Highland Park School Board Addresses Equity and Excellence in Education

The Highland Park School Board recently held a meeting that underscored the importance of fostering a safe and respectful environment within the educational community. The board, along with district leadership, committed to upholding values of integrity, compassion, and understanding to combat harassment and inappropriate behavior. The meeting’s most topics included discussions on promoting equity and excellence, the formation of an Equity and Excellence Committee, review of the district’s comprehensive Equity plan, enrollment disparities in advanced placement courses, and the process for high school course selection.

A significant portion of the meeting was dedicated to the ongoing efforts to advance equity and excellence within the school district. The dialogue centered around the newly formed Equity and Excellence Committee’s role in addressing issues such as restorative justice, access to school programs, and oversight of educational policies and practices. The committee examined the district’s Equity plan, mandated by the state, which aims to identify and rectify inequitable policies and practices. The district’s involvement in the Central Jersey Equity and Excellence Consortium was scrutinized, with some members questioning the effectiveness of the consortium’s programs and activities.

The conversation turned to the topic of advanced placement (AP) and honors courses, highlighting the underrepresentation of black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students in advanced math classes. This prompted a review of the factors contributing to the enrollment disparities. Additionally, the role of the Advanced Learning Program (ALP) and the need for enrichment opportunities at earlier grade levels were discussed to ensure equitable access to challenging coursework.

Another focal point was the high school course selection process. It was noted that while teachers are not officially allowed to recommend students for AP courses, informal feedback from teachers to parents regarding appropriate placements for their children was common. The board recognized the need for more data to understand the impact of the current process on reducing disparities and increasing access to AP courses. The potential influence of the ALP on students’ readiness for AP courses was also examined, with an emphasis on providing access to enrichment for all students.

The meeting continued with the Finance and Facilities agenda, which included resolutions to approve travel and expense reimbursements, contracts for professional development services, and the submission of the preschool program plan budget. The Personnel and Communications committee report followed, updating on the principal search process and staffing changes. Clarification was sought on specific items, such as corrections in staff contracts and the nature of approved positions for professional development. Members requested additional information on certain agenda items and promised further updates at the subsequent board meeting.

Policy discussions included a resolution and subsequent corrections made to it, as well as the review of policies for first readings, including changes related to pronoun usage and the focus on religion in schools for the second reading. During the public comments section, a resident raised concerns about school start times, the civility policy, and the culture of perfect attendance awards. They also voiced frustrations with the webinar comment format and discussed AP courses, class sizes, and union negotiations.

The board expressed gratitude to those involved in changing the meeting format and proposed starting a community advisory board to improve communication with the diverse community. Models from other towns and previous district initiatives were suggested as templates for this new committee.

The issue of school start times was revisited during public comments, with a community member expressing frustration over the lack of response from the board. It was mentioned that the central leadership team would review start times data and other relevant information in April to assess the overall impact.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Kristina Susca
School Board Officials:
Allison Casal-Dunn, Marilyn Pruce, Dr. Dan Battey, Dr. Monique Coleman, Nicole Longoria Stanio, Dr. Sara Pixley, Dr. Ethan Schoolman, Ann Vardeman, Jennifer Voorhees

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