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New administration roles, NJSLA and AP test results, female class enrollment, and student diversity begin a new school year of Board of Ed meetings
New administration roles, NJSLA and AP test results, female class enrollment, and student diversity begin a new school year of Board of Ed meetings
New administration roles, NJSLA and AP test results, female class enrollment, and student diversity begin a new school year of Board of Ed meetings

Published on: 09/18/2023


BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – The first Board of Education meeting of the new school year featured the introduction of new administrators, a review of NJSLA testing data, and some heated words within the board.  

Berkeley Heights School District Superintendent Dr. Melissa Varley introduced the district’s new administrative team including: new Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Achievement Dr. Anthony Giordano; Dr. Christine Seminerio, the new Director of Early Education and Intervention; Kevin Morra, the incoming Director of Special Services, and Jeremy Marx, who will take over the Technology Coordinator role. Dr. Varley also introduced a new student representative for this school year, Olivia Judicke.

NJSLA Presentation

Giordano began a presentation which examined data regarding each school’s results on the 2023 New Jersey Student Learning Assessments (NJSLA). Administrators from each school presented data for different subject areas. See the full presentation here 

Morra reviewed alternate assessments for students with IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans). The district uses the DLM (Dynamic Learning Maps) assessment for students with severe disabilities, targeting a small percentage of students who receive extensive instruction in specialized programs. The district is working to minimize the impact of exemptions in graduation rates, exploring ways to support students while ensuring they meet all graduation requirements.

AP Test Results

Recent AP test results were reviewed by Governor Livingston High School Principal Robert Nixon.  Governor Livingston's AP program has grown by 60% and passing rates have improved significantly over the past decade, with a current high watermark of over 90%. Nixon highlighted exceptional AP exam performance, with 88.45% of students scoring at least a 3 on the exams.

Courtesy Busing

Changes made to the district’s busing for this school year have been an ongoing point of concern among some parents, particularly around maintaining courtesy busing while taking away part of the subscription busing from parents of students that were using it previously. 

Berkeley Heights resident and Board of Education candidate Natasha Joly asked the Board for an update. 

Board president Angela Penna said that it was discussed at the recent Finance Committee meeting, and will be reevaluated, using a yet-to-be contracted third party to conduct a survey, to help determine a course of action.

Curriculum Committee

To improve female enrollment in the engineering and design classes offered by the district, the Curriculum Committee has been discussing re-branding the courses by updating some outdated wording in the class descriptions. 

Board Member Pam Stanley said, “One of the concerns is that our female enrollment is lower in some of these classes ...where [students] might think it’s more male-oriented. But these classes do offer a lot. We're going to try to improve female enrollment by trying to re-brand some of the classes.”

Berkeley Heights Education Foundation

Board President Angela Penna gave an update from the Berkeley Heights Education Foundation (BHEF), which is continuing its student Grant a Wish program. The program, which is open to all grades, encourages students to share their wishes for something that would enhance their educational experience.

Penna said, “There is a link in the website where students can easily apply.” 

Applications are due by December 15. Winners will be announced on January 12, 2024. 

She also reminded district faculty “to reach out to the BHEF to submit grant applications that give teachers and administration the opportunity to support innovative, creative educational programs and technology.”

Student Discusses Her Diversity Experience

Governor Livingston High School senior Gia Ghosh was invited to speak to the board about diversity. Ghosh spoke eloquently and honestly about her own experiences, “Growing up in Edison, New Jersey, lovingly referred to by its residents as ‘Little India,’ I was just like everyone else. … I could watch Bollywood movies in the theater two minutes away whenever I desired. I never realized what a privilege it was to be surrounded by my culture until I moved to Berkeley Heights, often not so lovingly referred to as ‘Berkeley Whites.’”

The culture shock of moving to Berkeley Heights hit her. “I was the only Indian girl in my grade. We were one of two Indian families in our neighborhood. At school, I answered questions like ‘Where's your red dot?’ and ‘What's that weird smell coming from your lunchbox?’”

It was only while driving down Springfield Avenue that “we noticed a sight for sore eyes, Neelam Indian Cuisine,” Ghosh said. Just seeing that restaurant “meant that there were others like us. It took a pretty long chain of events for me to finally accept my culture wholeheartedly.”

Her path, in many ways, mirrors the ongoing organic growth in diversity that Berkeley Heights is experiencing. “Looking back to my younger years, when I was hesitant to even pronounce Hindi words with an Indian accent in front of my white friends, I can only imagine what that version of myself would have thought of me now, confident in my culture and unafraid to spread that culture to others.”    

Ghosh’s speech was well-received by both the Board and the public in attendance. 

“You can't manufacture diversity; you can only enhance whatever is already there,” she concluded.

Executive Session Topics Are Off Limits

In a heated exchange, Board member Dr. Tom Foregger attempted to discuss a topic that apparently was discussed during an executive session of the board. 

Before he could say much, he was quickly stopped by Penna and Board Attorney Frances Fabres, Topics discussed in the board’s closed executive session, cannot be addressed in a session open to the public. 

Foregger tried to continue his comments but was stopped again.

Fabres warned Foregger about what he was doing. “You are discussing a closed session item. I'm just warning you Dr. Foregger to be very mindful of what you are going to discuss in public session as it concerns closed session items. I’m warning you, is all, and now your actions are your own.”

Foregger then requested an executive session immediately after the public meeting, but was told by Penna that would not happen and that it could be discussed at a later time, in a later executive session.

The next Berkeley Heights Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 12, at 6:45 p.m., at Governor Livingston High School.

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