FAIR HAVEN: SCHOOLS HEAD UNDER FIRE

fh schools 2 042814Superintendent Nelson Ribon, center above, fielded pointed questions from parents, including one, below, who compared him to a CEO who had lost the respect of his employees. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

fh schools 1 042814Fair Haven school Superintendent Nelson Ribon found himself in the crosshairs of about 100 mothers and a handful of students Monday night.

Joined by about a dozen men, the women and kids challenged Ribon and the school board over the possible elimination of two full-time kindergarten teaching jobs, a plan to expand the half-time kindergarten program next September, and pending decisions on the jobs of more than two dozen teachers.

“Teachers are afraid to talk,” a woman who has four children in the district schools told Ribon during a two-hour Q&A at Knollwood School. “They’re fearful for their jobs, and that’s not what Fair Haven is about.”

“We’re asking you to reconsider” a plan to replace the two kindergarten full-timers with four part-timers, said another, echoing a sentiment voiced several times.

nelson ribon 042814Ribon pointed to an unusual confluence of key decisions as the source of “many emotional statements” made in recent days. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

Structured as an informal “community Q&A,” the event began with Ribon trying to quell what he said a “a lot of emotion going on in the community right now,” some of it fueled by what he suggested was misinformation about staffing.

For example, some teachers whose jobs were rumored to be on the chopping block are in fact replacements hired for specific terms. They are free to apply for regular employment when their contracts end, he said.

He confirmed, however, that about 26 of the district’s teachers are non-tenured and subject to evaluation that could end their employment. The number is unusually high, he acknowledged. But he declined to confirm an assertion that 9 or 10 teachers are to be let go.

Why, one woman asked, was the same board that hired those teachers now letting them go? “What is the problem with the hiring process, and what’s being changed?” she asked.

“When you hire, you only have so much information to go on,” Ribon replied, and it’s only after a teacher has been observed over time can his or her effectiveness and growth be gauged.

“We take it very seriously,” board member Katy Frissora said of the decision whether to keep a teacher after three years. “It’s the only profession where on day one of your fourth year you have a job for life.”

Several students defended their teachers.

“When you talk about these flaws, we don’t see them,” said one girl, “and we’re sure a lot of other people don’t see them either. At least some of us think if these teachers leave us, we don’t know how we’re going to adjust.”

Some of the most heated criticism surrounded changes to the kindergarten program. Ribon said that as part of a transition to full-day kindergarten, not expected to kick in before the 2015-’16 school year, the district plans to expand the current program from three hours to four in September, leading to the possible elimination of the two full-time teaching slots, which would be replaced by four part-time posts.

That prompted an outpouring of support for one teacher in particular, Kerry Kennedy, and complaints about a lack of community input into the process.

“No one said, ‘fire Mrs. Kennedy and hire four 22-year-olds,’” said one woman.

“I want quality over quantity,” said one woman.

“As the ‘CEO’ of this company, your staff is coming to work with heavy hearts, concerned about their livelihoods,” said another.

The anger follows a recent decision by the board not to renew the contract of Sickles School principal Susan Alston based on evaluation criteria – she remains in place through the end of the current school year – and a meeting held on short notice to move a teacher from one school to another, under order from the Monmouth County Superintendent of Schools. The reason for the move was not disclosed.

The frustration is also rooted, said board vice president Claudia Brasch, in the fact that the teachers’ union hasn’t had a contract for two years. She and Ribon said a fact-finder’s recommendation was given to the union Monday and is scheduled to be discussed by the board shortly.

“This just a lot of change going on at once,” Brasch told redbankgreen.

The board is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Knollwood School.