JC Board of Education Meeting Marks End of School Year With Praise For Students and Community Concerns

 

For the Jersey City Board of Education, last Thursday, June 20, marked the end of the 2012-2013 school year and the last Board meeting until the end of summer when the new school year begins. The meeting was held at the Martin Luther King Jr. School – PS 11, at 886 Bergen Avenue and started at about 6:20 pm. Because of presentations made by and on behalf of students, special end-of-year information, and a longer-than-usual agenda, the meeting ended after 11 pm.

At the year-end meeting, students were cited for their accomplishments and plans for bettering. The promotions process for teachers as well as administrators also took the main stage. Members of the community made significant contributions via comments pertaining to agenda items as well as those on various other subjects.

In attendance were Board President Suzanne Mack, Vice President Sterling Waterman, Board members Vidya Gangadin, Carol Harrison-Arnold, Sangeeta Ranade, Marilyn Roman, and Angel Valentin. Board member Carol Lester was absent due to a personal emergency; Lester was slated to join the meeting by telephone but did not. Board Member Gerald Lyons was also absent. Board President Suzanne Mack indicated that the background check required for all Jersey City Board of Education members had initially been thought satisfied for Board member Lyons, given his 25-year tenure as a teacher in the District. She said it had been discovered in recent days, however, that the background check, in fact, did not satisfy the requirement for BOE members. Mack said that the Board hastened to correct the error but was unable to accomplish the correction in time for Lyons to attend the school year’s final Board meeting.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles lauded the District’s principals, vice principals, faculty and teachers for their work during the 2012-2013. Special thanks went to Dr. Franklin Walker and Dr. Michael Winds for their leadership and mentoring.

The President of the Jersey City Education Association (JCEA) Ron Greco, presented an award to Lincoln High School to commemorate the close of its 100th year educating Jersey City students. Lincoln High School, located at 60 Crescent Avenue, opened its doors in September of 1912.

Dr. Lyles recognized the contributions, “culturally and linguistically, of our students and their families,” and introduced Blanca Jackson, Office of Curriculum and Instruction, who presented outstanding Bilingual, ESL (English as a Second Language), and World Language students for their competency and contributions. A substantial proportion of students in the District are bilingual or speak English as a second language.

Ms. Cathy Coyle, who oversees operations of the District with regard to Personnel, reported on the posting and interviewing of candidates for available positions. Coyle said that interviews for certified teachers (for the 2013-2014 year) have begun and that some openings remain in various curriculum areas; postings for assistant principal vacancies due to retirements will begin soon, and she hopes to have all positions filled by the start of the upcoming school year.

Ms. Coyle’s announcement that the JCTV internship is re-established, providing students with fourteen days of training at Snyder High School in July and August, prompted a round of robust applause from the community audience. In the internship, students will travel around the city by bus taping summer reading programs, summer school activities and other events of interest. The students will produce a video that will be screened on Comcast and on the District’s website.

Superintendent Lyles spoke at some length about the District’s mission and mandates. With regard to the mandate known as “Mind the Gap,” Dr. Lyles said that while progress had been made facing the challenges of achievement gaps, education professionals also must recognize “access gaps” that hamper some students’ access to resources and opportunities. Dr. Lyles stressed that these gaps have as strong and adverse an impact on a student’s chance to succeed in life as achievement gaps and that “it is up to us to address these gaps.” Lyles acknowledged that there have been “Starts and stops… but it was never a 7-month or a 9-month proposition. Programs can be changed very quickly. Practices, they can also be changed, but not quite as quickly. However, what we must do, and what takes much longer, is a change of culture…this is the only way that we will achieve and sustain progress.”

Student finalists and winners of the I Love Jersey City Public Schools art contest with Dr. Marcia Lyles

Dr. Lyles then introduced the student finalists and winners of the I Love Jersey City Public Schools art contest. She said that one of the three winning designs (one from an elementary schooler, one from a middle schooler, and one from a high school student) will be reproduced on t-shirts and in posters throughout the City over the coming months.  The winning posters were submitted by Beyonce Norris (PS 11, Grade 5), Marinelle Manasala (PS 37, Grade 8), and Youstina Mansour (Ferris High School, Grade 12).

A source of contention during the meeting was the appointment of a Director of Family and Community Partnerships (Community Liaison) for the upcoming school year. Several community members and two Board members felt that Dr. Lyles’ choice, Heather Martindale, did not represent well the large Spanish-speaking population and other minority students enrolled in the District. However, Martindale was voted in by the Board over the dissenting votes of Vice President Sterling Waterman and Board member Angel Valentin. Board member Waterman expressed a wish that more high-level professionals in the District “look like our students” and reiterated the need for a Community Liaison who speaks a foreign language relevant to the District’s demographic.

The selection process for the Principal of PS 3, located at 111 Bright Street, also drew criticism by several community members. A parent who was on the selection committee charged the District with improperly eliminating applications from candidates who had not attached the required certification to their resume, even if certification numbers were included on those resumes, while at the same time allowing another, internal candidate’s application to move on to the next round without any documentation at all. Several community members spoke in support of appointing Dr. Vincent Castro as the new Principal of PS 3. Dr. Castro served as interim Principal for the last two months of the school year following the departure of former Principal Ruth Hernandez-Vega. Board members, including Board President Mack, acknowledged that procedures could be tightened. Board member Carol Harrison-Arnold stated that the District’s attorneys had been consulted and they had concluded that the District’s methods had not resulted in any legal lability.

Photo of BOE Members by Trish Szymanski, photo of art contest winners by Catherine Hecht

a writer, artist and producer living and working in Jersey City. She has written published articles on business, art and the history of Jersey City for the last ten years. She is currently directing a play called “A Legend of Communipaw” the script for which she created based on short story by Washington Irving.