As the school year nears an end and the new board settles into place, the RIH school board meeting was dominated by hellos, goodbyes and commendations. Tom Madigan, who did not seek re-election after 12 years on the board, was relegated to sitting in the bleachers during the course of the last meeting. Having served as president of the board and chaired numerous committees, a resolution honoring his service was greeted with a standing ovation. A similar resolution honoring Geri Petersen has been drafted but will be passed when she can be present for the honor.
The passage of Mr. Madigan’s resolution was marked with a moment of humor as the roll call for votes inadvertently left out board member Ira Belsky. Mr. Madigan, in good humor, eluded it to being a Freudian slip as the two often held contentious debates on a variety of subjects. While they often agreed on many issues, even when they agreed it was usually for different and independent reasons. The community was well served with issues being examined in great depth, and it is hoped that rigorous debate will continue in his absence.
The Board also took time to recognize the service of employees who would be retiring. Ruth Brock, Sue Evagelista, Pail Saxton, Adeline Webb, and Ginny Zimmer were thanked for their years of service.
Two teachers, one from Indian Hills and one from Ramapo, were recognized for their selection to represent the schools in the NJ Governor’s Teacher Recognition Program. The RIH high schools coordinate the nominations with input from faculty, students and board members. Hank Bitten from Indian Hills and Charlene Taormina received outstanding support from all parties, and after a final review of all candidates their selection was unanimous. The criteria for selection includes not only measurable teaching skills, but the establishment of a learning environment and the ability to communicate on a variety of levels with the students.
While the Board honored past accomplishments, they also passed a resolution authorizing the hiring of Dr. Lauren Schoen as the new Superintendent of Schools effective the end of July. Dr. Schoen, who was in attendance, was chosen after a lengthy search that required the hiring of an interim superintendent. The resolution confirming Dr. Schoen apparently played a role in a surprise announcement by Ms. Scarpelli who announced her resignation from the school board.
Ms. Scarpelli’s decision to resign makes three the number of veteran members who will no longer be serving. In making her announcement, Ms. Scarpelli felt that with the board finally having authorized the hiring of a new superintendent she felt a re-consideration of her present priorities was appropriate. The resignation of the previous superintendent, Paul Saxton, was announced well over a year ago, and Ms. Scarpelli expressed a desire to see the position filled prior to her departure.
In other news, the hotly debated policy concerning student conduct off school property is heading for a vote in June. The policy, which in essence covers student behavior on a 24/7 basis, has been a matter of great debate. Supported by board members and some teachers, it has been the target of many protestations by parents. The public debate has been going on for well over a year and has been the subject of legal studies as to its actual implementation. The policy essentially allows the school to punish students, specifically denying extracurricular and sporting activities, should any of them be arrested or charged by the police.
The policy is intended to address what many Board members consider to be a drug and alcohol problem in the schools that has them “scared to death”. The many parents who have spoken at a variety of open meetings usually voice two similar concerns: that innocent kids may be punished unfairly, and that the schools should leave off-campus illegalities involving drinking, drugs or cases of criminal mischief to parents and legal authorities. A June 8th public hearing is scheduled for further debate, and the Board welcomes additional input.