Westwood School Board Debates Removing Book From Middle School Libraries, Discusses Superintendent Search

In a recent session, the Westwood School Board tackled a series of issues, from an discussion over the presence of certain books in the middle school media center to the ongoing search for a new superintendent. The board also grappled with the implications of policy 5756, which has been a subject of contention.

The meeting opened with a discussion about the inclusion of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” in the middle school media center. Board members expressed divergent views on the educational value of the book and the appropriateness of its content for middle school students.

Members Nicole Martin and Loni Azzolina defended the existing book evaluation process and the potential for opt-out options, akin to those in the health curriculum. Conversely, Laura Cooper and Douglas Cusato questioned the need for such graphic content in school settings. The debate extended to the importance of parental involvement, with Kristen Pedersen and Heather Perin emphasizing the need for better communication regarding the availability of books and the opt-out process. Superintendent Jill Mortimer and board members like Jason Garcia highlighted the importance of literature in education and the excitement books can generate among students.

The discussion then shifted to the superintendent search process, which is moving forward with eight candidates identified for initial interviews. The board expressed satisfaction with the breadth of talent in the applicant pool and is looking forward to the interview sessions scheduled for February 5th and 6th. The process will consist of three rounds of interviews to narrow the selection of candidates.

Policy 5756 also took center stage, with board members debating the urgency and purpose of its recent abolition. The policy, which had been a point of contention due to its perceived impact on parental rights and student support, particularly for LGBTQ+ students, faced scrutiny. Andrea Peck, Jorge Pertuz, and Shelley LaForgia spoke on the importance of respecting the community’s diverse views and the board’s responsibility to represent them. The policy was ultimately tabled after a vote, with the board agreeing to seek further clarification from the district attorney on potential risks and legal implications.

Financially, the district is in a strong position, as reported by Robert Hay from Lerch, Vinci, and Bliss. The annual audit revealed a $3.2 million increase in the total fund balance, with the district’s reserves including a capital reserve fund of approximately $14 million and a maintenance reserve of about $2.5 million. Moreover, $1.5 million is designated for tax relief in the upcoming budget. Despite these positive outcomes, the audit identified four areas requiring corrective action, for which plans were presented.

During the public forum, the board was commended for its staff recognition program and for its financial management. High school senior Amira spoke in support of the positive impact of staff members like Christopher Pinto, who was recognized for excellence through the “People Make a Difference” award. Others, including Paula Hill, called for open communication and support for all students, particularly those from the LGBTQ+ community.

The board also revisited the decision to reintroduce live streaming of board meetings, with some members questioning the process and the role of the former superintendent in the decision to discontinue it. In addition, the formation of a Communications committee was announced, which led to discussions about the selection process for committee participation.

Other agenda items included the pre-meeting with the Westwood Education Association before entering mediation discussions and the presentation of a variety of student activities and achievements in the district. The meeting concluded with the board addressing personnel matters, approving agenda items related to staffing, and discussing facilities projects like the HVAC system for Washington School.

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.
Jill Mortimer
School Board Officials:
Jason Garcia, Andrea Peck, Loni Azzolina, Laura Cooper, Douglas Cusato, Nicole Martin, Kristen Pedersen, Heather Perin, Jorge Pertuz, Frank Connelly, Bronwen Calderon (Director of Secondary Education), Denise Velez (Director of Elementary Education), Keith A. Rosado, Glen Becker (Director of Buildings & Grounds), Shelley LaForgia

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