Despite a forewarned firestorm over the recent non-renewal of a popular teacher’s contract, the atmosphere remained calm as some spoke in favor of cooperative cooling down at Monday night’s meeting.
“We have to work together,” longtime resident Janet Rotchford told the audience of roughly 25. “These are your neighbors. They’re not your enemies.”
Rotchford’s comment came after some and board, characterizing the popular teacher’s situation a microcosm in a doomed district.
“Totally insulted …” is how parent Shelly Champeau told the board she felt over the decision not to renew the teacher’s contract.
“I think your minds were made up,” she added, referring to the decision. “We’re not going away … What really stunned me was all the teachers that came up to speak (at the June 20 meeting to defend the teacher) … that told me everything …”
But it was only one side of a personnel situation, according to the board, that was not for pubic purview.
Prior to the public hearing, Rumson Board of Education President Colleen O’Connor read aloud a statement that had been sent to parents outlining board procedure on the matter and its concept of acting for the greater good of the district.
“During the spring of each year, the Board of Education spends a number of hours reviewing personnel matters and making staffing decisions based on the recommendations of the administration,” O’Connor read from the prepared public statement. “Each personnel recommendation comes before the board and before any decision is made, the board considers all factors regarding the employment of an individual and always asks: ‘What is in the best interest of our students, our school district and the community?’ With respect to any decision, we understand individuals will have differing opinions based on their own personal experience.
"The Board recognizes, appreciates and considers that information prior to making a decision. Those decisions are also made with additional information that is not known to members of the public and may never be known because personnel matters are confidential. As has been said often in public board meetings, the board and its individual members are not permitted by law to speak to any member of the public regarding a personnel matter or personnel actions.
"When a decision is made, there are often individuals who are impacted personally by the outcome. Individuals view the decision through their personal experiences. Board Members view their decisions not only through their own individual experiences, but with an overall view as to the operation of the school district.
"The board does not anticipate that all members of the public will embrace each of its decisions with the same enthusiasm and support. It understands that each board decision will be viewed through the personal experiences of each member of the public. The board and its members cannot and will not speak disrespectfully, or in a derogatory or inflammatory manner about its employees, whether former or current …”
The statement's sentiment was echoed by Rotchford, who thanked the board for investing “tireless countless hours” in the school community. Saying that she raised three boys who went through the Rumson system with success and are now grown, she added, “I don’t like the tone that everyone has taken,” as she turned to the audience. “We all have to get along. We have to live together. We have to work together, because to threaten each other only means that kids will get hurt.”
Others spoke saying that they did not like the distinctions drawn between housewives in the district and parents in general.
An email had been circulated, calling the contingent of those opposed to Superintendent Maryrose Caulfield-Sloan’s administrative methods “The Real Housewives of Rumson.”
No one has claimed responsibility for the email, which was allegedly falsely attributed to two leaders.
New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) Representative Brian Furry addressed the board as well, backing the teacher who was let go and the parents who support her.
“You have to ask yourselves a significant question,” Furry said to the board. “Are the evaluations and the observations that lead up to those evaluations … Do they have meaning? Do they have weight? Based upon what we reviewed last week, one would have to conclude that they don’t.
“What’s in store for the staff next year? Should they expect similar treatment when they come back to school in September? Will they be retaliated against for supporting their colleague — a colleague they spent four years with? More importantly, as a board, are you going to tolerate that kind of behavior by your management?”
Furry went on to say a uniquely good situation exists in Rumson schools with respect to parents and staff working together.
And, other parents said, that spirit of cooperation should be enhanced. One parent, Tracy Leonard, praised the superintendent for her strength in curriculum development and called on the parents to come together to take advantage of Caulfield-Sloan’s skills and bolster the district’s academic reputation.
“The Board of Education believes in the quality education provided by the Rumson School District pre-K to grade 8,” the board’s statement said, concluding, “Of primary importance to the board in every decision it makes is the best interests of all of our students, our staff, our school district and our community."