education Association.

She then turned the floor over to colleagues to share their tributes to Deutsch.

Dafna Kendal called her “incredibly intelligent” and lauded her “kindness and care” for students. “She will be missed.”

Michele Tuck-Ponder noted that she admired “the level of her intensity and compassion for other people,” adding “she constantly reminded us of the importance of wellness and how that contributes to academic achievement”.

Debbie Bronfeld noted her emphasis on gratitude.

Betsey Baglio commented on her “clear and lasting focus on students, and health and wellness.”

Brian McDonald said that he has known Deutsch for close to 15 years, noting that she has “spent her entire career focused on service to others.” He discussed the etymology of the “one word Jess most embodies: Compassion.” Its root is the Latin word “pati,” which means suffering, and the prefix “com” means “with.” “Compassion means we cannot look on cooly as others suffer,” he said. “Her commitment to helping others is heartfelt and genuine.”

Deutsch thanked her colleagues, noting that service on the board has many challenges and comparing it to “a three bears story on repeat…rarely is it ‘just right.’” She added that “the struggle is worth it” to benefit the students of the community. She ended by saying, “I wish for you all the ‘guideposts’ that Brene Brown offers in the Gifts of Imperfection:  Cultivating authenticity, compassion, resilience, gratitude, trust, creativity, play and rest, calm, meaning and laughter.

“Whoever might be listening tonight, I hope you join me in  holding our public officials to the highest standards, and offering each other more compassion. We need to be on the same team, on behalf of the kids who are counting on us. I hope you know that while I was on the board, I was well aware of my imperfection, and sincerely motivated to contribute in the ways I could. The work continues. Thank you so much for the chance to have been a member of this board.”

President Behrend called her a “guide star” before thanking her and wishing her well.

Members of the public were invited to offer their tributes. Darleny Cepin said her experiences with Deutsch, and the impact she has on those around her,  could be summed up with four quotes from Maya Angelou:

“If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change your attitude,” noting Deutsch’s commitment to “contribute to a more inclusive Princeton in every way.”

“Be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.”

“I have learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.” “She breathes life into every space,” Cepin said.

“People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Mollie Marcoux Samaan commented on her deep commitment to people, mission, purpose, and solving problems.

“She is one of the most growth-minded people I know, constantly trying to get better and make those around her better.”

Greg Stankiewicz thanked her for “all the work you did as a social warrior/activist for the very simple but powerful idea that our kids, our staff, our teachers, all need balance in our lives. This is a time when we need your sense of gratitude, and your sense of ‘we’re all in this together.’”

Student Board Members Report (Video—25:25) 

Yash Roy reported that they have been focused on their peers’ mental health concerns, specifically the struggles many have experienced with remote learning and an overwhelming work load. They are working with Dr. Donovan, Principal Baxter, and school counselors  to find ways to increase morale and decrease stress. A particular pain point, they noted, are the school day’s differing start times, which vary between 8:20 and 9:25 depending upon the week. This has made it difficult for students to establish a stable schedule. Maya Khan noted that they are working with the Student Counsel to promote stress-relieving activities, such as a video game tournament conducted via Zoom. She said they are “grateful to students of all grades who are working so hard to keep the spirit of PHS alive,” and added that study circle discussions regarding mental health, equity, and other key issues are ongoing.

President Beth Behrend thanked them for their report, saying that hearing directly from students is “important to our work.”

President’s Report (Video—30:55)

President Behrend remarked that the past year “has turned education on its head” and presented numerous challenges, and—although much is virtual—the regular rhythms continue. She reported that highly qualified candidates for superintendent have been identified, and they expect that person to be in place on July 1, 2021. The district is working with facilitators from the Bucks County Intermediate Unit to ensure building a strong relationship with the new superintendent.

She urged everyone to enjoy the musical talents of the district’s students, on display at the annual holiday concert on Tuesday, December 22, at 7:30 pm. The link will be available at https://www.princetonk12.org/academics/the-arts. She thanked “our fine arts educators for their extraordinary efforts in enabling our students to continue to express themselves though arts despite the pandemic.”

The board members, in keeping with the meeting’s theme of gratitude, then thanked the many administrators, teachers, and staff members who have worked tirelessly throughout the past year to provide the high quality education that is the district’s hallmark. They emphasized that “words could never be enough to thank them” and that although they were not able to name everyone, all are deeply appreciated. “We can’t mention everyone but are thinking of all of you, and are so grateful,” Behrend said.

Dan Dart acknowledged the schools’ principals and assistant principals:

Princeton High School—Principal Jessica Baxter; Assistant Principals Cecilia Birge (acting), Stephanie DiCarlo, Rashone Johnson, Jared Warren

Princeton Unified Middle School—Principal Jason Burr; Assistant Principal Timothy Charleston

Community Park School—Principal Dineen Gruchacz

Johnson Park School—Principal Angela Sisto Stentz (acting)

Little Brook School—Principal Luis Ramirez

Riverside School—Principal Mark Shelley

Susan Kanter acknowledged the supervisors:

Mridula Bajaj
Eric Csolak
Kristina Donovan
Brian Dzbenski
Krista Galyon
Stephanie Greenberg
Patrick Lenihan
Elizabeth Murrin
Crystal Riddick
Priscilla Russel
Keisha Smith-Carrington
Stephenie Tidwell

Kanter also thanked the senior staff, bus drivers, facilities director David Harding, and Elizabeth Collier in communications.

Dafna Kendal thanked administrators, noting especially Director of Special Services Micki Crisafulli, who led the effort to open schools and keep everyone safe during the pandemic. “To our knowledge we have not had one case of transmission in the schools,” she said. “This is extraordinary.” She added that Crisafulli and her team have “worked tirelessly” to make sure that students in the special education program have their needs met in the remote environment. She also thanked the nurses, including Lisa Goldsmith and Liz Dyevich.

“The caliber and commitment of our staff is what sets Princeton apart from other districts,” she said.

Debbie Bronfeld thanked Assistant Superintendent Mike Volpe, noting especially his skill in union negotiations and improving procedures regarding personnel issues. “The board is very grateful for all Mike has done to support our staff.”

Brian McDonald thanked Business Administrator Matt Bouldin and his impressive work ethic, commitment to education, and exemplary values, as well as his ability to see and present the big picture while having command of the details.

Betsy Baglio thanked Acting Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Bob Ginsberg, noting that he listens and responds thoughtfully, and that he and his staff work on creative solutions for all kids.

Michele Tuck-Ponder thanked Acting Superintendent Barry Galasso. “Barry demonstrates the confidence that the challenge can be met, the need resolved, and the crisis overcome,” she said, calling him “a fearless leader who in the midst of the pandemic took the helm and provided us with a steady hand. He’s led with courage, strength, imagination, and creativity, and we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.”

 

Superintendent’s Report (Video—46:00)

Barry Galasso thanked the board, noting that they have done everything that was asked of them in order to re-open the schools, and that their priority is the students. He added that the “administrative team I’m working with is nothing less than outstanding. It’s a pleasure to work with professionals who care.” He said that the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, which works with approximately 300 school districts every year, praised the PPS mission statement as “unique” and “a living document,” which he called “a tribute to the board and the community.”

He discussed the reasons behind some schedule readjustments, citing the desire to keep students in the classroom as much as possible and the potential impact of an impending snowstorm.

He thanked the teachers, staff, secretarial staff, and all who have done “yeoman’s work.” He then introduced a four-minute video featuring Art Teacher Judy Buckley and the work of three students in her studio art class, created by Coach Charlie Gallagher. “It’s a tribute to the many talents of the kids in our school district,” he said, adding the students’ work in our remote environment will be highlighted at each board meeting.

 

Public Comment (Video—56:50)

Adam Bierman—Offered “kudos to Superintendent Galasso” and suggested that the board seek candidates for the superintendent position with more than ten years of proven management and financial experience as well as an understanding of the Princeton community and culture.

Kristin Muenzen—Asked that decisions about going to remote learning be more nuanced, and not “all or nothing” because of the impact they have on special ed students. She asked for consideration of some version of in-person schooling whenever possible.

President Behrend noted that the group had not yet thanked Krista Gaylon, director of technology and innovation, and her team, before proceeding with the committee reports.

Equity Committee Report (Video—1:00:36)

Michele Tuck-Ponder reported that the committee has a sub-committee working on equity policy and has encountered some challenges. She and Stephenie Tidwell, the staff liaison, met with the district’s diversity consultant to discuss various issues, including whether the policy should acknowledge the role that the district may have played in equity over the years. They have also identified the need for data, saying “what’s past is prologue—it’s difficult to draft a policy when you don’t know here you’ve been.” She discussed the importance of gaining a definition of equity that is meaningful for the entire community. Exploration continues.

Facilities Committee Report (Video—1:04.40)

Susan Kanter reported that the committee met on Monday, December 7, and received an update on the referendum projects, which are proceeding, and discussed sustainability efforts, including greener cleaning for buildings, planning for the potential installation of solar panels in the future, LED lighting, and HVAC upgrades.

Finance Committee (Video—1:06:46)

Brian McDonald reported that the committee met on Monday, December 7, and reviewed the comprehensive financial annual report with accountant, who complemented Matt Bouldin and his team for their work. He noted that Covid-related expenses approach $1.7 million, and that the savings from things like cancelled field trips and travel represent a small fraction of that expense.

Personnel Committee Report (Video—1:09:06)

Debbie Bronfeld reported that the board will be approving the resignation of PHS Principal Jessica Baxter, saying that she is sorry to see her leave. The district is looking for substitute teachers.

Policy Committee (Video—1:09:53)

President Behrend reported that the committee met on November 20 and that the policy manual update has been completed and is now in review for pronoun usage. The committee is looking into the possibility of local procurement in order to support local merchants, and considering issues, such as governance and advocacy, which don’t currently live in a committee.

Student Achievement Committee (Video—1:11:30)

Betsy Baglio reported that there has been no meeting since last board meeting; the next is scheduled for December 18.

Actions (Video—1:12:36)

The board approved all Action Consent items as noted in all sections of this agenda as appropriate. For a complete list please scroll to 1:12:52.

Closing (Video—1:18:20)

Dafna Kendal added that she wanted to thank Jessica Baxter, saying “your legacy will live on for your students, and we appreciate very much the work you did for PHS over the years.”

President Behrend ended the meeting by saying, “Thank you for all the expressions of gratitude and recognition. It’s nice to end the year on that note.”