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Superintendentʼs Report-Tuesday April 12, 2011

Closed Session/Open Session Comments Re. Mrs. Ohaus


Tonight many of you are here because you are concerned about the resignation of a
highly regarded teacher.

In case you are not aware, Mrs. Ohaus sent me an e-mail at 11:13 PM on Monday night
indicating her desire to rescind her resignation. Out of respect for her wishes, I would
like to pull item #40 from the agenda which is the resolution regarding her resignation.

At the same time, Mrs. Ohaus received what is commonly referred to as a RICE notice.
The RICE notice allows employees to determine if any discussion with the BOE
regarding her employment is public or private. Her written request is to make any
discussion public. I am glad that she has taken this approach to include the public
because there are many harmful rumors out there that can be put to rest.

Normally, I would ask the BOE to go to closed session to discuss a meeting that I had
with Mrs. Ohaus on April 5 because I planned on discussing this with the BOE because
there are many questions about this meeting. I met with Mrs. Ohaus on April 5 and a
few hours after the meeting, Mrs. Ohaus resigned her position. I can certainly
understand why many of you would be interested in knowing about this meeting.

As I am new to the district, I have been learning as much as I can about the district from
a variety of sources. With regard to the high school theatre program, I have a collection
of e-mails between Mr. Carter and Mrs. Ohaus regarding a variety of issues. I also have
a meeting summary that Mr. Rusak provided to me following an athletics and cultural
arts committee meeting of the Board of Education. Mr. Davis has also expressed to me
some concerns about the approval of employees who worked on the play based on NJ
School Contract Law, administrative code, statute, IRS regulations, and of course,
Hoboken BOE policies. My interest in having the meeting on April 5 was to accomplish
a number of objectives.

The first objective was to share these concerns with Mrs. Ohaus and to hear for myself
what her opinion was on each of the matters. It would not be fair to not hear her point of
view regarding these concerns. It would not be proper for an employer to not provide
an employee and opportunity to speak about these matters.

Another objective was to clarify expectations. If there are problems that can be
resolved, it makes sense to provide clear direction to employees regarding what is
expected in the future. Failure to do so would be a failure on my part to do my job as
Superintendent of Schools.

Based on discussion with Mr. Davis, I became concerned about the financial practices
associated with the play. I found that Mr. Davis had addressed some of the contracting
and purchasing issues directly with Mrs. Ohaus. He also has expressed concerns
about insurance and IRS problems related to payroll. At the same time, I found that one
areas that has not been addressed was the accounting of cash. As a former School
Business Administrator, I am aware that the most common way where school district
Superintendentʼs Report-Tuesday April 12, 2011

employees end up in a bind is when cash is not properly accounted for within the
student activities account. Mrs. Ohaus brought along two employees to the meeting
who demonstrated adequately that they are in fact accounting for cash in a proper
manner and that they had back up documentation to support the bank deposits in
general although I did find there was a surplus of $41. The point is that the general
practices for handling cash seem to be adequate to prevent fraud from taking place
thereby protecting the district employees.

Another topic of discussion about why Mrs. Ohaus requested that the next play, Alice in
Wonderland, be held on June 17. The play was approved on the district calendar to
take place in late May. Mrs. Ohaus was interested in holding Alice in Wonderland on
June 17 which is the last few days of school. I did not think that was a good idea
considering the academic focus students need to have at the end of the school year. I
still do not believe that having a school play on the final days of school is a good idea.
After resigning, Mrs. Ohaus notified me that she could not produce Alice in Wonderland
within the previously established timeline. However, I will be meeting with Mrs. Ohaus
on Wednesday to further our discussion and to perhaps redefine what we can do for a
spring theatre event.

Much has been made about the issue of charter school students taking part in
Hairspray. Other than to create other questions and tension between the Hoboken
School District and and the three Charter Schools, I see no purpose for the focus on
Charter School students in the play. This is not an issue with charter schools but
rather a general issue related to supervision of students and liability for the school
district. There were a handful of students from a number of different schools involved in
the play including a student who I have been told live in Hoboken, an exchange student,
and a student who supposedly lives in Hoboken but also supposedly attends an out of
state school.

This is my point. It is not good when a School Superintendent is not able to easily
access information about students who are involved in school activities or school
programs and their information is not readily available should there be a problem.
Information is not on the centralized computer system. Medical records are not
available. Another key question for consideration...Who would be financially
responsible for the non-Hoboken High School students if they were injured as a direct
result of their participation in the play? How could we justify this to an insurance carrier,
especially because the participation of students from other schools is specifically
prohibited under BOE policy 6145 Eligibility Standards For Participation in All Extra
Curricular Activities. The relevant part of the policy reads as follows and was approved
in November of 2010....
Superintendentʼs Report-Tuesday April 12, 2011

1. To be eligible to participate in extra-curricular activities, a student must be enrolled in


the district. Hoboken residents enrolled in a school that is not operated by the
Hoboken Board of Education (charter schools or private schools) shall not be eligible
to participate in extra-curricular activities. However, pursuant to NJSIAA guidelines, if
a charter school does not offer a particular sport that is offered by the district, resident
students attending that charter school may participate in that sport upon the
agreement of the Hoboken High School principal and the principal of the Charter
School.

This is a direct violation of the school district policy. Mrs. Ohaus stated that she was not
aware of this policy and that she has included students in her plays for a number of
years and has been allowed to do so without issue. I also want to bring up another
point...even though there is a violation of policy and a variety of other issues...at no
time during our meeting was Mrs. Ohaus asked to resign, told she would be fired, or any
other variation you can think of. This is why I was truly surprised when she resigned.

Even though I have to be concerned about the financial and insurance concerns, I am
also deeply concerned about how all students are identified to partake in the play. In
other words, Are there students from Hoboken High School who were unable to
participate and what provisions are made for students from the Connors, Wallace, and
Callabro Schools to participate? Mrs. Ohaus claimed that Hoboken High School
students were not denied a part in the play in favor of students who attended other
schools. I was relieved to hear about this.

Mrs. Ohaus also noted that there were three students from Hoboken High School were
originally removed from the play for eligibility reasons related to grades but that those
students were later reinstated.

I later found from Ms. Piccapietra that there were five Hoboken High School students
who participated in the play that were ineligible to participate based on the standard
applied previously--failure in two or more subjects the previous marking period. This
practice of allowing students to participate in plays who are failing two or more subjects
is a violation of district policy 6145. Naturally, as the academic leader of the district, I
should be concerned that students who are failing two or more subjects should also be
allowed to partake in the Hairspray.

If five students on the soccer team were found to be ineligible after the season, there
would be serious consequences for the school, any victories would become losses in
the record book, and the NJSIAA would get involved.

There are adult involved in the production of the play. I asked Mrs. Ohaus about this
practice because I was concerned about how these individuals are approved and how
they are involved with the students. Some of the volunteers are not directly supervised
by a certificated teacher as we would other volunteers and this is an issue. For
Superintendentʼs Report-Tuesday April 12, 2011

example, we discussed the role of volunteers who help backstage with makeup and
hair. We then had a discussion about alumni being involved in plays and she said that
when there is a shortage of actors alumni are involved. What type of background
checks and other procedures for involving these adults in plays still remains unclear to
me.

I spoke with Mrs. Ohaus about transporting students in her car, in particular after the St.
Patrickʼs Day Parade this year. She told me that she could not remember if she
transported students on that day. However, I have read parent accounts of how she has
transported students to colleges and to the doctorʼs office which is a very nice thing to
do but also in violation of BOE policy.

We then discussed another practice of hers where students are sleeping over at her
house. As a new person in the district, I think it is more than reasonable to discuss this
practice. I am not aware of any other situations during my career where students are
invited to a sleepover at the house of a teacher.

Nonetheless, Mrs. Ohaus discussed the fact that students did sleep over at her house
and the most recent sleepover was during Presidentʼs Day recess. I also asked about
transportation arrangements. Mrs. Ohaus stated that students are most commonly
transported to her house by car and that students have written permission from their
parents to sleep over. She also stated that other students traveled to her house by
train. In any event, I see the potential for liability for the school district and it is therefore
justifiable to question this practice based on the many possible ways that a staff
member could be held liable for a variety of problems.

Another topic of discussion was the official Facebook Page that is identified in the
program. Because of the many issues related to liability for teachers using Facebook,
Mr. Carter provided very clear direction to employees about using Facebook. Mrs.
Ohaus said she was not aware of any of the content of the page and she did not create
the page. For the record, there is no official Facebook page or any other board
sanctioned web presence for the theatre program.

In addition to Mrs. Ohaus and I, the meeting was attended by Mr. Enrico who served as
Mrs. Ohausʼ union representative and Mr. Rusak. Mr. Ramos and Mrs. Lisa from HHS
also attended the first fifteen minutes of the meeting because they were responsible for
accounting for the cash from the play.

On Wednesday, I will have another meeting where we will continue our discussion about
the Theatre program. I look forward to meeting with her tomorrow to further discuss her
work with the district.
Superintendentʼs Report-Tuesday April 12, 2011

SUPERINTENDENT REPORT

Unfortunately, much of the good news I have to share with the BOE is overshadowed
this month with other issues. Board Members you will be happy to know that significant
progress has been made in a number of areas. One part of my monthly report will
always be some information about how the district is moving forward academically. This
month there is much to report.

Partnerships are very important in public education today. Partnerships with other
institutions allows the district to accomplish things on behalf of students that could not
be accomplished otherwise. I am happy to report that we are fostering a number of
partnerships that will only help our students and our parents.

You have asked me to work to continue the groundwork established by Mr. Carter to
develop some adult education programs. I completed a survey where 75 residents
responded to a request for input. Mr. Fitzgibbons and I met with officals at the Technical
School to discuss some possible options and the results of the survey. You have a copy
of the draft for the Hudson Technical School Flyer for Adult education and you will see
that Hoboken is a location for a number of classes including financial planning, digital
photography, web design, intro to personal computers, Latin Dance Mix and Zumba.

As an added bonus, we have worked together to re-establish a Saturday Childrenʼs


Academy for our younger students from ages 7 to 14. The program is open to students
from other communities as well. You can see there is a wide range of classes including
classes about renewable energy, eating healthy, dance, business, and mandarin
chinese. You can see there are many exciting programs. The technical school must go
through the normal processes required to use the facilities.

A note for all of our residents interested in any of these programs...these are
opportunities that exist that will go away without adequate enrollment. The technical
school has requirements that they not lose money on their programs so they will
establish minimum class sizes. Likewise, they have maximum class sizes and so if you
wait to register, you may not be able to to participate once the maximum class size is
reached. Once the Technical School finalizes its offerings, the information will be
shared with the community through our web site and also with the flyer the technical
school mails throughout the county.

A quick report on another developing partnership- Hudson County Community College


representatives have another meeting in district on Tuesday to evaluate how some of
our elective classes like accounting and psychology can earn dual credit--meaning
students who will receive their five high school credits as well as three college credits
from the community college. We are also looking at some other options after school to
allow students to take classes once the school day is over.

You will note that there is a revision to the graduation policy and regulations related to
advanced options for high school graduation. This revision has been put together with
Superintendentʼs Report-Tuesday April 12, 2011

the NJSBA policy service that the district uses and enables a variety of new learning
opportunities for high school students. There are many ways to be a successful high
school student and this policy allows students to pursue unique learning opportunities
provided their educational interests are approved.

Hudson County Community College is also a partner identified for our adult school
program. At this point, there are interested in offering four to six college course at
Hoboken High School this fall. Those plans will also be further reviewed next Tuesday.

We have something very nice this month that will enhance learning opportunities for
middle school students and this could not be happening at a better time. You will see
on the agenda the request for you to approve item #24 which involves the adoption of
instructional new science materials for all students in grades k through 7 at a cost of
approximately $91,000. This is significant because the NJDOE will be implementing
new CCCS science standards for the next school year. The Foss science materials
have already been used by the NJDOE in their development of model lessons to
support teaching of the new CCCS for science. The materials are supported and were
developed through the National Science Foundation. The students of the Hoboken
Schools have not received new science textbooks and learning materials at the
elementary level for at least ten years and the new standards as well as the need to
update materials due to age make this resolution very important for our science
program. I like the lessons because they are hands on discovery based learning
modules.

In other partnership news related to the new science curriculum, I am happy to report
that I was able to meet officials at Stevens Institute of Technology to learn about their
outreach program and possible ways to partner with them. As a result of a significant
grant Stevens received, it appears they will be able to help us with training our staff to
utilize the new science materials to the greatest potential.

I wanted to take a moment to speak about both discipline and attendance at the high
school. I am happy to report that the suspension rate at the high school has decreased
by from 29 suspensions in February to 14 suspensions in March. This represents a 52
percent decrease and is attributable to changes in approach in terms of accountability
and fuller implementation of the inschool suspension program. This is the lowest
number of suspensions for the entire school year.

I am also happy to report that our recent efforts to improve student attendance have
also been very successful. Since our implementation of the existing BOE policy for
student attendance, we have seen a 41% improvement in reduction in the number of
students absent.
Superintendentʼs Report-Tuesday April 12, 2011

RETREAT-the open date that we have is May 23.

In closing my report, I would like to take a moment to recognize the retirements of eight
long time district employees.

Veronica Scappatori-Teacher at Wallace School


Bart Reilly-Principal of Wallace School
Irene LaBruzza-School Nurse at Hoboken High School
Kenneth Turso-Sixth Grade Social Studies Teacher at Connors
Anne Marie DeMaio-Fifth Grade Teacher at Calabro School
Pasqua Cioci-Transportation Aide/Security Guard
Michael Jacobson-Teacher at Wallace School
Michael Craven--Transportation Coordinator and 39 year veteran in the transportation
department