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  • Writer's pictureKristin Guglietti

Mento: attendance down 50 percent

Sam Mento III

HAMMONTON—During the January 21 Hammonton Board of Education meeting, Hammonton School Board President Sam Mento III said school attendance is down 50 percent.

Mento called the meeting to order and all board members were present at the Samuel A. Donio Memorial Library except for John Thomas who was absent.

“I wanted to reach out to the public this evening and just let people know that statistically speaking the safest place in the world for a child to be is in school, and lately when we look at our numbers here at the high school, you see that whether it’s cohort A or B, that our attendance is really down. I mean down to the point where we’re about 50 percent of the school are actually coming into class. And I just want to reach out to the parents and people at home who are listening that we really need to get these kids back in school,” Mento said.

He said the students who are not coming in or not signing into their computers are going to have a tough time next year.

“We have the kids for six hours a day, the other 18 hours a day they’re home, and so I am reaching out to the parents this evening and asking them to try to get involved and see if they can have those students start coming back to school. It is important and we’re doing some good things here with the social distancing and just the education in general. I don’t think anyone could argue that it’s best to have a child in the classroom with the certified teacher,” Mento said.

There were two presentations during the school board meeting.

For the first presentation, William Donio Esq., the board solicitor, presented the award for the Cooper Levenson Law firm Holiday Art Contest to fifth grader Jack Berenato. Berenato is the grandson of board member Barbara Berenato. The law firm has been doing the contest since 2008 according to Donio. Students submit holiday cards that are used for communications with the law firm’s clients and friends.

Donio also presented a plaque to Meagan Rieder, the art teacher at Warren E. Sooy Jr. Elementary School. Berenato received a $50 gift certificate, and Rieder received a $100 gift certificate.

Berenato said he drew a soldier coming home “because some people can’t be home for the holidays.”

Jack Berenato holds his award with William Donio Esq., Joe Berenato, Pepe Berenato, Shelli Berenato, Barbara Berenato and Warren E. Sooy Jr. Elementary School Art Teacher Meagan Rieder. Rieder was also presented with an award. (THG/Kristin Guglietti. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

The next presentation was presented by Hammonton Middle School (HMS) Principal Dr. Michael Nolan and Wally, the middle school’s therapy dog.

“For those who might not be aware, Wally was purchased with a grant from the Hammonton Education Foundation, and we are always so appreciative for the foundation’s commitment to education and helping us fund some of these special projects,” Mento said.

Nolan said it gave him great pleasure to announce the newest employee of the HMS family that being Wally.

“Last year, I read an article about a superintendent in Atlantic county who had a therapy dog brought to school with him each day. I immediately called Ms. [Robin] Chieco and I told her, ‘I want to do this.’ After she finished laughing, she gave me the OK to start looking into it and how I could start this therapy dog program at the middle school,” Nolan said.

He then met with Colleen Roccia, the middle school’s guidance counselor and Maureen Anderson, the middle school’s special education teacher who were on board with the plan.

“Together we researched the benefits of having a therapy dog in our school and we’re amazed by the potential outcomes on school culture, social emotional well-being and even academics,” Nolan said.

Nolan, Roccia and Anderson looked into the cost, policies and procedures to get a therapy dog for the middle school. The program was unanimously approved at the February 2020 board meeting, and it wasn’t until June 2020 that they were awarded the grant from the Hammonton Education Foundation. After June, they began their search for the right therapy dog to do the job.

“We were able to get this beautiful, smart black lab that proved to be the perfect fit for our school. Ironically, when Mrs. Nolan agreed to this idea, the only condition she had was ‘don’t get a big dog,’ but once Mrs. Roccia and Mrs. Anderson and I met Wally it was over. We immediately fell in love with him and we knew that he was the right fit for our building. And although Mrs. Nolan still doesn’t love the idea of a big dog in the house, she does love Wally,” Nolan said.

Nolan, Roccia and Anderson went through months of training and passed their tests with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

“Over the next few weeks and months, Wally will continue his training with the students in the building in both our guidance offices, offering emotional support, comfort and in our language arts classes where students can practice reading fluency to Wally as while he does not judge nor correct readers who struggle,” Nolan said.

Nolan thanked many people who helped and supported the therapy dog program including Superintendent Robin Chieco for approving the program, Will Myers of Full Service K9 for selecting and training Wally, retired teacher MaryAnn Meehan, Roccia and Anderson for writing the grant and believing in the program and the Hammonton Education Foundation for supporting and funding the program.

After Nolan thanked everyone, Wally delivered a paw print stamp signed contract to Mento.

Special Education Teacher Maureen Anderson, Will Myers of Full Service K9, Hammonton Middle School (HMS) Guidance Counselor Colleen Roccia, Dr. Michael Nolan, Board President Sam Mento III, HMS teacher and Hammonton Education Foundation board member Megan Goblirsch stand behind Wally Nolan, Hammonton Middle School’s therapy dog at the January 21 board meeting. (THG/Kristin Guglietti. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

“The contract reads, ‘On January 21st, 2021, I Wally Nolan accept the position of therapy dog in Hammonton Middle School and I pledge to do my best to help the students and staff of Hammonton Middle School in any way in every way that I can. In return, I ask for nothing, but companionship and the reward of doing a good job and maybe some treats, belly rubs here and there,’” Nolan said.

The meeting then moved to committee reports. Board Member John Lyons said the solar energy committee has not had the opportunity to meet.

“Tonight you’ll see on the agenda No. 13, which seeks to extend the duration of the contract for the power purchase agreement based on delays that have to do with buyers, so we’re still moving forward, which is going to take a little bit longer and the contract needs to be updated to reflect that. We’ll certainly have more information to share as things get advanced down the line,” Lyons said.

Board member Raymond Scipione gave the community relations report.

“Our transition back to hybrid instruction this week has gone well. It’s wonderful to have our students and staff returning to our buildings,” Scipione said.

The school calendar has been adjusted slightly to accommodate the schedule for the year. Pre-K conferences will be held virtually on February 10. The high school had a full day on January 29; originally the Hop was scheduled for that day. Pre-K registration for the 2021-22 school year will be on February 3, 10 and 17. More information on registration can be found on the school’s website.

“Our winter athletic season has begun with practices in preparation for our first competitions. Bowling will hold its first meet on January 28, and both basketball teams will play their first games on January 29. Unfortunately, spectators are not permitted in the gyms at this time. Basketball games will be streamed on our website for all the fans to watch. Good luck to our Blue Devils,” Scipione said.

Scipione also said they will be administering the seal of bi-literacy exam on January 27 and February 3 for the high school seniors.

“This is a significant recognition for our students that excel in Spanish, Italian or German,” he said.

Board member Linda Byrnes gave the curriculum report. First, she congratulated Jack Berenato for winning the art contest. She then encouraged people to go to the Hammonton Middle School’s website to check out the virtual tutoring program.

“It’s offered for all students, so if you feel your child needs it, check it out and sign up. And I’m also encouraged to announce that on February 1, the high school and middle school will be livestreaming classes for their students, so that’s something to look forward to coming up in the near future,” Byrnes said.

Board member Kelli Fallon gave the safety committee’s report. She said they have not had the opportunity to meet this month, but she looks forward to having more meetings.

Fallon congratulated Jack Berenato and thanked Nolan for starting the therapy dog program.

“Lastly … I just wanted to note that on our agenda I see that we’re voting to approve a good amount of notable retirements and I just want to thank the people that are putting in for retirement. I just want to thank them for their service to our district and that we appreciate everything you’ve all done over the years,” Fallon said.

For the buildings and grounds report, Mento thanked the custodian and maintenance staff for the work they’ve been doing during the pandemic keeping the schools clean and safe.

“It is an important job and they are often the people who go unnoticed or unnoticed or blend right in and they are a very important part of our team here at the Hammonton School District, and I want to thank them for all their hard work and good work ethic and duty during these challenging times,” Mento said.

Mento also said that for negotiations, the three-year contract will be expiring at the end of June. A meeting with the teacher’s association was scheduled for the week after the board meeting.

“It’s going to be a challenging year. As many of you know, we were—after we struck our budget we were cut by some one and a half million dollars and had to somehow make it work, and it’s very hard to pull a rabbit out of the hat two years in a row,” he said.

Before the voting portion of the meeting, Chieco gave an update regarding virtual instruction in preparation for the third marking period.

“During their full virtual instruction over the winter break, students successfully navigated the livestreaming of lessons on a daily basis especially at the high school and middle school levels. This afforded students the opportunity to meet daily with their teachers to receive instruction. In addition, during the month of January, new computers have been installed at the high school and middle school to increase the capacity for livestreaming within our classroom,” Chieco said.

Beginning on February 1, students working remotely in grades six through 12, will be required to attend live Google meet sessions following their regular school schedules.

“The teacher will present the lesson to all students at the beginning of each period followed by independent practice. Students attending in person will receive additional supports by their teachers following the instruction on new content. Office hours on Wednesdays will be available for all cohorts. A letter will be mailed to all families at the high school and middle schools to explain this information. As restrictions are lifted, and COVID cases decrease, we are hopeful that we will be able to welcome all of our students back into our buildings in the near future,” Chieco said.

She also thanked the custodial staff for their commitment and dedication to the schools.

When it was time to vote for matters concerning finance, the board most notably voted to:

• Ratify the purchase order lists for December in the amount of $970,308.90. 

• Approve the bill list for January 2021 in the amount of $801,500.83.

• Ratify the check lists for December 2020 and January 2021 in the amount of $856,118.20.

• Ratify the December 2020 payroll in the amount of$3,569,596.46.

• Ratify the Second Amendment to Solar Power Purchase Agreement.

• Approve an agreement with DeMaio’s Inc. for Groundwater Remediation and LSRP Oversight in the amount of $4,109.

• Approve a contract with Advanced Computer Solutions Group for technology hosting and support services based on lowest bid.

For finance item No. 14 “resolved that the Hammonton Board of Education approve an agreement with DeMaio’s Inc. for Groundwater Remediation and LSRP Oversight in the amount of $4,109.00,” Mento told The Gazette it’s been an ongoing process from back when they had underground storage field tanks.

“We inquired about how long this would have to go on for and they informed us for the next 40 years … There was just some contamination years ago in the ground, which we believe actually came from some gas stations on the White Horse Pike and the way the water flows, that flume moves south … and there was some contamination, so we have to continue to monitor that,” Mento said.

Next the board voted on matters concerning personnel. Most notably they resolved to:

• Approve a letter of retirement from Marcia Smith, early childhood center part-time instructional aide, effective June 30, 2021.

• Approve a letter of retirement for Louann Jones, district Payroll Coordinator, effective July 1, 2021.

• Approve a letter of retirement for Susan Fognano, high school secretary, effective July 1, 2021.

• Approve a letter of resignation from Cori Palladino, middle school teacher, effective June 30, 2021.

• Approve a letter of retirement for Virginia Pyontek, middle school secretary, effective August 7, 2021.

• Approve the following high school personnel to receive $75/game on an as needed basis for additional duties related to COVID-19 at sporting events: Mitch Morrell, Matias Spahn, Eric Shulman, Jim Raso and Lauren Frazier.

• Approve the following personnel as high school winter workers for the 2020-2021 school year: Mitch Morrell, Matias Spahn, Eric Shulman, Jim Raso, Lauren Frazier, Averi Olive, Carly Sidone, Becky Thompson, Melissa Durham, Lori Scibilia, Frank LaSasso, Nick Dimatteo, Stacy Jones, Marchell Conway, Jenn Palmieri, Shelli Berenato, Amanda Eccles, Jim Eccles, Sue Milazzo, Danielle Thornwell, Joe Franchina and Sheila Morales.

• Approve the following personnel for the high school winter coaching stipends for the 2020-2021 school year: Assistant Boys Basketball Coach Steven Horsley (volunteer, $0); Assistant Boys Basketball Coach Gregg Silvesti ($5,269);Head Boys Bowling Coach Robert Raffa ($4,099); Head Girls Bowling Coach Steve Salvatore ($2,342); Assistant Wrestling Coach Paul Mauriello ($5,269); Head Wrestling Coach Dave Mauriello ($7,612); Winter Weight Training Coach James Raso ($3,439); Head Athletic Trainer Donna Delucca ($2,342.34); Head Boys Basketball Coach Joseph Martino ($7,612); Head Girls Basketball Coach Michael Velardi ($5,855); Assistant Wrestling Coach Dennis Conway ($5,269); Head Boys Winter Track Coach Jeff Dey ($7,027); Assistant Boys Winter Track Coach Tony DeRosa (volunteer, $0); Head Girls Winter Track Coach Michelle Wolosky ($7,027); Assistant Girls Winter Track Coach Harry Bilicki (volunteer, $0); Assistant Boys Winter Track Coach Elena Dey ($3,513); Assistant Girls Winter Track Coach Dave Majofsky ($4,685); Assistant Boys Basketball Coach Robert Barbieri (volunteer, $0); Assistant Winter Cheerleading Coach Jillian Giacobbe ($586); Head Winter Cheerleading Coach Stephanie Calderon ($1,756); Assistant Wrestling Coach Phil Bakuckas (volunteer, $0); Assistant Wrestling Coach Jose Matos (volunteer, $0); Assistant Girls Winter Track Coach Taylor Downey (volunteer, $0); Assistant Winter Cheerleading Coach Anna Marie Wanecski (volunteer, $0); Winter Weight Training Coach Matt Silvesti (volunteer, $0); Assistant Winter Cheerleading Coach Maria Higgins (volunteer, $0); Assistant Boys Basketball Coach Steve Adrizone ($5,269); Assistant Girls Basketball Coach Ashley Koester ($3,513); and Assistant Boys Basketball Coach Christian Mortellite (volunteer, $0). The following positions: assistant girls basketball coach, head girls volleyball coach and assistant girls volleyball coach, are to be announced. For the stipends, coaches will receive half of their stipend on January 15 and the other half on February 28.

• Approve the following high school personnel to create a virtual National Honor Society Induction Ceremony: Gary Joseph (20 hours at $50 per hour; total cost to the District: $1,000).

• Approve the following personnel for the high school extracurricular stipends for the 2020-2021: Choral stipend for Marissa Carrafiello ($2,802) and Jazz Band stipend for Tim White ($2,802). Total cost to the District: $5,604.

• 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- $90.00 per day, Regular Standard State Teaching Certificate- $100.00 per day; substitute nurse pay schedule approved by the Board May 9, 2013: School Nurse- $200.00 per day): Sarah Graziano – high school (replacement G.T.) Spanish teacher effective January 22, 2021; Brandon Barbarano – elementary school (replacement M.P.) part-time personal care aide effective January 22, 2021; and Jaclyn Haskin – district (replacement N.W.) full time custodian effective January 22, 2021. Substitute teacher(s) who have a New Jersey teaching certificate: Stephen Gruszkowski. Substitute teacher(s) who have a New Jersey substitute certificate: Jesse Wagner. Substitute teacher(s) pending a New Jersey substitute certificate: Taylor Allotto, Alyssa Caporale and Oralia Mejia. Substitute food service worker(s) - $12.80/hr. Substitute custodian(s) - $14/hr. Substitute hall monitor(s) and cafeteria aide(s) - $12.80/hr. Substitute bus driver(s) - $16.50/hr.

The board then approved programs and miscellaneous matters and the two items on the addendum.

The next school board meeting will be held February 11 at 7 p.m. in the Samuel A. Donio Memorial Library at Hammonton High School.


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