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Midland Park

Communication Break Down on Send-Receive Talk

09/26/2013 10:47AM ● By Rebecca K. Abma

Midland Park Junior Senior High

Statements made at the Sept. 17 Board of Education meeting regarding Midland Park's relationship with Northern Highlands Regional High School are being called into question. According to an article in the Suburban News, officials from Northern Highlands are interested in having Midland Park students and the school does have room for them. 
 
At the Sept. 17 meeting, Board President Bill Sullivan reported on a March 11 meeting between himself, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marie Cirasella, School Business Administrator Stacey Garvey, Northern Highlands Superintendent of Schools John Keenan and Northern Highlands BOE President Barbara Garand. 

Sullivan said he asked three questions: If Northern Highlands was interested in hosting Midland Park students, if they had room and if Midland Park students would be afforded the same educational opportunities. 

“They replied they could not give an answer at that point, and would have to get back to us,” Sullivan said. “I'm not going to hound them into doing something that they're not interested in.”

The question of who was supposed to contact whom seems to be at issue. At the BOE meeting Sullivan implied that he had done his due diligence in following up with Northern Highlands.  "What do you want me to do, call them 57 times?" he said. 

However, Keenan told the Suburban News, "We were not asked to provide more information or contact [the Midland Park board]. I would have assumed [Midland Park] would have followed up with us." (To read the full article, click here.) 

Garand told the Suburban news that she expected to hear from Midland Park officials after they shared the information with their board, and that Northern Highalnd "would be open to another dialogue with them." 

What was said at the informal, off-the-record meeting is also at issue. 

"The meeting to discuss the prospect of regionalization with NHRHS was productive and we are grateful to their superintendent and board president for taking time for this preliminary discussion," Dr. Cirasella said in an email to Midland Park Press. 

Board Trustee Bob Schiffer, who was not at the meeting with Northern Highlands, claimed that wasn't the full story. "Northern Highlands insinuated that they're not sure they can give our children the education that they've given theirs," he said. "Our students would not be guaranteed AP classes. Then they went on to say, 'And let's not talk about sports or extra curriculars'."

Board Trustee Maryalice Thomas clarified his statements, "There are X amount of AP classes. All the Northern Highlands kids would get them first, then if there are any slots left, maybe we would get it." 

Dr. Cirasella, who was at the meeting with Northern Highlands, said that wasn't the case.

"I do not recall an indication from NHR that they could not provide programs and services to our students. Rather, it was agreed that more information was needed before this could be identified," she said. "I do recall discussing the impact of a greatly increased student population on areas such as clubs and sports. Obviously, when student enrollment rises, the opportunities to access advanced academic courses and attain spots on varsity sports teams may become more scarce. This is true in any high school with a large student population."

The history between the two districts is also being called into question. Schiffer told Midland Park Press in a phone interview last week, “I don’t recall Northern Highlands ever coming to us and saying we’d love to have you.” 

However, former Midland Park Mayor Faith Walker told the Midland Park Press that prior to Ho-Ho-Kus leaving Midland Park, Northern Highlands sent a letter to Midland Park Schools Superintendent August DePreker inviting Midland Park to participate in a meeting with schools officials from Ho-Ho-Kus, Allendale, Upper Saddle River, and Saddle River.  

"A member of the Ho-Ho-Kus BOE told me that at the meeting the feasibility of sending Midland Park students to Northern Highlands and using Midland Park High School as a middle school for the participating school districts was to be discussed," Walker told Midland Park Press. "Midland Park refused to participate in the meeting. I know this to be true because I, as Mayor of Midland Park, asked Northern Highlands for and received a copy of the letter from Superintendent DePreker declining the invitation."

Walker noted this occurred in 1995, while Schiffer was on the board with Ester Verheilig. When asked about this Schiffer said, "I know nothing about that. I never heard of it."

Attempts to contact Northern Highlands officials were unsuccessful.

***UPDATE: Northern Highlands Superintendent John Keenan sent the following message to MPK Press stating why he declined to comment: 

"I offer no comment because we call into question the fact that the Midland Park Press published an article on September 23 with the headline: BOE:  Northern Highlands Doesn’t want MPK Students, and made no attempt was made to verify the information posted as accurate.  In a follow up email on 9/25/13, Rebecca Abma asked several questions of me regarding this topic, two days after the article was posted.  When I asked why I was being contacted after the fact, Ms. Abma wrote in her 9/25 email that she had left a voice mail message for me and that I did not return her call.  This is not accurate.  No attempt to reach me was made and no message was left.  Northern Highlands supports and an outstanding school newspaper and we teach our students best practices in journalistic integrity and verifying information before publication is of great importance."*** 

This article will be updated should more information become available. 

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