Diversity in the schools

Parent urges board to create inclusion committee task force

At the Hoboken Board of Education’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, Union City resident Courtney Wicks, whose daughter attends eighth grade at Hoboken Middle School (as a choice or paying student), addressed the Hoboken Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Christine Johnson.
She asked the board why they had not created a Diversity Inclusion Committee, something she said she had mentioned to the superintendent in January.
Other districts have pursued such a committee. It operates much like a task force of stakeholders that looks at district policies and procedures and comes up with a comprehensive plan to expand and develop programs that promote positive behavior, respect for all cultures, and diversity throughout the system.
“I just really wanted to touch base on the Diversity Inclusion Committee and really just get you to understand that there is a sense of urgency here,” she said. She said that students from minority groups seem to be dealt with differently than others in the district.
She said when her daughter was at Wallace elementary, she was “racially tracked,” but that has changed now that she is in the middle school. “She was a high-performance student but she was put in all the B classes,” said Wicks. “These are the kinds of things that we are neglecting to deal with in this district.”
She said the issue isn’t unique to Hoboken. She said that a complaint was filed recently against the South Orange Maplewood School District by the Department of Education office of Civil Rights.
Last month, the Hoboken board announced that the district is currently collecting data to ensure the district is prepared, both for an increase in student enrollment as well as to study diversity.
According to Board of Education President Thomas Kluepfel, the data and analysis won’t be presented to the public until next month (January), as data is still being collected.
“I know we are looking at socioeconomic data and having those discussions behind closed doors,” Wicks said. “I just think that’s a mistake, and if you really truly care about educating every child in this district, you have to open the process up. Even with the data, context matters. If the only people that are presenting on the data from their point of view are people that don’t look like me, don’t look like Pat Waiters [an African-American parent and local activist], and don’t look like the Latino kids in the district, then you are going to get a very myopic view,” said Wicks.
She said the Diversity Inclusion Committee will “bring people together to examine these issues as a group collectively, collaboratively, to dismantle a system that’s hurting our kids and create a culturally competent and inclusive district for everyone.”
Wicks said she also doesn’t believe that the students are being prepared adequately for college or careers after graduation.
“At the end of the day, if you really care about kids, you need to roll up your sleeves and you need to dig into this and you need to start caring,” she said, “because you are all they have. So if you don’t get it right then we are never going to get it right.”

Superintendent says kids are prepared

Johnson said that roughly 90 percent of the seniors at Hoboken High School had been accepted to college last year and that over $9 million in merit based scholarships were issued for the kids in the high school.
“We are on track to hit that mark if not exceed it,” said Johnson. “I think its important for the record to note that our kids are, in fact, interested in going to college. They are interested in careers outside what might be considered a traditional career path that doesn’t require a college education, and quite frankly, even those that are not in fact choosing to go to college are going through a college preparatory program that enables them to be prepared for the workforce, the 21st century workforce. “
Johnson also said there are no “tracks” at the high school, and that the Hoboken School District is one of the few districts that does not create obstacles or have entrance exams for students to get into Advance Placement or Project Lead the Way courses.
“They are open to all students that choose to participate,” said Johnson. “Our guidance staff does an incredible job encouraging and teaching kids about those classes.”
She noted, “Our performance on the Advanced Placement test– and we talk about this year after year–has to improve, and it’s continuing to improve as the teachers get [students] more and more used to participating in rigorous courses.”
Wicks responded to Johnson’s saying that if there are no tracks, “Then let’s have and outside consultant come in and do complete review of the district. Why don’t we do that?… have an outside consultant, have the ACLU come in. That would be great. They are experienced at doing this.
In a follow up interview, Johnson said that the district is committed to being an inclusive community and will be working on a plan with the district’s Staff Diversity Council, which was formed last year.
“Currently, the Board of Education has asked the administration to pull data together to look at our programs and schools’ demographic footprints,” said Johnson. “The administration is currently doing so. We are also going to collect qualitative data from staff, parents, and students, as we continuously want to improve and ensure high-quality and equitable programs for all. We are also focusing on global learning and global awareness, as we want to celebrate our district’s diversity. Our Board of Education and Staff Diversity Council will assess the data and revise any actions or policies that are necessary. The district will absolutely take input from all stakeholders, via small advisory groups that will be established once the process of data collection is complete. The culminating work will result in goal setting and creation and publication of data dashboards.”
Johnson said she believes goals will be set for the district by the summer.

Three board members say goodbye

Hoboken Board of Education member Britney Montgomery resigned two weeks ago in a letter to the board, according to Board President Thomas Kluepfel, who announced her resignation at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday Dec. 12.
Montgomery was not in attendance, but fellow board member Peter Biancamano read a statement for her.
“To the community of Hoboken, I was recently asked to undertake a new role in with my employer that would require me to travel extensively throughout the year,” read Biancamano on Montgomery’s behalf. “I originally hoped to fulfill these new professional responsibilities while continuing to serve on the Hoboken school board, but over the past several weeks it has become clear that I would be unable to contribute to the board in the manner it requires, and more importantly the manner it deserves.”
“It has been a true honor to work on behalf of the families of Hoboken,” he read. “I am proud of all we have accomplished in the past two years. I have no doubt the board will continue these successes under the Leadership of the Trustees and Superintendent Johnson. I will always hold the district in the highest regard and be forever thankful for the opportunity to serve the children, parents, teachers and community of Hoboken.”
Montgomery was elected to the board in 2015.
The school board has 65 days to appoint a new member to fill Montgomery’s now vacant seat; otherwise the county superintendent will do so.
Hoboken residents interested in filling Montgomery’s position may apply to the board and are then interviewed during closed sessions.
It was also Peter Biancamano’s last meeting, as he was not reelected to his seat during the Nov. 7 municipal election.
It was also Trustee Mark McNamara’s last meeting as he did not seek reelection.
Biancamano said he decided to become a trustee because “I love my community, and helping to make our district schools become the best they can be fulfills my obligation to give back to my community — a value my parents instilled in me from an early age. As Winston Churchill once said, we make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.”
Biancamano added, “The Hoboken Board of Education is filled with great teachers, administrators, and staff members — always a bragging point of mine while attending New Jersey School Board Association meeting. Their time, dedication, and commitment given should be commended. With hard work, determination, and perseverance, even a deli boy could have made so many impactful decisions benefiting our community.”
Biancamano’s family owns a popular Italian deli on upper Washington Street.
He said, “I feel as if my service to community is not over but needs a much needed break. When one door closes, another opens.”
McNamara was not in attendance.

District recognizes teachers and students

Assistant Superintendent Gerald Fitzhugh presented the district’s students of the month of November, awarding each a certificate.
First grader Thomas Hodge was student of the month at Brandt Primary School. Kindergarten student Skylar Dellafave was student of the month at Calabro School. At Connors, third grader Jayvion Henderson was awarded student of the month, and at Wallace, sixth grader Kendall McDonough won student of the month.
Eighth grader Leo Papaneouphytou was the Hoboken Middle School student of the month and Junior Brianna Cortes was the Hoboken High School student of the month.
The superintendent also recognized two teachers for their work in the district, Krystal Claudio and Chris Munoz.
Claudio has been in the district since September 2016 and is an ELA Response to Intervention Teacher based in Wallace Elementary School. She is also the coordinator of services for ELA and Math RTI services and English as a second language teacher. Johnson said she is a “master teacher,” who understands the needs of her students.
Claudio said “I am incredibly honored to be recognized by the administration and the board…I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for trusting me with the lives of the children in the district… my students make it easy for me to get up each day and give my all.”
Munoz has served the Hoboken public school district for the past 13 years and is the vice president of the teachers union. He teaches social studies as well as special education. He is the advisor to the Hoboken High School Hispanic Club. He’s also the facilitator to the Inspired Classroom program for students.
Johnson said his impact reaches ‘far beyond the classroom.”
Munoz thanked the board for the honor and recognition and “It’s easy to do things with the kids when you have a leader like Principal Piccapietra… she is always there to encourage me.”
“I wouldn’t be here without the colleges and students who support me every day,” he added.

Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.