District removes two teaching positions and phases out program

As the 2017-2018 school year comes to close, so does the French program and two teacher’s positions – one of them being for English, the other being for Art.

Alysa Mehl
Superintendent Erik Gundersen and other district administrators made personnel and course decisions for the 2018-2019 school year.

District eliminates English position

With Mr. Shawn Buchanan changing his position to Athletic Director, the District has decided not to replace his English teaching position. Instead, the District hired an additional special education teacher, Ms. Nari Dabis, and a Pascack Hills English teacher, Ms. Jamie Marootian will be swinging between both schools.

Marootian will be picking up two of Buchanan’s five English classes.

The classroom sizes would remain normal in Buchanan’s absence so the district did not feel it was necessary to replace all of his sections, PV principal Thomas DeMaio said.

“When we looked at what our staffing was with our course selections with the upcoming school year, there was a significant need to increase the number of special education teachers by one,” Pascack Valley District Superintendent Erik Gundersen said. “That way, the number of teachers in the district stayed consisted. There was a net gain and net loss of zero.”

In spring of this year, the district sent out a letter to all parents titled “President’s Message” that indicated that creative writing and public speaking would be offered as new English courses for next year.

DeMaio said that shortly after this letter was sent out, the district decided to no longer offer either class due to lack of student request. He added that, in total, there were under 15 kids enrolled in those classes.

According to DeMaio, the teachers who were going to teach those classes are now going to be teaching the rest of Buchanan’s classes. This would essentially keep the classroom sizes the same with an additional student or two in each class, he said.

RIF in Art Department

Ms. Christine Steinmetz, originally a PV art teacher, will be changing her position to the library media center clerk next school year. According to Mr. Erik Gundersen, the Pascack Valley District Superintendent, there was low enrollments in art resulting in her position being eliminated and her job being lost.

“There is a specific process that has to happen, and unfortunately that process goes by seniority,” DeMaio stated. “Steinmetz has the least amount of years teaching in the art department so legally that is the first job that has to go.”

With low enrollments in all of the art classes, there was a need to reduce one art teacher. Steinmetz had to face these ramifications, according to Gundersen.

She is a great teacher and if we have those positions back we are obligated to offer her the position and we would be happy (to do that).””

— PVRHSD Superintendent Erik Gundersen

“What has happened has been beyond my control; however, I have decided to make the best of it and I am very excited for my position next year,” Steinmetz said.  

Ms. Mariellen Nemecek, PV’s media center clerk, was retiring this year leaving her position open for Steimetz, DeMaio said.

“Steinmetz wanted to be able stay in here [Pascack Valley],” DeMaio said, “and if the art numbers are back up, we can give her her job back,”

RIF, reduction-in-force, is when a position is eliminated and the teacher in that department that is not tenured will lose their job. If every teacher in the department is tenured, then the teacher with the least seniority, or at the school for the least amount of years, will lose his/her job, according to Ms. Maria Hinrichsen, the Vice President of the Pascack Valley Regional Education Association (PVREA) at Pascack Valley.

“She has been here fewer years so she was RIFed,” Gundersen said. “If enrollment increases in art over time, she will be able to get back into the role part time and then hopefully full time.”

With RIF, if the position ever comes back, the teacher that lost his/her job will be offered that position again.

“We would have to offer her the job if the position ever came back to Pascack Valley,”  Gundersen said.  “That is a part of the law. I want to be clear: She was not fired. She is not being laid off for poor performance or anything of the matter. She is a great teacher and if we have those positions back we are obligated to offer her the position and we would be happy [to do that].”

According to Gundersen, there was a need for special education teachers in the district for next year.

“If any of the art teachers had a certification in special education, we could have moved an art teacher into special education department and keep Steinmetz,” Gundersen said. “If Steinmetz had a certification in special education, she could have taken a special education position.”

DeMaio hopes to build more interest throughout the Pascack Valley community so he is able to add more art classes.

“We are hoping to be able to create enough interest again by talking the classes up, taking a look at how this new alignment of courses to see if now that kids are in it they can take it another year, thinking of other art classes we can offer that may generate more interest,” DeMaio said.

According to DeMaio, personnel decisions are made every year, but someone has not been let go due to lack of enrollment in some time.

The last time someone was let go due to enrollment was at the end of the 1996 school year. The teacher was Robin Delaney, a foods teacher. She was RIFed and came back two years later for the 1998-1999 school year, according to Ms. Debbie Squiccimarri.

Hinrichsen added that it is a horrible thing and that we do not want to lose anybody, but that she is happy that she is staying in the district.

“We understand,” Hinrichsen said.  “There weren’t enough sections and there is nothing we could do with not enough students taking the class. I’m lucky to be a math teacher. They are always needed since students have to take math for multiple years. Art, though, doesn’t have to be taken for more than one year.”

Phasing out the French program

The enrollment in the French classes have been consistently low, and consequently French I will be not be running in the 2018-2019 school year. PV will be offering French II, III, IV, and AP so the students currently taking French will not be affected.

“We are not running French I… (but no teachers) will be losing their jobs,” Pascack Valley District Superintendent Erik Gundersen said. “We just need to be very careful with how much money we spend with classes that have low enrollment.”

PV principal Thomas DeMaio said that the long term prospect for the program is currently unknown.

“There is no immediate plans to replace it [French] with another language.” DeMaio said, “There are all sorts of different combinations that could happen with the teachers, but we don’t know at this point in time yet how that all ends up being. As of right now everybody is back for next year and employed.”

DeMaio estimated that there are a total of 40 students currently scheduled to take French next year.

DeMaio also added how it is not uncommon for students to take only the two years required of a language. With the numbers being small to begin with in the French classes, after the two years, the numbers are becoming increasingly difficult to justify keeping the program running.

There is no immediate plans to replace it [French] with another language. There are all sorts of different combinations that could happen with the teachers, but we don’t know at this point in time yet how that all ends up being. As of right now everybody is back for next year and employed.”

— PV Principal Tom DeMaio

French teacher Ms. Teresa DelGuidice said that the school has attempted to gain back the student interest by holding creative writing and poster contests, exchange programs with schools in France, cooking classes, and bake sales. The program has also been promoted at the eighth grade orientation, Take Your Child to Work Day, and by teaching French at Valley Pre-K.

In 2013, Pascack Valley established a relationship with a partner high school in southern France: Lycée Amiral de Grasse. PV has hosted three visits for the French students in 2014, 2015, and 2017. Likewise, PV students have visited France and stayed with host families in both 2015 and this past May.

Ms. Noemi Rodriguez, the language department supervisor, notes that that the students currently taking French would not be affected if the program were to close due to lack of enrollment. The school is going to commit to them as long as they stay in it, but it is unsure of how much longer the school is going to continue to offer the subject to underclassmen.

“I think a lot of it has to do with that neither of the middle schools have a French program,” DeMaio said, “so you don’t get that general basis of interest to be able to get enough kids to sustain the language.”