In its best-attended meeting in months, Frelinghuysen Township School’s Board of Education met on April 5 to consider two significant concerns: one already on the agenda and the other introduced by parents in attendance.
First came the agenda item. After almost six years, Stephanie Bonaparte is resigning from her role as Frelinghuysen’s chief school administrator. Her resignation will be effective as of July this year.
Now, the board must find her successor. The chief school administrator (CSA) is one of the most important roles in a school district, equivalent to a superintendent. As described by the New Jersey School Boards Association, the CSA serves as “chief advisor to the board of education, the executive officer of the school district, and the educational leader of the community.”
Hiring a new CSA who can serve the district well is one of the board’s main responsibilities, said board President Kimberly Neuffer. The board has already begun the search, facilitated by the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA).
As a vital part of the search process, the board wants community feedback about the leader that Frelinghuysen families want. This past weekend, the board sent a schoolwide survey to Frelinghuysen families. Since the school is on spring break from April 10 to April 14, the board will email a second survey link on the following Monday, April 17.
This short survey will contain six or seven questions inviting parents to state what kinds of qualifications they expect for their new CSA. All survey responses will be anonymous.
The board is counting on Frelinghuysen families to complete the survey.
“I can’t stress enough that the community survey is incredibly important,” board member Kristen Keesser said. “It’s a great opportunity for the community to let us know your thoughts. I just really want everybody to do it. I want you to take the time and let us know what you feel.”
Survey responses are due Sunday, April 23. Afterward, the board will use this data in the hiring process, which will include two rounds of interviews and a presentation by candidate finalists.
“We’re doing a thorough, exhaustive search,” Neuffer said. “We’re going to find a great leader to move the district forward.”
After the board moved through its remaining agenda items, they opened the floor to public comment and petitions. Two people volunteered comments on the same concern: school safety in the wake of the March 27 shooting at Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, which left three adults and three elementary school children dead.
David Togno, the first parent to speak at the meeting, referred to the Covenant School shooting as he began his comment. He asked if it would be possible to hire a permanent armed security officer for Frelinghuysen.
In her response, Chief School Administrator Bonaparte summarized the financial and logistical requirements of hiring permanent security.
“It comes down to money in the budget,” she said.
Budgeting may be a particularly challenging obstacle now, as Frelinghuysen’s proposed budget for next year has been reduced by $58,000 due to reductions in state aid for the district. Some of that loss may be offset by new legislation recently signed by Governor Phil Murphy, bill 3732, which would allow Frelinghuysen to apply for a one-time grant of about $38,000. However, that grant would apply only to next year’s budget, and there is currently no guarantee that similar grants will be available in the future.
In the meantime, Bonaparte said, law enforcement officers regularly visit Frelinghuysen.
“We have a really great relationship with the state police, and they are on the grounds almost every day,” she said.
Togno acknowledged the work of state police while noting the large territory that they must cover.
“That’s very good, but you can’t substitute having a full time… you know, someone here that’s our security,” he said. “There’s no substitute for that.”
The second speaker, George Riedel, asked about the safety measures currently in place at Frelinghuysen. Bonaparte referred to existing security features and protocols, but noted that she would limit public disclosures of details in the interest of safety.
“We have done absolutely everything we can do to harden this place, to get kids to safety, to know that they’re locked down properly,” she said.
Bonaparte indicated that the district is highly aware of safety concerns in the community and continues to consider additional options.
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.