Clark BOE Addresses Community Concerns

By JULIA BONAVITACOLA
For Union County HAWK

CLARK – The board of education met on September 1 in order to update parents and other township residents about plans for the start of school and to address concerns and questions brought up by Clark residents.

Superintendent Ed Grande gave his report to the gathered board members and attendees. Teachers returned to the classrooms on September 1 and were met by the school principals as well as Mr. Grande. Department and grade-level meetings were held that day and team-building exercises took place on September 2. On September 8, all teachers were scheduled to return for an “Understanding Trauma” session and a Chromebook training session. All students will begin school today, Thursday, September 9.

Back-to-school nights will be held in person this year. The dates are Monday, September 13, for Valley Road School; Tuesday, September 14, for Arthur L. Johnson High School; Monday, September 20, for Carl H. Kumpf Middle School; Wednesday, September 22, for Frank K. Hehnly School, and Tuesday, September 21, for the Clark Preschool.

Mr. Grande also gave an update about the mask mandate for Clark schools. “Mine and the administration’s position is that we would still like to see a masking optional approach put into place.

The addendum item, the resolution, that was passed in the August meeting was sent to Governor [Phil] Murphy…With that being said, the executive order is still in place and still holds the same power as law. And we will need to adhere to it,” he stated. There are a few exceptions to this mandate, including excessive heat. Mr. Grande said that the cutoff that the Clark schools will use is an outdoor temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

In response to a Clark resident asking about joining the current class-action lawsuit aimed at the mask mandate, Mr. Grande stated that the attorney for the board of education had reached out to Free NJ Kids with questions about the lawsuit and had gotten no reply. With this result, Mr. Grande determined it was not in Clark’s best interests to join the lawsuit at this time.

Erik Jacobsen, a Clark resident, addressed the board of education about the academic performance of Arthur L. Johnson High School (ALJ). He said he had looked up the academic performance of the high school on the New Jersey Department of Education website and got the statistics on ALJ’s performance. According to him, the Clark high school had failed to meet the state standards in mathematics and English through assessments. He also said that Clark’s SAT and ACT score averages were below the state averages.

“We’re spending $3.5 million on ball fields. What are we doing to improve the academics at the high school?” he said. The board of education approved a resolution that would improve multiple turf fields at the high school for a price of $3.5 million. “You say you’re on our side, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like you’re placating us.”

Mr. Grande said that the statistics that Mr. Jacobsen had read out could be misleading in either direction due to picking certain numbers out of a report. He claimed that all teachers receive a PowerPoint presentation at the beginning of each school year that highlights the weaknesses in the previous year’s assessments. “There are areas where we have to improve, but I don’t believe that the picture that was just portrayed is completely accurate,” said Mr. Grande. He said that he would be willing to send Mr. Jacobsen the more detailed reports that show a different picture. He also said that improvements at the high school in the auditorium, music room and science labs show a commitment to improving all areas of the high school outside of athletics.

“There are a lot of people who are going to really benefit from this [athletic field]…In our opinion, we thought it was important. I think most people in this town would completely disagree with you,” said board member Thomas Lewis in response to Mr. Jacobsen’s remarks about the athletic field.

Board President Steven Donkersloot said, “This is a board that basically is trying to do the best they can and be proactive in an impossible situation…This board is committed to make our educational (sic) better, period.”

Brandon Bennett also addressed the board to ask about letting sixth graders try out for the middle-school teams, saying that he felt it unfair that certain students could not play for their school.

The board claimed that it did not want to allow sixth graders to play because of the potential of seventh and eighth graders quitting the sport by the time they get to high school. The board has no plans to amend the current rules.

The next board of education meeting is set to take place on Monday, October 4, in the Council Chambers located inside the Clark Police Department.

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