Residents Attend BOE Meeting To Support RPMS Vice Principal

For the second Board Of Education (BOE) meeting in a row, residents came out to support and ask the BOE to reconsider rumored plans to move Roselle Park Middle School (RPMS) Vice Principal James Shriner to the Academy, a program designed to service both regular and special education students. According to the Roselle Park School District (RPSD) website, these students range from those who may demonstrate acting out behaviors to those who may be dealing with family or personal problems, chronic health conditions, or in need of a smaller therapeutic environment. The crowded BOE meeting was in contrast to the empty seats at budget presentations for the 2016-17 school year held by the BOE earlier this month.

We don’t make – and I don’t – make decisions here just because it’s a decision to make. Decisions are made with a lot of thinking behind it. I just wanted to let the community know that I hear you.” – Pedro Garrido

No comments were forthcoming from the Board although School Superintendent Pedro Garrido read from a prepared statement last night at the start of the public meeting. He spoke of the many comments, letters, and emails concerning what he termed as re-assignments, adding, “I just want to let you know I do listen. I have read every letter. I have every read every e-mail . . . I just want to let you know that, please, if you have anything you would like to discuss with me I’m available. You can come up to my office, you can call me, you can e-mail me. As the superintendent I have taken a step back. I am listening. I am reflecting [on] what the community is saying so I just want you to realize that. We don’t make – and I don’t – make decisions here just because it’s a decision to make. Decisions are made with a lot of thinking behind it. I just wanted to let the community know that I hear you. I read your letters. I read you e-mails and I do appreciate the passion that you have for what you stand for and what you believe in.”

After the business of the BOE was completed with the Board voting on various expenses, policies, and requests, the second public comment portion that allows the public to comment or ask questions regarding any subject had a dozen residents talk about Mr. Shriner. Many in the audience were wearing “RPMS Loves Mr. Shriner” stickers.

First up was Kathleen Paiva who spoke at the previous BOE meeting and wanted to express her continued support for Mr. Shriner as vice principal.

“The district’s plan is to move Mr. Shriner the academy,” Mrs. Paiva stated, “I’ve been hearing that the current director is not happy . . and that’s why this administrative change is being implemented. I do not think that the Board knows how much Mr. Shriner means to the teaching staff, the students, the parents, and the entire community as the Roselle Park Middle School vice principal.  He currently has 472 students while the Academy currently has nine. Mr. Shriner’s reputation as a student athlete, an educator, a volunteer, and a human being are truly beyond words . . . He is 100% totally dedicated to our students as well as the entire community.”

Mrs. Paiva even cited the School Ethics Act, specifically Section 18A:12-24.1(f) (Code of Ethics for School Board Members) which reads ‘I will refuse to surrender my independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups or to use the schools for personal gain or for the gain of friends.’ She concluded her statements by saying that she was hopeful that the BOE will do what is truly in the best interest of the students and to listen to parents’ concerns.

He then introduced her daughter Isabel who is a RPMS student. The young girl read the following:

My name is Isabel Paiva, I am 12 years old and I am currently in the 7th grade at the Roselle Park Middle School.

I wanted to come today to show my support for Mr. James Shriner who is my Vice Principal.  I was told Mr. Shriner might be leaving the Middle School to become the director at the Academy and I was very upset to hear this news. 

Mr. Shriner means more than you can realize to his 472 students.  He is always approachable, personable, compassionate, respectful, understanding, fair, reasonable, and he is even a parental figure to some of the students.  Mr. Shriner really knows what is best for his students and he is always there for us whether it be during or after school hours, even if we see him when he’s with his family at the town diner)

I want to make a difference and do what I could for Mr. Shriner to show my support and with that said, I would like to present to the Board a Petition that has been signed by 132 6th graders, 96 7th graders, and 89 8th graders requesting Mr. Shriner remain as the Vice Principal at the Roselle Park Middle School.

There are currently 472 total students at the Middle School and I was able to get 67.16% of the students to sign my petition and I’m sure I would have received 100% of signatures if I was able to meet every student in the time I had to present this to you today.

Thank you for your time and I hope you re-consider keeping Mr. Shriner at the Middle School.

Alicia Marino who spoke at both meetings introduced her son Ryan who also spoke in support of Mr. Shriner. He stated, “I am a 6th grader at Roselle Park Middle School and I want to talk about what makes Mr. Shriner the best vice-principal. He is beyond understanding. He helps kids make good decisions. He is always fair. He’s not just a vice-principal, he’s a friend. He knows all the kids’ names. He makes middle school a fun place to learn. If Mr. Shriner moved to a different school I would be very sad.”

Ismetta Nikovic, a 17-and-a-half year resident and parent, then approached the microphone to support Mr. Shriner, commenting, “He means a lot to our kids, to the town, to the teachers, to everyone else.”

She commended the RPMS vice principal as being easy to approach and a necessary male presence which helps in education. She thanked not only Mr. Shriner but all the teachers her children have had throughout the years, concluding with, “I can say no matter how much they get paid, those teachers, God bless them. They deserve so much more . . . Please don’t let him [Mr. Shriner] leave.”

He has succeeded in this initiative ten straight years so why would you consider moving him from the building which he provides overall safe environment for 472 students and 45 staff members?” – Joseph Signorello Jr.

Roselle Park Fire Chief Joseph Signorello Jr. spoke about Mr. Shriner and how he was asked in 2006 when the middle school went back to a traditional class structure of having 6th, 7th, and 8th grade in the same building to become RPMS vice principal. He said, “Mr. Shriner who was the athletic director at the time was given the opportunity to be the vice principal . . . He has succeeded in this initiative ten straight years so why would you consider moving him from the building which he provides overall safe environment for 472 students and 45 staff members?”

Mrs. Marino herself spoke again in her support of Mr. Shriner. At the last meeting she spoke of her three children enrolled in the district and her interaction with Mr. Shriner. At that March 8th meeting she said, “Mr. Shriner is an exemplary educator.  In his role of Vice Principal, he is aware that everything he does today has a direct impact on shaping the world of tomorrow.  As each and every new school year begins we entrust him to oversee an amazing group of students.  He has deep roots in Roselle Park and is not only  each is special in their own way. Mr. Shriner has proven through the years that he able to reach all of these students.  He serves as a positive role model and mentor, and he is someone the students can trust.  He makes RPMS a place where our children feel safe, and he opens up an endless world of possibilities to them.  He not only helps to build and shape their character, but he gives them a strong sense of self-esteem.”

This time she presented information on the middle school’s PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) performance and Mr. Shriner. He remarked:

The New Jersey Department of Education recently posted the 2015 PARCC scores and included the national scores also to show how we compared to the rest of the states who participated in the new testing initiative. Roselle Park Middle School outscored the state average in 5 of the 7 grade level categories and outscored the national average in every grade level category. At the local level, Roselle Park Middle School outperformed 3 neighboring school districts in every grade level category. It is also impressive to note that our Algebra scores were 42 points higher than the state average and 46 points higher than the national average. These scores are a direct result of a teaching and administration staff at the Middle School that has worked very hard in the past few years to carry out our local and state educational initiatives. Under the guidance of Ms. Carlin, Mr. Shriner, our Middle School staff is given the necessary tools and resources to continue providing our students with the best possible educational environment.

Mr. Garrido you inspired me to come up here because of the words you spoke at last night’s superintendent’s chat. You stressed the important responsibility this district has, now more than ever, of having a strong instructional leadership in our schools. How fortunate are we to already have that in place at the RPMS with Mr. Shriner in the role of vice-principal.

You encouraged us as parents to go home and watch Steve Jobs’ commencement speech that he gave at Stanford university because you agreed with his views that having a passion for your career is what leads to success. I can’t think of a person more passionate about his career as vice principal than Mr. Shriner, which clearly is the main reason he is so successful at what he does.

With an estimated 500 students to be enrolled at the middle school this fall, all of us, the parents, the residents, the teacher, the Board of Education and the superintendent of Roselle Park owe it to the children of Roselle Park to keep Mr. Shriner as our vice principal so that our students can continue to experience overall academic success.

Jeanine Goodis spoke on the underlying talk that has been going around regarding the reason for the move of Mr. Shriner, saying, “Rumor has it, it sounds like we have funds available to create a new position for someone who is unhappy in their current role and instead move our beloved vice principal to her place.”

She added the concerns of parents regarding the manner in which the matter is being handled, “If you would just lay out your plan and give us the information we’re trying to get instead of trying to gather it on our own, this would feel less like a backroom deal that is being funded by our taxes dollars. We’ll be here next meeting and everyone after that, please listen to our request and each and every Board member use your own judgment, don’t just rubber stamp this through as something being told to do.”

Even former Roselle Park Mayor Joseph DeIorio spoke. Providing insight on the position of BOE members not being able to openly discuss details of any pending decision, Mr. DeIorio commented, “I know it’s a difficult situation. I’m not naive. I sat in similar positions . . . I understand there are certain prohibitions to talk about personnel. I also understand that we may not know everything nor should we know everything because of it being a personnel issue. However, I would ask you to consider not only what the residents have said but to consider what the effect has been because this information has now gotten out now, has gotten to the children, has gotten to the parents. At the end of the day, I know the  superintendent . . . runs the day-to-day operations of the school. As Board members you set policy, pass budgets, sign contracts. So together you work hand-in-hand . . . All I’m saying is that you have a tough decision and if the decision is to change the route and move Mr. Shriner back you hear that [if] the residents win [the] school board lost. I don’t think that’s the message that I’m hearing. I think the message is essentially keep the doors open . . . Listen to their concerns and at the end of the day if you choose to reverse your decision, it’s a win-win for all of us.”

[I]t’s far easier for the taxpayers, parents, and residents to criticize you all sitting up there from behind our computers or in front of you tonight. But don’t you think we should be afforded the same respect that you expect from us with our thoughts and out questions?” – Jenn Jaskula

Jenn Jaskula clarified the underlying issue regarding how things are being – and have been handled – with regard to how the BOE as well as the municipality does a poor job of relaying its intentions in a productive manner, She stated, “We need to communicate. It’s not something we do well here. It is the only way our district, our town is going to succeed, grow, and flourish. From the Board Of Education to administrators, teachers, parents, and students we really need to listen to each other and communicate. As individuals we have a job to but to accomplish that job that job we all need to work together . . . I realized in the past week it’s far easier for the taxpayers, parents, and residents to criticize you all sitting up there from behind our computers or in front of you tonight. But don’t you think we should be afforded the same respect that you expect from us with our thoughts and out questions? I’m not saying I’m right and I’m not saying you’re right. I’m asking you to listen to your community. We have questions.”

She then went on to ask about plans to perhaps consolidate children from the Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) that currently rents out a building at the corner of West Webster and Laurel Avenue to another location to save taxpayers’ money. She also asked about the resources being used for the dozen or so children in the Academy, the program Mr. Shriner is supposedly being moved to as the administrator there.

Carl Pluchino talked about his interactions with Mr. Shriner while he was Deputy Code Enforcement Officer. He spoke of how Mr. Shriner was instrumental in helping him make sure that students in the middle school were residents of Roselle Park thereby looking out for the community as a whole.

Karen Donnelly also praised Mr. Shriner, saying, “My daughter thought he could walk through walls . . . He’s everywhere and that is so important to see that as a stable administrator. It’s such a disservice for the middle school to lose Mr. Shriner. It gives me deep concern.”

Noticeable during both meetings was the fact that no one spoke of what will be done to improve the environment of the students at the Academy if the talk around town is to be believed about the current condition of the program. It even had one parent asking who wished to remain unnamed, “What if their kid was in the Academy and an excellent administrator who would be a great help was talked about as if his talents would be wasted because their kid only one of a small number while the normal kids get to keep their excellent vice principal?”

In response, Mrs. Marino remarked, “That’s a great question. Especially because I am the parent of a special needs child. So I can see this from more than one perspective. Mr. Shriner is doing an incredible job at the Middle School. If he wanted to move to the academy the parents would support him 100%. It’s not really a case of “which” school should have James Shriner serve as their administrator. I believe we need strong instructional leadership in all our schools. By simply moving him around it sends the message that we aren’t able to find another person with that strong skill set to take that job. I think we owe it to all our children in every school to hire and provide them with an administrative leader that will encourage them to achieve academic success. Not just shuffle people around.”

Another scenario being put forth from certain circles of parents is that the move was a way to accommodate another administrator who had interviewed for a position out-of-district, did not get it, and wanted to change positions within the district, thereby pushing out Mr. Shriner. Although the first part of the scenario has been confirmed – that an administrator was evaluated for a possible position out-of-district – there is no confirmation regarding that being the reason for the proposed move of RPMS vice principal.

None of these questions and rumors are being addressed publicly by any officials, administrators, or Board members due to the personnel nature of the matter.

The next BOE meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 5th, at Robert Gordon School.