• Joseph F. Berenato

Hammonton schools all remote

Begins December 17; in-person resumes January 15


Hammonton High School (THG/MarySusan Hoffman)

HAMMONTON—At the regular monthly meeting of the Hammonton Board of Education on December 10, Hammonton Superintendent of Schools Robin Chieco announced that the district would be returning to all-remote, virtual learning beginning December 17.


“The current rise in positive cases of COVID-19 in Atlantic County and in our district has placed a severe strain on our ability to keep our in-person/hybrid offering open at this time,” Chieco said.


According to Chieco, the safety measures the district has implemented have been largely effective.


“We are extremely proud of our facilities department and administrators, teachers, staff and students for working together and keeping our schools clean, and adhering to our health and safety guidelines. Due to the implementation of our preventative measures in reducing exposure while at school, the majority of our reported positive COVID-19 cases appear to have been contracted outside of the school setting,” she said.


However, Chieco said, the requirement to quarantine students and staff has placed “tremendous stress on our facilities.”


“As a result, we lack coverage for classes, because many staff are in quarantine, on leave or had to go completely remote. In addition, the number of positive cases and close contacts since our return from the Thanksgiving holiday have increased to over 140 individuals. The health, safety and welfare of our staff and students is always our top priority. Therefore, the district is making the difficult decision to return to all-virtual instruction for all students beginning December 17, 2020, and we will remain all-virtual through January 15, 2021,” Chieco said.


Chieco said the decision was made in collaboration with the Atlantic County Superintendent and the Atlantic County Division of Public Health, as well as the district’s administrators and the Hammonton Board of Education.


“This decision was not made lightly, as we realize the strain this places on our families. Unlike last spring, students will meet with their teachers daily with live Google Meet sessions. The sign-ins will continue to be posted within Google Classroom. Students are required to attend these meetings and participate within their classes. Extra help sessions are available daily within the schedule. In order for this transition to be effective, we need parents to encourage their children to attend all live Google Meet sessions,” Chieco said.


Additionally, school meals will continue to be offered for any family in need. Distribution will be at the Warren E. Sooy Elementary School each Wednesday between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.

“Each day it is becoming increasingly difficult to adequately staff our schools. I am hoping we can manage to remain open the next few days to afford families and our staff to prepare for this change,” Chieco said.


Chieco remained cautiously optimistic about the future.


“I promise you that I will do everything in my power to return our students to the classroom. However, this cannot be done until we are able to sufficiently staff our buildings and provide a safe learning environment for our students. It is my hope that we will finish this school year with all of our students back in the classroom. We were one of the few districts to open in the beginning of September and have remained open longer than many districts in our area. I hope that this time will allow our families to enjoy the holidays safely and in good health,” she said.


Sam Mento III, the president of the Hammonton Board of Education, spoke about the challenges of the current school year, and expressed his appreciation to the district’s administrators, faculty and staff.


“When you look at this, this whole school year, we were the first ones to get back in the classroom in September. A lot of that was sheer will. I’m telling you, you look at these other school districts who went to school three, four, five, six days, they’re spending $10,000 more per person. For a school that is so grossly underfunded, what we were able to accomplish really, really is special. And things might be changing—they will be changing—for a short future, but that’s not a failure here, by no means ... We gave it everything we had. I want to thank Ms. Chieco, because, like they say, it always starts at the top, and I think a lot of it was due to sheer will,” Mento said.


A letter explaining the school’s position, schedule and expectations was mailed to parents on December 11 and was listed on the district’s website and Facebook page.


In other board business, Mento said that the language has been finalized in the Power Purchase Agreement with National Energy Partners LLC, which is the district’s solar provider.


“Very shortly, we will see an array being set up out front, which will not only give the school district a great savings of maybe $1 million over the next 15 years, it’s also going to open up the grid for the rest of Hammonton to start using some solar as well. We’re very proud to announce that ... that’s really good news for taxpayers,” Mento said.


During committee reports, board member Linda Byrnes gave an update from the Curriculum Committee, which met on December 3. At that meeting, Chieco invited Joseph Martino, the district’s supervisor of technology, who updated the committee on the new guidelines for the Perkins V grant under the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which is a federal education program that invests in secondary and postsecondary career and technical education (CTE) programs in all 50 states and the territories.


“The new guidelines would be a significant expense to the district that would far outweigh the financial value of the grant, which is $27,000. It would cost us more to implement the guidelines than it would to receive the grant. It was disappointing to hear that it used to be $55,000 and it’s gone down to $27,000,” Byrnes said.


Mento explained further.


“There were some tough stipulations for this grant ... the direction this grant was going, they really wanted us to get kids in the middle school in sixth grade to make a career choice, and then take that path throughout. We feel that middle school is a place for our children to explore everything and get an idea of what they want to do in high school to pursue a track. That’s just where we’ve grown apart, and I think we’ve had a great run with that grant,” Mento said.


In other business, the board resolved to:


•Ratify the purchase order lists for October and November 2020 in the amount of $466,110.14.

•Approve the bill list for November 2020 in the amount of $898,269.85.


•Ratify the check lists for November 2020 in the amount of $509,706.45.


•Ratify the November 2020 payroll in the amount of $3,370,025.50.


•Ratify an Agreement between Camden County College and Hammonton High School to provide degree credit courses through the CCC High School Plus/CTE Program for the 2020-2021 school year.


•Ratify an agreement with the Waterford Twp. Police Department for off-duty employment of five officers on November 20, 2020 for a football game in the amount of $75/hr per man.


•Approve to dispose of broken Xerox Workcentre 4250 copier located in the high school.


•Approve to sell Algebra 1 textbooks from 2015 to Textbook Warehouse located in the high school.


•Ratify a contract with Core Mechanical in the amount of $54,076 for the emergency replacement of the ECEC boiler. Contract was awarded under state contract pricing.


•Approve a letter of resignation from Machel Pendlebury, elementary school part-time instructional aide, effective December 23, 2020.


•Approve a clinical practice for Julie Haye, a student from Rowan University, in the early childhood center.


•Approve a letter of resignation from Brandi Tierno, district food service worker, effective November 16, 2020.


•Approve an unpaid leave of absence for James Eccles, middle school part-time hall monitor, from December 14, 2020 to January 12, 2021.


•Approve a COVID-19 leave of absence for Colleen DeSilvio, district part-time food service worker, from November 19 to December 13, 2020.


•Approve Richard Cote as the Special Assistant to the Business Administrator for Administration of winter renovation and upgrade district projects at a stipend of $6,950.


•Approve the following personnel for the high school winter coaching stipends for the 2020-2021 school year: Boys’ Bowling—Head, Robert Raffa; Step 4; Stipend, $4,099; Girls’ Bowling—Head, Steve Salvatore; Step 1; Stipend, $2,342; Athletic Trainer—Head, Donna DeLucca; Step 4; Stipend, $2.342.34; Boys’ Basketball—Head, Joseph Martino; Step 4; Stipend, $7,612; Boys’ Basketball—Assistant, Gregg Silvesti; Step 4; Stipend, $5,269; Girls’ Basketball—Head, Michael Velardi; Step 1; Stipend, $5,855; Girls’ Basketball—Assistant, Ashley Koester; Step 1; Stipend, $3,513; Wrestling—Head, David Mauriello; Step 4; Stipend: $7,612.


•Approve the stipend of $75 for the following 2020-2021 high school fall football workers for working with the officials: Melissa Durham, Mitchell Morrell and Lauren Frazier.


•Approve the following personnel to provide tutoring services for middle school Title I Virtual Tutoring Program; total not to exceed 420 hours of virtual instruction at $50/hr, equaling $21,000; FICA at 7.65 percent, equaling $1,606.50; total, $22,606.50: Steve Adirzone, Lisa Angeline, Stacy Arena, Joseph Ayers, Melissa Busch, Yolanda DeAngelo, Elena Day, Geoffrey Gollihur, Janice Grasso, Danielle Law, Susan Perna, Krista Verzi and William Wick; Program Administrator, stipend $3,000 with FICA at 7.65 percent ($229.50), totaling $3,229.50: Richard Baker.


•Approve the following middle school personnel as Think Team advisor/assistant advisor for the 2020-2021 school year: Janice Grasso, Think Team Advisor—Step 3, $1,746; Kim Zuccarello, Think Team Assistant Advisor—Step 1, $628.


•Approve a salary increase for the part-time bus washers to $16.00/hr effective January 1, 2021.


•Approve the following personnel pending receipt of all necessary paperwork (current substitute pay schedule approved by the Board December 10, 2015: Regular County Substitute Certificate—$90 per day, Regular Standard State Teaching Certificate—$100 per day; substitute nurse pay schedule approved by the Board May 9, 2013: School Nurse—$200 per day)—Thomas J. Mature, high school part-time personal care aide effective December 11, 2020, Step 1—Non-Degree, $20,253 (pro-rated); Substitute teacher(s) who have a teaching certificate: Dina Moorhead; Substitute teacher(s) who have a New Jersey substitute certificate: Maryam Sarhan and David Gould.


•Approve a letter of resignation from Natalie White, district custodian, effective December 31, 2020.


•Approve Paul Enuco for the early childhood center Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator for the 2020-2021 school year.


•Approve the following personnel pending receipt of all necessary paperwork (current substitute pay schedule approved by the Board December 10, 2015: Regular County Substitute Certificate—$90 per day, Regular Standard State Teaching Certificate—$100 per day; substitute nurse pay schedule approved by the Board May 9, 2013: School Nurse—$200 per day)—Substitute teacher(s) who have a New Jersey substitute certificate: Daniel Steinen and Jeffrey Creato, Jr.; Substitute teacher(s) pending a New Jersey substitute certificate: Stephen Bierly.


•Approve the acceptance of an additional CARES Act Award in the amount of $70,854.


•Approve the submission of the amendment to the CARES Act to include the budgeting of the additional award and to reallocate funds.


•Approve the submission of the 2020-2021 NJQSAC SOA and DPR (Statement of Assurance) to the N.J. Department of Education.


•Approve a donation of Civil War and miscellaneous books by Mr. Bob Bauers.


All resolutions were approved.


The reorganization meeting for the Hammonton Board of Education is scheduled for January 5, 2021 at 7 p.m.