Friday, April 19, 2024

Outgoing North Warren Regional Board of Education President Reflects on a Challenging 8 Years

Also Discussed at the meeting – Green Schools and Busing Issue

The North Warren Regional board of education enjoys tunes from The Cellar Dwellers band. Photo by C. Tamulonis, 12/2023.

The North Warren Regional Board of Education (NWRBOE) met on December 11, 2023, in the school’s media center at 6 p.m. for what would be a bittersweet goodbye to some of its board members.

After the flag salute and a call to order, North Warren Regional band director Ryan Zuccheri and choir director Jessica Koppinger treated the board to a sampling of the winter concert by having the school’s jazz band and choir perform a few numbers. The demonstration wrapped up with an impressive performance by Blairstown’s own “Cellar Dwellers.”

Outgoing board president John Nause started the meeting by thanking board members and administration for getting through what he termed as “a challenging eight years.” Those challenges included the 2017 Senate bill S2 which cut the district’s budget by $4 million.

“When our budget is $16 million year and one-quarter of our budget is gone in state aid — it had a huge, devastating impact on our district,” said Nause.

Nause also referenced the pandemic.

“It was an unbelievable time when our staff members had to come up with a curriculum to teach at home remotely on the fly. It had never been done before. So, kudos to them for rising to that challenge to make sure our students are prepared for the future.”

Nause commended the board members for working together over the course of his term.

“The members of this board have partnered with administration and staff to overcome challenges,” he said. “Most board members came in here without a preconceived agenda. The focus has been on making sure we continue to provide the best possible education curriculum and afterschool activities for our students.”

Nause ended his final president’s report with heartfelt thanks.

“I never intended to become the president of the board, it just happened,” he said. “Keeping an open mind and focused on the goals for the district and making sure that we’re focused on the right things have gotten us through to this point. It’s been a pleasure, and although I look forward to having an additional Monday night off, I certainly will miss all of you, so thank you.”

Superintendent Jeanene Dutt began her superintendent’s report by thanking the outgoing members for their service.

“We have gotten through some very serious situations and crises over the years, and this board collectively has always been about putting the students at the center, and what can we do to preserve our programs,” she said. “The three of you that are leaving us this evening were instrumental in that, so thank you.”

Outgoing members include president John Nause (Hardwick), Dwayne Leverett (Frelinghuysen) and Danielle Reay (Blairstown).

Dutt reported that on December 6, articulation meetings, which had not been held since 2000, were up and running again. All sending districts were represented by a teacher.

“To say it was successful would be an understatement,” said Dutt. “There were grassroots conversations about programming, interventions and what we need to expect when students are coming to us as seventh graders and what the sending districts need to know about what our expectations are.”

The next articulation meeting will be held in January.

The parent forum that was held two weeks ago had lower than expected turnout with only around five parents attending. Dutt appreciated their input to improve school grounds and said North Warren Regional would promote the next one more aggressively in hopes of better participation.

Principal Carrie Norcross-Murphy reported a positive response from the Middle States Accreditation team’s assessment on December 1. The accreditation is a voluntary and peer-reviewed evaluation that shows schools are meeting a set of research-based performance standards.

“The good news is that we are likely going to be accredited for the next seven years,” said Norcross-Murphy. “They have a few items that they would like us to modify, but according to their report that will not affect our accreditation status.”

She also said that the accreditation team voiced that North Warren Regional should be proud of the work that it’s doing.

During the motion to approve a resolution for representation in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification sources, board member Dr. Mary Ann Boyd asked what the origin of the program was.

“This is a state-level initiative that school districts can engage in for sustainable certification,” said Dutt.

It was explained that the initiative was brought forward by the students (as young as seventh and eighth grades) who wanted to become more engaged with making North Warren Regional a “green” school. It was noted that Knowlton Township Elementary School already had the certification and North Warren Regional is in contact with Knowlton Superintendent Jeannine DeFalco for input and guidance.

The program will be a student-led program with the help of science teacher Christine Erikson.

During the public comment section, Blairstown resident Jessica Bennett addressed the board with a busing issue, saying she had requested a second bus from North Warren Regional to assist her and her ex-spouse in getting their children to and from their proper homes, but had been denied.

A resident makes a plea for additional bussing. Photo by C. Tamulonis, 12/2023.

Bennett said she had been told by the school that “it was not required by the state to have a second bus.” And that meant, to Bennet, that “North Warren Regional was at liberty to make exceptions.”

She explained that her children split their time between her and her former spouse’s home in Blairstown but because of the denial her children frequently wound up in two different locations, depending on parenting days and work schedules.

Nause appreciated her comment but noted that the previously mentioned state budget cuts made funding for a second bus an issue.

“Adding a bus stop means paying for an additional stop and with a 4 million dollar loss in the budget this may not be possible,” he said.

Bennett responded by saying that the district was “getting tax revenue from two homes in the district,” and that the elementary school had no problems supplying additional bussing arrangements for her son.

She also said that it impeded her work schedule when both children wound up at separate locations at the end of the day and “if I don’t work, I don’t get paid and that is a whole other financial situation that your decision is affecting.”

Bennett also stressed the importance of students having a good routine in order to excel academically and as community members.

Board member Leverett asked for clarity in the request.

“Just to be clear, are you asking for a late bus or an additional bus stop?”

“I am asking for a bus to stop at my house in the morning and the afternoon,” Bennett said. “I could even compromise for just the afternoon and bring my daughter to school in the morning. My biggest issue is my daughter getting off the bus at my home on my parenting days.”

She noted there was already a route going by her home.

“Right now, I have my daughter in one spot and my son in another spot. I understand the budget, but I also can’t see that I am the only person who is in need of this,” said Bennett.

“And that’s part of the challenge as well,” said Nause. “If we make an additional route for one family, we will have to do it for anyone who asked, and the next thing you know we have an additional 50 bus stops.”

Nause told Bennett that the board would discuss her request internally.

“We will talk to the folks who handle the busing and see what we can do. But whatever the decision is — that is what it will be.”

The next NWRBOE meeting will be a reorganization meeting and held on January 6 at 6 p.m. at the school. For more information visit: https://www.northwarren.org/board-of-education/.

Cybele Tamulonis
Cybele Tamulonis, Contributing Writer

Cybele is a writer and editor with more than 16 years in the publishing industry. An avid reader, you can usually find her with the latest new book release from the local library. She currently resides on a farm in Hardwick with her husband and four children. In her spare time, she writes historical fiction specific to New Jersey.