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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

Sooy, ECEC add School Resource Officer

Berenato, Mento clash about process. (Courtesy Photo)

Berenato (courtesy photo)

Mento (Courtesy Photo)

HAMMONTON—At the September 7 meeting of the Hammonton Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Robin Chieco expressed gratitude to the board and to Hammonton Police Chief Kevin Friel for the addition of School Resource Officer (SRO) John Leahey Jr. at Warren E. Sooy Jr. Elementary School (Sooy) and the Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC).

“Officer Leahy has already made an impact on our buildings, and has been warmly welcomed by our students and staff. We are continuously looking for ways to make our schools safer, and always place the health and safety of our students first,” Chieco said.

During her address, Chieco also thanked students, staff and administration for “positive excitement” at the start of the school year.

“Despite the wet weather, students seemed eager and happy to be back. I am looking forward to a healthy and successful school year,” Chieco said.

Chieco also addressed new health education standards that are required to be implemented during the 2022-2023 school year.

“No new lessons will be presented during the first marking period so that all parents will have time to review the information. In the lower grades, these health lessons will not be taught until fourth marking period,” Chieco said.

Chieco said that the district is working with staff to ensure that the health instruction is compliant with the new standards but that it also “responds to the values of this community and respecting the role of parents in their children’s education.”

“Information about these lessons will be available at our Back to School nights and will be provided to parents in specific grade levels prior to the lesson being presented. As always, parents may opt out of any portion of the health curriculum. I want to stress that none of the resources that are being presented on social media will be used,” Chieco said.

Under the Community Relations Committee report, board member Ray Scipione said that Back to School nights will be in-person.

“The Hammonton High School will be on September 22, ECEC on September 28, WES on September 29 and the Hammonton Middle School on October 6,” Scipione said.

Scipione also discussed maintenance of the tennis courts at Hammonton Middle School, noting that the weeds on the courts had been addressed.

“I saw some photos on social media ... we had to address them. We can’t be made fun of on social media—at least not while I’m here,” Scipione said.

Board president Sam Mento III commented further, adding that the district is currently working in conjunction with the town of Hammonton to re-do the tennis courts in their entirety.

“The biggest hold-up, at this point, was deciding how to work in pickleball into those tennis court areas, and also the two that are really owned, technically, by the town through Open Space—which are closest to Liberty Street—we’re going to turn those a quarter-turn,” Mento said.

Mento said that, because of the sun, the optimum direction for a sports field is when it runs east and w


“For instance, in the morning, if you’re playing tennis on the opposite side of Liberty Street, you’re pretty much blinded by the sun. By turning them all in the same direction, that’s going to save,” Mento said.

Mento also addressed the pickleball nets for the courts.

“I read in the paper there was some concern, but we are going to have a very high-quality type of net system out there, so don’t worry; it’s not going to be a rinky-dink plastic net that’ll fall over. It’s going to be something rather substantial. I’ve had conversations with the mayor about that,” Mento said.

During the Turf Committee report, board member John Lyons said that the first official game was played on the new turf field by the boys’ soccer team earlier that day.

“It had a great day, and it’s really exciting to see both the boys’ soccer team and the girls’ field hockey team and the Stick Chicks—as I talked about last month—using the field pretty regularly. Field hockey kicks off next Wednesday, for anyone that wants to be there; it should be an exciting time, and it’s also Senior Day, which is really nice,” Lyons said.

Lyons said that bleachers will soon be coming to the turf field.

“Like a lot of things in this country, the supply chain affects the bleachers that we’re putting up, but they’ve been bought; the board will be voting on that later tonight, so we’ll get those in just as soon as they arrive,” Lyons said.

Later in the meeting, Mento acknowledged board member Luke Coia, owner of All-Vinyl Fence, for the installation of a ne

w timed gate at track at the middle school’s William T. Capella Memorial Field.

“Now that school is in session, that area will be closed because our students utilize that for gym; on the weekends, it will be open. This new gate that is on a timer is set up so that you can never be locked in; you can always exit, but it can only be opened during certain areas,” Mento said.

Mento said that, from Monday through Friday, the gate will be open from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and again from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays, the gate will be open from dawn until dusk.

“We have an expectation that there will be people out there and football games, so there will be a lot of activity on the weekends. That was a big upgrade, so I just wanted to say thank-you for that,” Mento said.

Coia, who currently does not chair a committee, then gave a report about e-hallpass, the new virtual hall pass system. Coia said t

hat he visited the high school earlier that day, and was shown a video by principal Thomas Ramsay about how to use the system.

“I’m not very computer friendly or savvy, and it is the simplest thing in the world to do,” Coia said.

Coia said that the new system is much faster than hand-written hall passes and signature logs at the restrooms.

“Now, there’s a scanner like a supermarket. They can either scan their ID or simply type their code in. There’s keypads at every bathroom. I walked the school; I’ve seen them myself. I’ve seen kids doing it; it literally took seconds,” Coia said.

Coia said that the system also acts as a safety precaution.

“If anything—God forbid—were to happen in the school, the staff would immediately know how many kids are in a particular bathroom or the hallway, or not in a class,” Coia said.

Mento said that e-hallpass also now enables students to use every bathroom in the school.

“Some of the complaints we were getting—and rightfully so—during COVID, it was very hard to find personnel; we were limiting the bathrooms that the students could use. You could find yourself in a situation where you were in a classroom, and you had to take a very long walk to use the facility. Now, with this new system, every bathroom can be accessed by a student,” Mento said.

Mento said that e-hallpass also provides a digital record of “who was in there.”

“If these foolish TikTok things ever happen again about destroying bathrooms or whatnot they were encouraging kids to do, we will have an absolute record of who was where and when,” Mento said.

Chieco commented further.

“It gives us a better

idea of, for security reasons, where everybody’s at. It also increases instructional time, because kids aren’t always wandering the hallways. I mean, they’re not going to let them out in the hallways if there’s always a lot of kids out there, because all they’ll be doing is standing in line in the restroom—so they’ll miss all that instructional time,” Chieco said.

Chieco said the new system will reduce “random people” in the hallways.

“We’re going to know where they’re at, and, for security reasons, that is a priority,” Chieco said.

During the Curriculum Committee report, board vice-president Linda Byrnes said that the district purchased an online program for students who are caught vaping.

“It is called Aspire Vaping, and it will help to enlighten our students and give them some insights as to the health risks from vaping, because we do want to keep our students safe and secure at all times ... and it is a free program,” Byrnes said.

Under the Community Cohesion Committee report, board member Kelly Donio said that a representative from a landscape architect will be present at the board’s October 13 meeting.

“If you would like to he

ar more about the services they can provide or ask any questions, we invite you to that board meeting,” Donio said.

While presenting the report from the Safety Committee, board member Barbara Berenato said that she was contacted by former police chief Frank Ingemi, who had attended a meeting with Chieco regarding the school safety unit K-9 campus protection program.

“There is a dog, at this point in time, that is trained to go to the gun source—to the gunshot source—and sniff out the person with the gunpowder. They’re hoping that—hopefully, that never, ever, ever has to come to fruition, but—the distraction alone would cause the shooter to probably look at the dog and decide what they were going to do with the dog. In the meantime, other office

rs are coming in, and that distraction is enough to contain that shooter, hopefully,” Berenato said.

Berenato said that there is a cost to the program, but this was only a preliminary discussion.

“It’s not anything that we agreed to, but we’re certainly looking into the feasibility of having this. Like I said, hopefully, God willing, we never, ever, ever have to use this,” Berenato said.

Berenato said that the board may ask Friel or Atlantic County K-9 Training Academy director Joe Nick to attend a future meeting to explain the program further.

Berenato also acknowledged the addition of Leahey as the new SRO, noting that the proposal for an additional SRO was “the only proposal that was brought to the Safety Committee.”

“Therefore, I was very surprised and bewildered to receive a text message from the board president at 1:38 in the morning—whether by mistake or not—reiterating what he felt was my play in that decision,” Berenato said.

Mento interjected.

“Just for the record, I did address that with Mrs. Berenato,” Mento said.

Berenato attempted to continue.

“Yeah, two minutes ago. Two minutes ago,” Berenato said.

Mento continued.

“Excuse me. I have the floor. And I apologized that I accidentally sent her a text that was meant for another board member—excuse me, I am the president,” Mento said.

Berenato commented further.

“If any of you have ever received a text at 1:30 in the morning, please don’t tell me that your heart isn’t racing. To make matters worse, he sends another text about condescending, calling me ‘Babs,’ and saying, ‘Oh my God, I sent it to her by mistake, LOL.’ Well, when he said he apologized, it was like two minutes, five minutes ago, and he and another board member were having a rather good laugh about it,” Berenato said.

Mento responded to Berenato.

“I sent you a text before that in regards to safety, and not only did you not return it, you told [Business Administrator/Board Secretary] Miss [Barbara] Prettyman that you did not want to be disturbed on vacation, and that was the conversation that I wanted to have with you about possibly hiring a private security company,” Mento said.

Berenato commented.

“That was after a decision was made,” Berenato said.

Mento continued.

“Because my concern was, at that time, the police had not hired a officer yet, and my biggest, number-one concern was, I wanted someone here, day one. That was very important to me,” Mento said.

Berenato replied.

“After nine months of me talking about it, you had to have somebody here day one, all of a sudden. I talked about it for nine months,” Berenato said.

Berenato returned to the subject of the text message.

“I didn’t think it was funny. My husband didn’t think it was funny. Like I said, in the middle of the night—I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me—in the middle of the night, I have gotten two texts, two phone calls, early in the morning; both ended in tragedies. I don’t need this. I don’t need it at all, so I don’t think it’s funny, and I hope it never happens again,” Berenato said.

Berenato said that the issue was

“done with.”

“It’s water under the bridge,” Berenato said.

However, Coia revisited the topic before the conclusion of the meeting, addressing Mento.

“I just wanted to know, for future references, because, if you remember, a few months back, we had gotten an email about you, and I forwarded it at 9:32 at night. You removed me from all committees, and told me I went on a late-night email excursion that was unethical. You told me only communication with

a board member should be email. So my question is, how’s it OK for you to send somebody a text message at 1:30 in the morning?” Coia said.

Mento responded.

“It’s very simple, Luke. I was

texting a friend, and accidentally sent a text to Barbara Berenato, and I apologized for that. I don’t think that is much of an issue. I know it’s campaign season, and whenever there’s an opportunity to take a shot—I mean, it’s not a meeting without one of my personal correspondence being discussed. I feel like George Washington,” Mento said.

Mento reiterated that he has since apo

logized, and spoke about Coia’s other concern.

“I told you, I have reinstated you to your committees, and there were numerous amounts of things I had to discuss, and primarily was that you hadn’t been trained yet, and I felt that you were going to get yourself in trouble, and for the board—so that’s to clarify,” Mento said.

Berenato addressed Mento again.

“If you would have attended the Safety Committee meeting, you would have known that there would have been an officer on the first day of school—instead of you telling people that we didn’t have an officer on the first day of school,” Berenato said.

Mento replied.

“I just call the facts, and I know there was not anyone hired as of our first football game,” Mento said.

Berenato continued.

“Like I said, if you were at the meeting, you would have heard Chief Friel say that he had someone,” Berenato said.

Board member Kelli Fallon commented on the matter.

“I can confirm that, because I was the only other board member at the meeting; there was someone contacted at that time in early August,” Fallon said.

Berenato spoke further.

“And don’t bring politics

into this. This is stupid. It had nothing to do with politics. Give me a break. 1:30 in the morning. Grow up,” Berenato said.

In other business, the board resolved to:

• ratify the purchase order lists for June 2022 in the amount of $254,233.79.

• ratify the purchase order lists for July 2022 in the amount of $1,964,094.26.

• approve the bill list for September 2022 in the amount of $132,811.97.

• ratify the check lists for August 2022 in the amount of $388,255.24.

• ratify the August 2022 payroll in the amount of $965,291.75.

• approve to award contract to BSN Sports for the purchase of six 15-foot standard bleachers w/ chain link fencing in the amount $31,617.39 based on lowest quote.

• approve to award contract to Ocean Construction for installation of ramp and railings at the Middle School in the amount $25,028 based on lowest quote.

• approve to award contract to Frontline Education for absence and substitute management software for the 2022-2023 sch

ool year in the amount $11,961.41 based on lowest quote.

• approve to dispose/donate old/outdated high school mathematics textbooks and workbooks and to post on the N.J textbook sharing website high school mathematics textbooks and workbooks that were replaced with a series that reflects our curriculum and the NJSLS.

• approve a letter of resignation from Monika Reinholz, district bus driver, effective August 31.

• approve a letter of resignation from Mark Gorrell, district bus driver, effective September 6.

• approve a salary adjustment for the following personnel effective September 9:

- Kristi Leigh Vaszlavik, from BA—$57,980 to BA+15—$58,850

- Melissa Durham, from BA—$87,380 ($86,380 + $1,000 Long) to BA+15—$88,676 ($87,676 + $1,000)

- Jena Braungart, from BA+30—$58,792 to MA (in field)—$60,880 ($60,505 + $375 in field).

• approve a letter of retirement from Donna Olsen, middle school teacher, effective September 30.

• approve a letter of resignation fr

om Julia Martinez, middle school teacher, effective on or before October 30.

• approve a letter of resignation from Elizabeth DiTullio, high school teacher, effective on or before October 31.

• approve a letter of resignation as a middle school cross country head coach for the 2022-2023 school year from Julia Ray.

• approve the following personnel for the District Website for the 2022-2023 school year:

- Matthew Areana, Web Administrator and Trainer, $1,500

- Julie Comunale, District Website Data Collector, $3,500

- Stacy Gerst, HS Social Media and Website Administrator, $1,350

- Karelle Pierre Jacques, MS Social Media and Website Administrator, $1,350

- Marchell Conway, ES Social Media and Website Administrator, $1,350

- Amy Heggan, ECEC Social Media and Website Administrator, $1,350

- Donna Davison, Business Office Data Collector, $500

• approve the resignation as district translator for the 2022-2023 school year from Joseph Ayers.

• approve the following per

sonnel as an additional high school fall worker for the 2022-2023 school year: Rita Mae Perna and Joseph Franchina.

• approve the following personnel pending receipt of all necessary paperwork (current substitute pay schedule approved by the Board January 20, 2022: Regular County Substitute Certificate—$125 per day, Regular Standard State Teaching Certificate—$150 per day; substitute nurse pay schedule approved by the Board October 14, 2021: School Nurse—$225.00 per day):

- Fayangia Vlaszac, elementary school (replacement S.D.) teacher effective September 9

- Melissa Longwith, elementary school (replacement S.S.) part-time instructional aide effective September 12

- Katelyn Clark, elementary school (replacement D.V.) part-time instructional aide effective September 12

- Substitute teacher(s) who have a New Jersey substitute certificate: Deanna Elkin and Anthony Effinger

- Substitute food service worker(s)—$15/hr: Heather Lombardo.

ratify the July 2022 General Fund and Special Revenue Fund Expense Account Adjustments which include Appropriation Transfers.

• certify that, as of July 2022, no budge

tary line item account has been over-expended in violation of N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-16.10(c)3, and, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-16.10(c)4, accept the Board Secretary’s Report and the Treasurer’s Report prepared by the Assistant Business Administrator.

• approve the following early childhood personnel to receive $100 for moving classrooms: Meghan Dorner, Stacie DeMarco and Chrissanne Hansbury

• approve the following personnel pending receipt of all necessary paperwork (current substitute pay schedule approved by the Board January 20, 2022: Regular County Substitute Certificate—$125 per day, Regular Standard State Teaching Certificate—$150 per day; substitute nurse pay schedule approved by the Board October 14, 2021: School Nurse—$225.00 per day):

- Substitute teacher(s) who have a New Jersey substitute certificate: Carol Capelli

- Substitute teacher(s) who are applying for a New Jersey substitute certificate: Drusilla Norton

The next board meeting is scheduled for October 13 at 7 p.m. in the Samuel A. Donio Memorial Library at Hammonton High School.


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