Educators of the year honored by Monroe school board

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District also looks ahead to, plans for 2021-22 school year

By MADELEINE MACCAR

Correspondent

When the Monroe Township School District Board of Education convened for a general meeting the evening of May 10, its members began with a presentation honoring the teacher and educational services professional of the year, as they do every year.

The Governor’s Educators of the Year were as follows: Applegarth Elementary School fifth grade teacher Danielle Mazza and media specialist Elisa Varon; Barclay Brook School second grade teacher Kristin Miller and reading specialist Stacy Blum; Brookside School third grade teacher Kimberly Bertini and math interventionist Lisa Zimmer; Mill Lake School first grade teacher Lisa Papandrea and nurse Kris Cauda; Monroe Township High School special education teacher Christina Basile and speech therapist Zaharo Plawner; Monroe Township Middle School math teacher Kristie Zimmermann and counselor Taryn Yoelson; Oak Tree School second grade teacher Linda Eosso and basic skills interventionist Olga DiGrazia; and Woodland School fifth grade teacher Abbe Fleming and media specialist Michelle Duszkiewicz.

“Many of these teachers, their last names are household names, so it just goes to show you how much the students enjoy having them as teachers,” said board member Andy Paluri, who added his thanks. “They’re the secret frontline workers keeping our kids safe and teaching them every single day.”

Each educator had already been presented with the news, balloons, flowers and small celebrations in socially distanced surprise ceremonies.

During the board meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dori Alvich showed a slide of each honoree, which included photos of many of them moments after being surprised with their distinctions.

Committee reports included addressing next year’s lunch and milk prices, as discussed at the May 5 finance committee meeting, which will be increased by 10 cents for the 2021-22 academic year, with the exception of kindergartners’ milk.

Board member Ken Chiarella explained that the increase will get the district closer to the recommended federal reimbursement rate to help absorb the impact of inflation in food prices and keep revenue goals in line.

“We still have some of the lowest lunch prices in the area, so that’s still a positive,” he said.

Chiarella also announced that Business Administrator/Board Secretary Michael Gorski had submitted the final version of the district’s final 2021-22 budget and accompanying documents to the Middlesex County Department of Education’s office, and is “expecting approval soon, very soon.”

The district has seen a reduction of costs in its Comcast service, which Chiarella reported will come to a monthly $1,418.27 decrease in payments.

Additionally, any parent or guardian who waived their children’s rights to transportation can have their busing options reinstated if their circumstances have since changed. A survey is in the works to collect caretakers’ opinions and feedback in regard to the district’s clarity and frequency of communication.

Public comments included questions about a perceived disconnect between the district’s Board of Education and administration, as well as comments about more frugal spending alternatives. Board President Michele Arminio also explained why the timeline for the referendum regarding a partial roof replacement needs to account for information gathering and design studies, which is why it’s recommended for a September 2022 vote.

During his assistant superintendent’s report, Dr. Adam Layman detailed how the high school’s peer leaders spent some time with the district’s elementary schools’ students last week, reading to their younger peers about inclusivity and the importance of both celebrating and learning from everyone’s differences. He also assured everyone that the district is getting closer and closer to returning to a traditional, pre-COVID educational model.

Alvich reported that she currently has no staff members looking to get their first vaccine, and reminded the public that it is illegal to ask district employees about their vaccination status.

She also discussed the district’s goals: continue engaging the school community in the development of a strategic action plan; develop a referendum project both with the community and using the most current enrollment information to address student growth; and revising and executing the schools’ restart and recovery plan by assessing students’ learning needs, prioritizing staff and student emotional well-being and support, and meeting all of the safety requirements outlined by the state’s department of education.

“This has been an ongoing work throughout the year,” she said. “We’ve had many meetings with our school base teams and four meetings with our district restart team, and we are currently in school. … We are currently planning for a full-day in-person opening in September.”

Alvich added that the district’s nurses are “working tirelessly” to keep everyone updated.

A video of the meeting is available at bit.ly/3fg9O5F

The BOE will hold its next meeting June 16.