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  • Writer's pictureKristin Guglietti

Sam Mento III’s last meeting as BOE President

HAMMONTON—Sam Mento III attended his last school board meeting on Dec. 14 as one of the longest board presidents. He was a member of the school board for 12 years, nine in which he served as president.

Mento called the meeting to order and all board members were present at the Samuel A. Donio Memorial Library, except Thomas Attanasi.

In the beginning of the meeting, Superintendent Robin Chieco gave the superintendent report.

Chieco said the 2024-2025 inter-district school choice lottery was held on Dec.12, with about 150 applications received for the 38 seats available for the next school year. Families will be notified via letter on Dec. 20 about the results of the lottery.

During her report, Chieco discussed the expansion at the Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC). She said the construction of the walls are almost completed.

Chieco congratulated the 2023-2024 Educators of the Year: Hammonton High School teacher Tracy Angelozzi, Hammonton Middle School teacher Melissa Busch, Warren E. Sooy Jr. Elementary School teacher Kellie Adamucci and ECEC teacher Shannon Aumenta.

“All are well deserving of this honor from their peers. We will recognize this year’s recipients at our February Board of Education meeting,” Chieco said.

Because it is Mento’s final meeting, Chieco gave a moment to thank him for the many years of support he provided while she was superintendent.

“No matter the type of program or additional staff I felt was needed for improvements within the district, Mr. Mento was always supportive and made sure that the needs of our students were met,” Chieco said.

The meeting then moved to committee reports starting with a report from Student Council Vice President Gianna Johnson.

Johnson said the student council members will be delivering gifts to less fortunate kindergarteners at the LEAP Academy in Camden on Dec. 21.

Board member John Lyons didn’t have a report from the Finance Committee.

During committee reports, Mento asked board member Kelli Fallon if there was any update on the solar project for the community.

“We haven’t had a solar meeting in several months. It is operational,” Fallon said. “[Business Administrator] Mrs. [Barbara] Prettyman would have the information as to what our savings are. The solar committee has not met. This project is over.”

Next, Board Vice President Linda Byrnes gave the curriculum report.

Byrnes mentioned new courses that are being added to the high school, including a CP Art 4 class and a multiple language Algebra 2 class for Spanish speaking students. At the middle school, a Spanish heritage class is being added for the 2024-2025 school year.

Kelly Donio from the superintendent search committee said the deadline for applications is Jan. 15.

According to Donio, first round interviews will take place in mid-February and then the second round will be in late February or early March. Once a candidate is finalized with negotiations finished and after a lengthy reference check, the candidate has to be submitted to the Executive County Superintendent for approval.

During Donio’s report, she said it’s important to acknowledge the School Ethics Commission Advisory opinion that was released last May.

“The Ethics Commission advises that a sitting president or vice president of the board who has immediate family members employed in the district cannot choose any committee members nor beyond any committees involving the superintendent,” Donio said.

She said she thinks the board should get an opinion from the New Jersey School Boards.

Board solicitor William Donio said he is not sure if he agrees with the reasoning of the advisory opinion.

“Reaching out to New Jersey School Boards Association for an opinion is probably fruitless because they generally won’t give you an opinion, and it has historically been their position not to give their opinions,” Donio said.

After some discussion, Mento said he is sure that the board will make the right decision on the direction of the leadership.

“I won’t be here next year, and I’m sure you’re going to make the right decision on direction of the leadership, either conflicted or nonconflicted,” Mento said. “It is something I think we certainly should look into, especially with the history of conflict and nepotism here because hey, it’s Hammonton and everyone’s related to everybody.”

During board member Raymond Scipione’s community relations report, Scipione presented a plaque to Mento for his service to education, including nine years as board president.

Later in the meeting, Geoffrey Gollihur spoke during public comment.

“I want to thank Ms. Donio for bringing up the ethics ideas,” Gollihur said. “This is the second time in the last few months that she’s done that bringing in the retreat back in May, which I think is worthwhile. I think that every school board could follow those kind of guidelines we would avoid a lot of the types of concerns that sometimes can affect us and I think perception is the biggest piece.”

Dr. Johanna Johnson also spoke during public comment about one of Hammonton Heart & Soul’s ideas for action, which is to increase the diversity of the school board and staff at all levels.

“Listening to the community, please keep the diversity of our students in mind as you review the pool of candidates [for superintendent],” Johnson said.

After public comment, the board voted on finance, personnel, programs/students/miscellaneous items on the agenda. All items were approved by the board.

The board also approved three finance items on the addendum.

Before ending the meeting, Mento gave a goodbye speech thanking board members, the community and his family for their support.

In his speech he mentioned two previous board members he served with in the past who have since died, Sal Velardi and Robert Bauers.

Velardi gave Mento advice that serving the school board is an easy job when the state does their job by funding the school properly.

According to Mento, when Bauers left the school board he recited parts of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

“I’ll leave you with my favorite [Charles] Dickens quote, ‘Merry Christmas. God bless us all everyone.’ Thank you and goodnight, Hammonton,” Mento said.

The next school board meeting will be held Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Samuel A. Donio Memorial Library. The school board reorganization meeting will be on Jan. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Samuel A. Donio Memorial Library.


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