Parents whose children were distraught by the abrupt departure of Huber Street School fifth grade teacher Mark Gibson asked the Secaucus school board at the Nov. 15 meeting for answers.
“I had a very, very upset little boy today who came out of the school hysterically crying,” said parent Heather Fearon. “My son at one point even seemed to think it was the class’s fault…that they were talking too much [and] that maybe they were out of control.”
Fearon went on to describe how Gibson had developed a close relationship with his students and how her son related to him as a male, and as a football and basketball coach.
“I had no answers for him,” said Fearon in regard to what she could tell her son regarding the departure. “I think he is one of the few teachers who has really touched a lot of kids. A lot of parents were taken aback.”
Hired pending certificate
Two teachers, including Gibson at Huber Street, and Jennine Peduto who taught sixth grade at Clarendon, were terminated for lack of proper certification, according to the school board attorney Stephen Fogarty.
“These teachers are being terminated because they are not properly certificated for the positions to which they were assigned,” said Fogarty. “These teachers were hired with the assumption that they had the appropriate certificates and that they were eligible for those certificates. They were assigned before the certificates were produced.”
“We were hit with a bombshell today.” – Mary Eccles
“It doesn’t mean they are bad teachers,” said Fogarty. “We are very sorry that this has happened…The state doesn’t afford us any flexibility.”
Timing of termination
“We were hit with a bombshell today,” said parent Mary Eccles. “Our kids came home devastated…Isn’t there something that could be done?”
“If we could, we would,” said board President Jack McStowe. He said the board followed the hiring recommendations presented to them by the school staff and administration.
“Why wasn’t this found earlier?” asked Eccles. “These kids got so attached to him and now we find out.” McStowe replied that the board found out when the parents found out.
Eccles asked the board if there are background checks or certifications they investigate before hiring.
Superintendent Cynthia Randina said Gibson was involved in a teacher preparation program and that the university where he was enrolled “represented” that he had met qualifications for the position.
“I am not permitted to have anybody in the classroom that is not appropriately certified for the position,” said Randina. “I regret the fact that this did occur.”
Eccles wanted a guarantee that the replacement teacher would be there for the rest of the year.
“Consistency is important,” said Eccles.
Joan Cali, president of the Secaucus Education Association, the local teachers union, did not raise any concerns about the terminations when she got up to speak during the public section of the meeting.
Upon further explanation following the meeting, Huber Street Principal Linda Wilhelm said the school district had received a letter in good standing from the college saying Gibson had completed all of his coursework toward certification.
“He could not have been interviewed without that letter of good standing,” said Wilhelm. She noted that he had completed student teaching in the school district and that training is often followed by certification.
“We followed up and realized there was some missing credit,” noted Wilhelm. “There was a glitch… it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances.”
Joseph Pasculli, who served as a one-on-one aide at Clarendon Elementary School, stepped in to teach fifth grade on Nov. 16, the day following Gibson’s departure. Pasculli has a master’s degree and is certified to teach kindergarten through fifth grade. Wilhelm sent out a letter that introduced Pasculli to parents on his start date.
“I can’t tell a parent that a teacher is being dismissed before it goes to the board,” said Wilhelm. “I only found out two days before it happened. I informed the children first.”
Peduto provided with more notice
Peduto has taught in the school district since 2007, often filling in for teachers that have gone on maternity leave. Peduto in November 2011 was appointed to be the sixth grade long term replacement from Nov. 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012 for Lisa Smith Bonin who was on child-rearing leave, according to board minutes.
On her web site, Peduto lists that she is working toward her master’s degree and that she graduated with a BA in 2008 in Elementary Education and History. Peduto will continue to teach for 20 days. The school district has posted notice of the available position and seeks a replacement.
Human resources vacancy
The school district has not filled an open position for a Human Resources Specialist, which was posted May 23. Earlier this summer Pat Brown-Kneisel was appointed to serve as Interim Human Resources Consultant at $50 per hour, not to exceed 30 hours per week, for the period of July 1 to August 31.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.