Teaneck School Board Grapples with Bullying, Inequality, and Graduation Assessments

In a far-reaching meeting that touched on everything from academic goals to public concerns, the Teaneck School Board navigated a sea of issues aimed at bettering education for its diverse student body. Of most immediate concern were unresolved cases of bullying—especially against transgender students—inequalities in graduation assessments, and new initiatives to support English as a Second Language (ESL) students.

Maria Ventura, a parent, took the microphone during the public comment section to criticize the board for not adequately addressing her son’s bullying complaint. Her sentiment was echoed by Leora Palaven, a student who also raised concerns about the lack of protection for transgender students. In a public challenge to the board, both called for more action and safer environments, particularly for students wishing to socially transition but facing hostility at home.

Superintendent Dr. Andre Spencer assured parents that no investigation can proceed without interviews with involved students and urged parents to reach out. However, these assurances did little to quell public unease.

The board also presented data on New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessments (NJGPA). Although Teaneck saw increased percentages of students deemed “graduation ready,” the statistics revealed a troubling gender opportunity gap of 20% in both English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. These disparities, also extending into racial and economic subgroups, were discussed amid the context of lowered proficiency score thresholds set by the New Jersey State Board of Education.

Board members and administrators emphasized the need for “intensive tutoring” and targeted supports to bridge the achievement gap. Newer initiatives, like a readiness screener and specialized tutoring, were outlined to prepare students for these assessments. However, some board members voiced concern that test data often arrives too late to be useful for interventions.

Patricia Dent, the Director of School Innovation in English and ESL, presented another area of focus: the results of the Access 2.0 assessment for English language learners. Most students scored highest in listening and lowest in reading and writing, sparking discussions on targeted programs to accelerate proficiency in the weaker domains. Questions about the longevity and effectiveness of ESL programs were also addressed.

Among other key points, the board also discussed summer initiatives for mathematics education, highlighted the work on restorative practice procedures, and tackled issues of communications, introducing a new 12-month Public Relations employee.

Public comments from the community underscored concerns about a planned tutoring program mixing private and public school students and called for a cautious approach. Barbara Ostroff, a former board member, announced an upcoming candidates forum for the Board of Education election, emphasizing the non-partisan role of the Teaneck League of Women Voters in voter education.

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