A number of school employees resigned ahead of the start of the school year in Bayonne, particularly from special services. On the agenda for the Board of Education’s August meeting, 16 resignations were listed.
At the meeting, Education Association President Gene Woods raised concerns over the number of resignations.
“We’ve spoken about this before, superintendent, but the district has to be really concerned and aware of what’s happening with people leaving,” Woods said at the August 30 meeting. “We’ve had this conversation for the last several years about the profession in general, but it is a little worrying not only our education part for our students, but also for the district because now it’s the last minute try to find new hires to bring in, which is probably going to cause some issues at the start of the school year, especially when it comes to special services.”
Woods noted that special services were hit hard by the resignations, just before the school year started on September 7.
“A lot of the people who left tended to be from special services,” Woods said. “A couple are spread out over some other subjects, but for special services, it seems to be a lot of people have left those positions. Again, I know it’s an issue statewide, countrywide, but I hope we can get something together to continue to retain our teachers and not make this a revolving door… So I really hope that we could figure something out to retain those people.”
Staffing issue affecting special services
The board did not respond to Woods’ request. Later at the August meeting, Woods took the podium again to address other staff related issues following the passage of a resolution designating September as Attendance Awareness Month.
“When you’re looking at students coming to school, most of the time they are coming in because of the educator in the room,” Woods said. “One of those things that worries me in the district, it’s been brought up several times and I don’t think it’s going to be any better this year, is the sub issue when special ed teachers, inclusion teachers are being pulled to sub for another class and they can’t service their own students.”
Woods highlighted the impact on special services due to problems securing enough substitute teachers. As a result, special education and inclusion teachers have been pulled out of class to substitute for other classes, which Woods argues may contribute to lower attendance for special needs students.
“I’m wondering if that has any impact in the district on students who are in inclusion classes or special needs classes on their attendance coming into school,” Woods said. “I don’t know if some type of study could be done on that, I just think that’s important to take a look especially if we really want to make sure we have a really great attendance policy, having the students come into the door everyday… Maybe that could be part of an issue of students not coming into school if they do not have their services every day.”
The board did not address Woods’ concerns. However, the issues special services teachers in the district claim to face was on full display at a meeting in late July.
Teacher concerned over ‘unqualified’ replacement
English as a Second Language (ESL) special services teacher Amy Silberman was one of the 16 resignations on the August agenda. At the July meeting, she spoke out to the board against her transfer and replacement.
“I love learning and I currently hold certifications in teaching students with disabilities, ESL, and elementary education grades k through five,” Silberman said. “For many years, I’ve had a meaningful purpose with teaching students with disabilities that are also English language learners. Some students are emotionally and behaviorally disturbed, others have intellectual disabilities, others have specific learning ability disabilities like severe ADHD. They are English language learners, some of whom are new to the country.”
Silberman was going to be transferred to Walter F. Robinson Community School to teach 8th Grade ESL. But her replacement at Philip G. Vroom Community School and William Shemin Midtown Community School was not qualified, she said.
“The person who is taking over my very complex position is an out of field teacher,” Silberman said. “An out of field teacher means that a teacher is not qualified for the position they are working… Because my certifications are in special education and ESL, I am the most qualified teacher to meet the needs of these unique children. My students mean the world to me, which is why I would not want an out of field teacher replacing me. Additionally, I have been in touch with my director, and she had agreed to sit down with me to discuss which teachers would be suitable where.”
Silberman asked the board to table the resolution for her transfer at the July meeting to ensure she and her director could find a suitable replacement.
“For the past eight years, I have developed a safe and welcoming space for my special ed and ESL students and they are progressing, so please table my transfer and le the meet with my director next month to discuss these changes for the benefit of all of our students,” Silberman said. If the board didn’t act, Silberman said she would resign: “I am saddened to tell you that if my transfer isn’t tabled, I will be handing in my letter of resignation this evening.”
Other teacher supports tabling transfer resolution
Shilpa Palawat, a special services teacher at Washington Community School and Lincoln Community School also addressed the board in favor of Silberman: “I’m an ESL teacher and for the last three years, I’ve been teaching English language learners who are neurodiverse. Amy has been a mentor to me these last three years. I would not have been able to make it if it were not for Amy’s dedication to these students. She has guided me and taught me how to teach the students. A special ed ESL teacher is an extremely challenging position and it is Amy’s expertise in the field of special education that has made all the difference. She has gone above and beyond for all her students. She has formed incredible relationships with her principals, colleagues, students, families, and the community. She truly loves her students and cares about them. I urge you to table the transfer because you will be doing a great disservice to the special education, special needs ESL if Amy Silberman is not their teacher.”
Trustee Jodi Casais was in favor of tabling the resolution and going into a closed session to discuss the matter. Board President Maria Valado defered to Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Kenneth Kopacz.
“We have resignations, retirements, leave, absences on a yearly basis,,” Kopacz said. “Every single year, we are going to have transfer and reassignments, that’s a guarantee. Each person who is affected by a transfer will receive a statement of reason after the meeting. That’s all I can speak about in public domain.”
Valado asked if employees are hired to the district or a particular school or program, to which Kopacz confirmed it was to the district.
The board voted 5-2 to approve the personnel resolutions including the transfer at the July meeting. Trustee Melissa Godesky Rodriguez and Hector Gonzalez voted against the resolutions. Trustee Pamela Sclafane abstained and Trustee Denis Wilbeck was absent.
Trustees Casais, Lisa Burke, Jan Patrick Egan, Board Vice President Christopher Munoz, and Board President Valado voted in favor of the resolutions. Munoz said: “Transfers are day-to-day operations which is under the privilege of the administration. So I vote yes.”
Special services teacher or substitute teacher?
Also at the July meeting, fellow special services teacher Jeffey Gotch who teaches at Henry E. Harris Community School asked about preventing special services teachers from being pulled out of class to act as a substitute teacher for another class.
“What if anything is being done to prevent the use of special services staff to full the staffing issues, meaning this teacher shortage,” Gotch said. “Inclusion teachers are often used to fill in last minute absences. Sometimes you can be pulled up to 30 times a year.”
He continued, highlight his concern also as a parent of a special needs student: “My concern as a parent, will that happen to my kid? How often will it happen to my kid?”
Gotch and other special services are burdened by being pulled out to substitute: “We have to prepare lesson plans… Sometimes we’re pulled at 8:30 in the morning… Parents aren’t aware of how frequently it does happen.”
Valado said it was “part of day-to-day operations.” She continued: “We approve as much hiring as what comes to us. We approve substitutes.”
Valado deferred to Kopacz again, but Superintendent John Niesz answered this time. Following his response, the conversation ended and the meeting was adjourned.
“We use ESS absent management systems, plus all the new hires that we just hired,” Niesz said. “Is there a crystal ball that can guarantee that everything will be covered at all times? No we can’t do that. The last thing we want to do is pull people from their classes. And I can attest that we’ve had those situations. And unfortunately, I hope it doesn’t happen again this year but it will, but we’re trying to mitigate it. We’re going to have meetings at building levels with our teachers, with our administration, actually with students this year, and… we just got to work through this teacher shortage. But it is a paramount concern.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.