As students head back to school Wednesday, the Mahwah school district’s new interim Superintendent, Dr. Karen Lake, said the district has two immediate goals: implementing the state’s new bullying policy, and finding a permanent superintendent to replace Dr. Charles Montesano, who retired in July.
The Board of Education officially adopted the policy at last Wednesday’s meeting. The policy in its entirety can now be read on the district’s newly revamped website.
The anti-bullying policy, which has been regarded as one of the strictest in the nation, requires that school administrators “implement procedures that ensure both the appropriate consequences and remedial responses for pupils who commit one or more acts of harassment.” Consequences range from admonishment and temporary removal from the classroom to expulsion and a banning from school grounds. Remedial measures range from peer group support to law enforcement intervention.
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act was signed into law in January with the staunch backing of NJSBA and takes effect this school year.
“For students, it means additional levels of protection against harassment, intimidation and bullying,” according to NJSBA officials. “For public schools, it means a heightened level of attention on school bullies.”
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act includes dozens of provisions affecting all grade levels. NJSBA highlights the following among them:
- All school officials and educators, including teachers, administrators and board members have to be trained.
- School districts have to designate an anti-bullying coordinator, and every school has to have an anti-bulling specialist and a safety team “to maintain a positive school environment, investigate complaints and implement the bullying prevention programs that are now required by the law.”
- The law specifies a process and strict deadlines to investigate bullying complaints; school staff must report incidents of bullying in writing to the principal within two days, and investigations need to be conducted within 10 days.
- Twice a year, school superintendents are required to report all acts of violence, vandalism and bullying that occurred during the previous reporting period at a public meeting of the Board of Education. Cases also have to be reported to the state for inclusion in the state’s “School Report Cards” online.
“This is new, so it may take a while to completely flesh out,” she said.
The other project on hand is to find a permanent superintendent, Lake said. As an interim, she can only stay with the district a maximum of two years. Lake was hired after a superintendent search at the end of last year did not yield any candidates that were the “right fit” for the district.
“Finding a superintendent is the most important thing a board can do, and that is definitely going to be one of the big challenges for the board this year,” Lake said.
Another consideration for the district this year, according to Lake, is to undergo New Jersey’s Quality Single Accountability Continuum evaluation, which she said will “make sure the district is following the state’s lead.” Mahwah’s QSAC review will be truncated, she said, because the district went through a review in 2008. The review looks over how the district handles day-to-day operations, personnel, money, and other components.
All of this, Lake said, will be in conjunction to the district’s ongoing goals of continuing to focus academics on 21st Century skills, the responsive classrooms in elementary schools, and staff development.
“It’s going to be a busy year, but I am very excited for it,” she said.