HOWELL – The Howell Township Board of Education held a reorganization meeting on January 4 that swore in two newly elected members, Cristy Mangano and Laurence Gurman. There were three seats up for grabs during November’s election, the third being filled by incumbent Vice President Mark Bonjavanni.
Mangano, who currently has five children in the Howell Township school system, said during her campaign that the community hoped to get more parents on the board to promote transparency between school officials and parents. She will serve on the board’s Operations Committee this year.
Gurman, who retired in 2015 from the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, founded the Howell Education Foundation over 10 years ago and will now serve as its board appointed liaison.
Timothy O’Brien was re-nominated by board members and voted unanimously to extend his role as board president. He put an emphasis on getting more community members involved in school board committees this year.
“I think it’s important to try and get back as many citizen members as we can that can serve, since their experiences are valuable,” said O’Brien, “And to seek out new citizen members as voices for what our community cares about.”
Among the annual committee and liaison appointments was a newly formed committee for Legislative Advocacy. Led by board member James Moretti, it will advocate for better school policies and legislation.
The new board discussed rebranding as a hot topic for their upcoming retreat on January 28. The last time the board took on a branding campaign was more than 30 years ago.
“Sometimes rebranding can have a tone of trying to spin something, and that’s not the point,” said Superintendent Joseph Isola. “The point is that education has truly evolved so much in recent years, both here in Howell and across our nation, and we’re trying to look at ways that we could really portray the proper image for the school district to our community and beyond.”
Strides have also been made on an enrichment program led by fourth grade teacher Kelley Gilligan, who works at the Newbury School. Gilligan created a framework that allows third, fourth and fifth grade students to follow a personalized pathway that’s specific to their area of passion within the existing English Language Arts curriculum.
“That framework that she developed not only gave students pathways in English Language Arts, but it also set us up with the ability to now create frameworks for other subject areas,” said Assistant Superintendent Bruce Preston.
Preston went on to explain how these students are discussing their analysis of independent reading books with students in other buildings via an app called Tablet, allowing them to have more meaningful discussions with peers who have similar interests.
“What we got to see ‑‑ I think that was very exciting ‑‑ is how we’re also leveraging the district available technologies for students to connect in other buildings with their work,” said Preston.
The board also will undergo an accountability action plan this year issued by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The ESEA requires 95 percent of students enrolled in a tested grade to participate in statewide assessments, a percentage that has not been met by Howell Township in recent years.
Superintendent Isola cited misunderstanding as one of the reasons for the lack of participation. He felt there were a lot of people who “got on the bandwagon,” and didn’t necessarily understand why there were opting out or protesting the assessments for their children.
The board is now working to do more outreach in the community to elevate understanding of these state required assessments, in efforts to hit the 95 percent goal next year. “It’s all about engagement and information sharing,” said Isola.