The Board of Education took time this week to honor true leaders and advocates for students in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood school system. All PTA presidents were honored for their dedicated service while Carmen Lilly, a guidance counselor at the was honored for her development of the Minority Achievement program.
Lilly, a SPFHS alum, returned to her Alma matter two years ago in hopes of reviving the Black Student Union and increasing opportunities for African American students at the high school. Lilly created the Minority Achievement Program this school year, working with local organizations like the Westfield YMCA, and local achievers to help guide over 35 students in their growth as students, and as young women and men.
Remy Marshall, a senior at SPFHS, was one of four students to describe the experience of participating in the program this year. Marshall noted that coming from a very small, catholic middle school, she was “ecstatic” to come to a high school with such a diverse population of students. Still, in her first three years at SPFHS, Marshall noticed a void.
“Before the Minority Achievement program, there were not a lot of clubs that supported the needs of the African American student community,” Marshall said. “The Black Student Union has been around since my mom was in high school, but because of a lack of funding, that has dwindled.
“This new program gave me the opportunity to hear Professor John Allsten, of Drew University speak about the historically black universities in the country,” Marshall expressed. “Professor Allsten had achieved a lot of success after attending a Historically Black University so he was able to give us more information. I left the discussion excited and ready to learn about other schools.”
Because of the guidance Remy received in the program, she has chosen to attend Howard University – a historically black college – in the fall.
“I am so happy that Ms. Lilly is taking an initiative and making these programs available for African Americans.”
Kamal Jeter, a freshman at the high school, stated that the Minority Achievement Program gave him the opportunity to participate in the Black Achievements program which gave him the opportunity to take SAT Prep classes at the Westfield YMCA. Andrew Hall, a sophomore also participated.
Jeter stated that the program “opened a lot of doors” and gave him the chance to get a leg up on his course work. Hall expressed that participating in the program gave the two memberships to the YMCA along with access to volunteer opportunities.
After hearing the presentations given by four students, the BOE commended the speakers, with many stating that they look forward to watching the development of the program, and the success of future students.
“I am very excited to continue the program,” Lilly said. “We started the achievement program because these kids have different needs, and we want to work to close the achievement gap experienced by minorities. This is a chance for us to do something positive for so many students.”
The Board continued the evening by individually honoring the PTA Presidents of each school in the district.
The Board first recognized the President of the PTA Council, Gina Giacona. During the 2011-2012 school year, Giacona spent her second term dedicating her time and talents to a variety of causes and programs, including successfully , which raised money for scholarships to benefit SPFHS grads who want to enter, or study a health related profession.
“I really enjoyed working with all of the staff and my fellow PTA presidents,” Giacona said. “It’s been a wonderful two years. I couldn’t have asked for better relationships with everyone. I look forward to being the high school PTA president this coming year, and continuing to be involved in this wonderful district.”
Many district principals were present to speak on behalf of the remarkable dedication exhibited by each of these parents. Principal Sasha Slocum was the first to praise her PTA President Jennifer Power.
“We don’t have Assistant Principals in the elementary schools, so when a lovely, graceful person like Jennifer ask if she can help, we say: yes please!” Slocum said. “You make the impossible possible.”
School One Principal Jeff Grysko described PTA President Jeannine Viscardi as a “tireless worker.”
“Her dedication and commitment is amazing,” Grysco said. “She is so much fun; she really puts a smile on my face. The programs and work efforts lead by Jeannine have brought about so many wonderful experiences for the kids.”
Principal Haubert stated that PTA President Marci Bowman “brought depth to decision making,” while increasing parent involvement resulting in a more active PTA. Brunner Principal Scott Bortnick stated that PTA President Marla Macki was his “number one asset” in his first two years as principal.
After she had honored SPFHS PTA President Deb Brody for her services, BOE member Betty Ann Woerner expressed what the PTA truly means to the district.
“You are constantly working behind the scenes to make a critical difference in the lives of our kids,” Woerner said. “It truly does take a village to raise a child and your work is the backbone of that village.