On Monday, with summer coming to an end, the Board of Education held its first public caucus meeting since June. The board took the opportunity to present proficiency assessments, take public comment, and introduce potential resolutions for the coming months.

Tensions still linger amongst some board members months after April’s chaotic public meeting in which rumors swirled of a contingent of trustees bringing forward a vote of no-confidence against Superintendent Norma Fernandez.

Trustee Afaf Muhammad stated her desire to bring forward a vote of no-confidence in the leadership of the board, specifically citing Vice President Noemi Velazquez.

“I don’t think that we can move forward with the leadership that is being snide toward us on a consistent basis,” said Trustee Muhammad. “And I’m talking about Vice President Velazquez in specific right now.”

Muhammad asserted that Vice President Velazquez prevented the board from advancing goals at last week’s board retreat because “she felt in her feelings that we all couldn’t handle it when it was not true.… I don’t think that’s good leadership.”

President Natalia Ioffe attempted to diffuse this brewing public conflict saying that this was a time to respond to public comment and “focus on the business at hand.”

Velazquez said, “I have made it my business not to comment on innuendos, on concerns and complaints, on all this petty stuff that’s going on because we have addressed it in private, at least I thought we had addressed it as professional adults in private. Nonetheless, this has continued.”

Velazquez tied the criticism to the upcoming election and said she had, for many years, worked well with her colleagues.

“Perhaps I am not the one who should be stepping down … and that’s the last I want to say of that.”

Ioffe said, “We have to move forward and that’s the bottom line because our mission is greater than our feelings at this point.”

Proficiency assessments

A summary of the results from the New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment, conducted in March on then-11th graders, was presented to the board. The test found that 75.2% of test takers are “graduation ready” in the subject of English language arts, while only 39.5% are “graduation ready” in math. Both fall short of the state averages of 80.5% (English language arts) and 55% (math).

The fall administration of the Graduation Proficiency Assessment will be in October. For students who pass neither administration of the test, a substitute competency test (PSAT, SAT, ACT, or ACCUPLACER) can be submitted, or the students can submit a student portfolio appeal to the New Jersey Department of Education.

The Board also got the results of the ACCESS for English Language Learners (ELL) proficiency test. This exam evaluates the listening, reading, speaking, and writing abilities of students enrolled in ELL or bilingual classes and those receiving English as a second language services. Out of 3,648 students currently enrolled in ELL, 238 tested as “exit ready” from the program, and 68% of students increased their scores from last year.

Forthcoming proposals

Trustee Gina Verdibello introduced a potentially landmark resolution to the board: the vote at 16 initiative, which is locally advocated by the Ali Leadership Institute. The initiative aims to build up the right to vote in local elections at the age of 16.

“I think as the Board of Education, we should be supporting our students,” said Verdibello, especially when 16 and 17 year olds have taxes taken out of their paychecks and can get their driver’s licenses. “Our students matter and their voices matter.”

A new pilot program was proposed to create a Girls Who Code club in the district. Girls Who Code is a nonprofit organization focused on decreasing the gender gap in technology by introducing coding and other computer sciences at a young age. The clubs will not be district-wide in the first year, instead being proposed to start at Middle School #4, P.S. #14, and P.S. #16.

In recapping the recent committee meetings, Ioffe expressed her desire to commit to having board members rotate through committees to gain new, well-rounded perspectives on the board’s various functions. Her intention, she said, was to provide more updates, communication, and transparency from the board and the general public.

The public Board of Education meeting will take place tonight at 6 p.m. at PS #11, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School, 886 Bergen Avenue.

Ryan Kilkenny was born and raised in New York. He graduated with a BS from Tulane University and a JD from Rutgers Law School. Ryan worked as an attorney for almost two years before switching careers and...