Bailey Tribute Leads Busy BOE Meeting
Bailey, named interim superintendent in December, was hailed for taking the district through a very difficult time caused by state budget mandates and other upheavals. Bailey was the district's Human Resources director when tapped for the higher post and has served in both capacities since January. School Board President Bridget Rivers led a presentation that included a slide show highlighting Bailey’s leadership. Rivers gave Bailey a plaque in appreciation for her service. A new superintendent, Dr. Steve Gallon III, will take office July 1.
The non-renewal of six untenured Evergreen School teachers provoked a petition campaign with 244 signatures and lots of testimony Tuesday on why they should somehow be retained. Evergreen student Jarrett Brown, 11, was perhaps the most eloquent, telling the board, “These are some of the most hard-working teachers ever.”
Rivers countered by repeatedly saying the tenure law should be abolished. Teachers who have achieved tenure can “bump” untenured teachers to save their jobs. Rivers also challenged supporters of the teachers by asking where they were when only three representatives of Plainfield went to Trenton to challenge the school funding formula that resulted in cuts to urban districts.
As speakers praised the teachers in question, the six women rose from their seats in silent witness. But others noted non-tenured teachers across the district lost their jobs, indicating the Evergreen teachers were not alone.
School board member Rasheed Abdul-Haqq suggested using surplus funds to hire back the non-renewed teachers. Rivers said possible resignations might also provide job openings for them.
The meeting, slated for 7 p.m., did not get started until after 8 p.m., and then did not get around to the published agenda until 10 p.m.
In one vote, the board approved a multitude of personnel appointments, including that of Plainfield native Brian Bilal to be interim high school principal. Bilal took the microphone to say thanks for the opportunity.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. Adding there was something he wanted to “nip in the bud,” he said, “If you want to talk about what you want to do in Plainfield, then please bring some solutions.”
Bilal said he will work collaboratively with the community and called out to former Councilwoman Joanne Hollis, saying, “Mrs. Hollis, I’ll be looking for you.”
There was no discussion of the 25 administrators who are being hired for one-month terms or why 14 principals are being reappointed without specific school assignments.
On the re-naming of Emerson School, Yvonne Taylor presented a slide show that included photos of the 1916 school being demolished and the new school that has now been completed but not yet occupied. Students had classes at the so-called “swing school” at Rock Avenue and West Front Street while the demolition and new construction took place.
Taylor said the school was named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, but added, “Our children cannot relate to this person in the current date.”
She said surveys of parents yielded a wish to re-name the school the Rosa Parks Academy of Excellence. The name, she said, would set a higher expectation of achievement for the school’s mostly African-American and Hispanic children.
Rivers asked whether the surrounding community had been consulted and Taylor said, “As far as door-knocking, we did not.”
Objectors said they wanted to keep the name of their childhood elementary school and that any change should be a community decision. But board member Martin Cox said he first suggested the new name and hoped the board would vote “yes.” However, it was not up for a vote Tuesday. The school is slated to open in September.
The board approved a new method of paying for student lunches and activities that allows parents to pay in advance with credit or debit cards. In addition, the present system of tracking students’ grades and other data will be changed, but staff must be trained to use it, company representatives said. Presenters Rich Smith and Rich Dilts said the company, Genesis Educational Services of Jamesburg, serves New Jersey districts exclusively and its programs are aligned with state Department of Education requirements. Updates of new state rules for student reporting are made at no cost to the district.
“We only do New Jersey,” Dilts emphasized in a demonstration of the program.
The hardest part of rolling out the system will be setting up a schedule to train staff, he said.
The school board will meet again at 6:30 p.m. June 30 in the Plainfield High School conference room, to discuss the contract of incoming Superintendent Steve Gallon III. Gallon was hired in February for four years at an annual salary of $198,000, but meanwhile all New Jersey superintendents’ salaries and benefits came under scrutiny in the wake of a proposed $740,000 retirement package for a Keansburg superintendent. Union County Superintendent Carmen Centuolo said Gallon’s contract had not been submitted to her for review as required. Gallon is scheduled to begin working in the district July 1.