These highlights are an unofficial summary of actions taken and topics discussed during the public session of the Board of Education meeting on March 28, 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 March 28, 2023
The Princeton Board of Education met Tuesday, March 28, 2023, at Princeton Middle School.
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, Robert Christopher, Jean Durbin, Mara Franceschi, Susan Kanter, Brian McDonald, and Michele Tuck-Ponder. Dafna Kendal began the meeting by sending the district's deepest condolences to the community of Nashville, Tennessee in the aftermath of the school shooting.
Ms. Kendal noted that many individuals planned to speak during the one-hour public comment period and she urged speakers to model civility to set a good example for the students watching or participating in the meeting.
Dr. Carol Kelley addressed the Board and community, reminding all that spring break is homework free to give students, faculty and staff an opportunity to rest and reset for the remainder of the school year. She also shared her reflections on the last few weeks, expressing both her support of individuals' rights to express themselves and disappointment in how a few individuals have chosen to express their concerns (e.g., personal attacks, derogatory emails, and photos). She noted that this depiction is not what she knows this community to be.
She concluded her remarks by reminding the community of all the fantastic work that’s still happening every day in PPS, such as:
- the formation of the QUEST program (Gifted & Talented) to address the needs of gifted and talented in all domains
- the expansion of free public preschool, including the addition of a Dual Language Immersion preschool program that will be fully funded by the state
- the restructuring of the district's intervention program (I&RS) to target students’ needs more systematically and directly
- the “Beyond the School Day” program, at all schools, which provides high-intensity tutoring, homework help, and credit recovery
- partnerships with ESS (Effective School Solutions) and Princeton Family Institute to address students' mental health needs at PHS and PMS
- vast and comprehensive summer programming for summer 2023, which will provide both intervention and enrichment K-12
- the district has been selected as an “Exemplar District” in sustainability by the Sustainable New Jersey Certification program
- PPS is now an Orton-Gillingham accredited instructional program, and the district was selected to move forward in the application process for the New Jersey Tiered System of Supports for Early Reading
Interim Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, Rebecca Gold, announced the appointment of the new Riverside Principal, Max L. Achtau. Ms. Gold and the Board thanked Nancy Whalen, who has been the interim principal for this year. Ms. Gold described the hiring process, which involved many candidates and nine finalists.She noted that the interview committee was composed of general education teachers, special ed teachers, PTO members, child study team members, guidance counselors, and others. Mr. Achtau has nine years' experience as an administrator, with 23 years total years experience in education.
Mr. Achtau addressed the Board and community, thanking all for the opportunity and expressing his excitement. His appointment was unanimously approved. (Cranbury representative Robert Christopher abstained because the vote did not pertain to Princeton High School.)
Student Representatives' report: Student representatives provided an update on the mental health infographic created by students that is being distributed at PHS.
The students echoed Ms. Kendal's request that public comments remain respectful and encouraged participants to work together to improve the district.
Public comment included many speakers who shared opinions on the Princeton High School principal and the proposed interim principal. Other topics included the Dual Language Immersion program and the district's decision to pause changes and possible redistricting of the four elementary schools.
The attorney for the district noted that the privacy laws prevent the Board of Education and administration from responding to some public inquiries. In the instance of a non-renewal of an employee contract, the employee is entitled to a "statement of reasons." Upon receipt of the statement, the employee can request an informal appearance, known as a Donaldson Hearing, where the employee can address the Board of Education. That hearing can be in public or private, depending on the employee's decision to waive privacy rights or not. Barring such a hearing, the district is unable to discuss an employee's status in public.
Long-Term Planning Committee: Beth Behrend reported on the March 21 public meeting and the need to address the anticipated rise in enrollment.
Operations Committee: Susan Kanter reported on the March 8 committee meeting. The committee received updates on projects, including the bidding timeline for future projects. The committee discussed sustainability, with a focus on the EcoLab, and also energy usage in district schools. The committee discussed a potential upcoming referendum to address safety, technology, playgrounds, and athletic updates. The next committee meeting will be April 12 at 8 AM.
Personnel Committee: Debbie Bronfeld reported that topics discussed during the March 2 meeting included raising the daily pay rate for substitute nurses, the Riverside principal hiring process, and the upcoming submission of the district's equity plan to the state.
Policy Committee: Jean Durbin reported that topics discussed during the March 24 policy meeting included policies relating to special education, suicide prevention, sustainability, attendance, and the Safe Routes to School program. The next meeting will be April 15 at 8:15 AM.
Student Achievement Committee: Michele Tuck-Ponder reported that the committee met on March 10 and discussed summer programming, including state-mandated extended school year (ESY) summer programs and summer math advancement. The committee discussed ESL programming, computer literacy, and received an update on math program evaluation bids. The next meeting will be on April 14 at 11:30 AM.
The Board thanked Assistant Business Administrator Anthony Sciarrillo for his work in the district and wished him well in his new position.
Dafna Kendal thanked Sustainable New Jersey for donations to the Green Teams at Riverside, Johnson Park, and PHS, and said that each school received $2,000. The Board also expressed gratitude for the $6,600 grant from Climate Awareness Education.
During the second public comment session, discussion of the Princeton High School principal continued. Wifi issues prevented the streaming of small sections of the public comment.
The Board voted on consent items, including the appointment of Dr. Kathleen Foster as interim PHS principal. It was noted that Dr. Foster will provide leadership and administrative assistance through the end of the school year. The Board tabled voting on the RFP for Effective School Solutions (ESS) which provides mental health services for students.
The Board thanked the public for attending.
The next Board of Education meeting will be April 25 at 7:30 PM via Zoom.