Shamong’s school board gives thanks at its year-end meeting

Members also discuss potential budget increases and special-needs students

This year has been difficult for Shamong’s schools, which, like many other districts, had to transition to remote learning during COVID-19. At its final meeting of 2020, the Shamong Board of Education celebrated the dedication of its faculty and staff in the face of the pandemic.

Superintendent Christine Vespe announced the recipients of the district’s yearly awards: Teachers of the Year Stephanie Goldstein, who teaches preschool at Indian Mills Elementary; and Lisa Ryan, a special-education teacher at Indian Mills Middle School. The Educational Services Professional of the Year award went to Tonia Campbell, a learning consultant for the district.

“Congratulations to the three of them on this accomplishment,” Vespe said. “This really is a great accomplishment when your colleagues nominate you and you’re chosen for this award. I can’t wait to be able to celebrate them in person.”

Vespe also took time to recognize the district’s school nurses, who are tasked with following Department of Health guidelines during the pandemic.

“It really has been around-the-clock work and weekends,” Vespe explained. “But these nurses have really gone above and beyond, and we appreciate all they do from the elementary into the middle school.”

Vespe herself received props from Business Administrator Laura Archer, who congratulated her on winning a county Safety Star Award. Vespe won the honor for leading a district-wide training, Stop the Bleed, used in the event of a traumatic injury.

“In doing that, she also was able to have many stop-the-bleed kits, which are very expensive, be provided to the district free of charge,” Archer noted. “It is a really good honor and out of many, many districts in Burlington County, that she was selected to win this award.”

Sixth grader Emma McCafferty expressed her gratitude to the Shamong district’s custodial staff.

“You guys don’t get much hype, but you’re actually a huge help,” McCafferty wrote in a letter read aloud by Archer. “Thank you so much for cleaning up our messes. I really do appreciate you. I think you’re more needed than what people give you credit for.”

Board members at the meeting also discussed a potential budget increase to pay for staffing costs, something Shamong Mayor Michael DiCroce has asked the district not to do. Archer explained that the state has been incrementally cutting funding to the district. In 2021, Shamong schools expect to lose about $312,000 in state aid, the largest cut since 2018.

District Director of Pupil Services Sandra Thurston expressed the need to improve resources for students with disabilities, IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) and therapy needs as the district continues remote learning. The topic is expected to be discussed more in the upcoming year. 

“We have a few populations of students that are significantly impacted by remote learning,” Thurston said. “Hopefully, we’ll be reporting out at our next board meeting strategies that we can embark on in order to lessen this remote learning curve for them.”