By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Asbury Park School Superintendent Dr RaShawn M. Adams said members of the public who come to school board meetings to criticize are harming the district, throwing misinformation into the mix and generally acting in a “deplorable” way.
The comments seem at least partially motivated by a Neptune resident who in a raised voice called the board “crooks” and unable to resolve long-standing issues. Although she never enrolled any of her four children in an Asbury Park school, she mocked the district’s tradition of honoring students of the month after two of this month’s honorees were described as “happy.” Who cares if they are happy. they need to learn, she said,
Then the superintendent spoke out.
“I want us to be very mindful of our word choice,” Adams said. “Dysfunction, chaos…those words are things that lead to the detriment of who were are”
Adams continued, “There is a level of dignity and pride as well as going back to decorum.”
He lamented the level of misinformation, from people who live outside the district especially.
“We need to be mindful and protect the sanctity of the district…This is something that is detrimental to the students and hard-working staff,” Adams said. “At the end of the day, we can disagree and be role models for the students at all times. For the first time, I’m going to say it needs to stop because it is deplorable. We need to have a respectful and open dialogue.”
Adams said he favors transparency but one of the frustrations about public comment is the board will not engage in a give-and-take with members of the public. At the school board meeting last week, the agenda indicated if anyone wants to receive a list of the public meetings scheduled for the 2023-24 school year, they must submit the request in writing and pay $20. However, the agenda lists the board meeting dates as does the district website. Generally, the board meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at the Bradley Elementary School. Members of the media are exempt from the fee.
Asbury Park residents came to address a number of issues including the district’s poor performance on a state assessment to determine where students are after the pandemic.
“This isn’t going to be solved in one year or two years,” Adams said.
Others include the termination of the law enforcement academy for what Adams said was a lack of interest, a questionable future for the Dream Academy in which 11th and 12th grades students earn 60 college credits and an associate degree before graduation through a partnership with Brookdale community College, to the status of the Allied Health Academy where the creator recently left the program and a replacement has not been hired.
“We have no intention to adjust, or discontinue the Allied Health program,” Adams said.
Other issues involve why it is taking so long for graduating students to wait for months to receive their diplomas.
Sarai Hernandez Martinez, who is one of the board’s student representatives who by state law is required to give reports about student concerns to adult board members, addressed the board from the audience. Officials said there was a shortage of chairs at the dias.
“I was told not to speak tonight but I think it is right that I do,” said Sarai, who had been enrolled in the Dream Academy. “All of you have the ability to change what is happening.”
She said once the current Dream Academy students arrived on the Brookdale campus, they were segregated in one classroom, were prohibited from wandering around campus and told not to use campus facilities like the fitness center.
“We are trustworthy dual-campus students,’ she said, describing her disappointment in how they were treated.
Dream Academy programs provide “a stepping stone’ for disadvantaged students who may have trouble affording college without that high school-college partnership.
“This school year is starting to feel different,” Hernandez Martinez said. For her, it began with the controversy regarding fielding a qualified Asbury football program and extends into a decision to begin the school year later in the day and a substantial shortfall in providing faculty to supervise classes.
For Allied, the difficulty is Sara Grogan – a former school nurse in the Asbury Park school district who wanted to give more to students- submitted her resignation, distressing students in that program who said they had a close relationship with her.. Adams said the search for Grogan’s replacement has been challenging. The district has interviewed one potential candidate but has not come to a decision. The students are losing time to work on their skills. Adams said Allied Health students are being occupied with assessments to help them prepare for the test which is critical in their receipt of. a certification that entitles them to work as health aides in a variety of specialties.
Terri Ivory, president of the Concerned Black Nurses Association of Central New Jersey as well as membership in other state and national organizations whose mission is to facilitate nursing careers for black students, said any of her groups would be happy to lend their expertise. Ivory, who has been a nurse for more than 50 years, has taught at community college, vocational school and four-year colleges, said she wants to help restore some stability to the Allied Health program in Asbury Park.
Ivory is a Class of 1970 alum of Asbury Park High School .
“To slash this program would be a crime,” said Ivory noting “nursing is something that is needed. ‘We are willing to help. We’ve been around for years. “No one has ever reached out to us…We have a number of people who can teach anything you need.”
Daniella Perez attended the school board meeting with a number of other students from the Allied Program, that held a sign with the word “Help.”
“Please,” she said. “Do not cut this program.’
Adams said the current Dream Academy students will be graduated from the program but that Brookdale is transitioning to a program in which would take all 60 credits at Brookdale.
Adams said the transition is affecting multiple districts throughout the state and Monmouth county superintendents have already met to pursue solutions.
“Again, this is about money,” Adams said,.