Reporting with Hills Pride

The Trailblazer

Reporting with Hills Pride

The Trailblazer

Reporting with Hills Pride

The Trailblazer

BOE addresses student achievements, public concerns

When the BOE opened to take comments from the public, several residents spoke about an email Bilotti sent to the district via ParentSquare on Oct. 15 regarding the war in Israel and antisemitism.
The+BOE+at+the+start+of+the+meeting+in+the+Pascack+Hills+auditorium.%0A
Paige Geanopulos
The BOE at the start of the meeting in the Pascack Hills auditorium.

On Monday night, the Pascack Valley Regional High School District Board of Education recognized board member resignations, student achievements, listened to financial reports, and addressed comments from the public.

BOE student representative Olivia Ge gave her monthly report. She discussed the Advanced Placement (AP) Literature field trip to view “I Need That” starring Danny DeVito, sewing class dress projects, the Music Department Disney trip, and the Project Paterson Toy Drive. 

Ge also recognized Teacher of the Year Corin Gamgort, Educational Services Professional of the Year Jennifer Zimmermann, and the Chamber Choir performance at Montclair State University. Regarding athletic items, she discussed swim team records and track meet results. 

Pascack Hills senior Tyler Duffy was recognized for receiving the Super Football Conference (SFC) Steve DeGregorio Young Man of the Year award. This award is given to a football player from each school competing in the SFC that excels in community service, putting others before himself, leadership, academics, and others.

The Pascack Hills Trailblazer was recognized for the following awards at the Garden State Student Press Association (GSSPA) conference:

Media Awards:

  • Olivia Ge and Kaitlyn Verde, Editors-in-Chief  – 1st Place: Social Media Presence 
  • Olivia Ge and Kaitlyn Verde, Editors-in-Chief – Honorable Mention: Overall Online Excellence
  • Ethan Kaufman – 1st Place in Broadcast News Show: “Bronco’s Breakdown: Episode 7

Individual Awards: 

Woodcliff Lake BOE member Dr. Kelly Blundy was also recognized for her service to the Board. She did not run for reelection this year, and Woodcliff Lake resident Stephanie Mong-Ping Huang will be filling her spot in January. Blundy gave a heartfelt speech following Blundo’s recognition. 

As I sit here today at the end of my term with the Pascack Valley Board of Education, I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude

— BOE member Dr. Kelly Blundy

“As I sit here today at the end of my term with the Pascack Valley Board of Education, I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude…our administration, you have been the captain steering the ship through both calm and stormy seas…To our teachers, the heart and soul of our school…To our students, the reason we are all here, I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors,” she said.

Similarly, BOE president Joseph Blundo announced that he is ending his term as president and will not run for reelection. 

“Next year, I’m entering my last year in my term. I think it’s a good time to turn over the presidency to someone else… I think it’s time to hand the gavel over to whoever else is interested and to whoever you all choose,” he said

Earlier in the meeting, Auditor Brian Gibbons gave the annual Audit Report, which showed BOE members how much money they had and how they can use it for district projects, such as roof and auditorium renovations.  

While discussing old business, BOE member Michael Weaver asked to clarify the roles of Board members on certain committees. Superintendent Sarah Bilotti responded by saying there could be “expectations set” among board members. 

While discussing new business, BOE member Elizabeth Calderone commented about morning drop-off at Hills. She asked about the possibility of staggering arrival times for students in different grade levels.

Bilotti addressed the problem by proposing possible property expansion, changing the traffic system approach around Hills, and contacting a traffic engineer within “the next few months.”

“If there is a way to mitigate [the traffic], I think everyone will be open to hearing that,” she said. 

When the BOE opened to take comments from the public, several residents spoke about an email Bilotti sent to the district on Oct. 15 regarding the war in Israel and antisemitism.

Kaitlyn Verde

Montvale resident and Bergen County Muslim Heritage Month Community liaison, Zaheera Khan, spoke about the lack of inclusivity. 

“I understand that your letter was to provide acknowledgment of the stories and sentiments you heard from the school community and faculty, and [you] may have been encouraged to provide a statement from the district. However, this letter was not inclusive to all students of this community. This letter was very divisive and uninformed. It was incredibly hurtful that you did not even mention the word ‘Muslim’ or ‘Palestine’ in your statement at all,” she said. 

“Myself and other parents sent out letters expressing our frustration with your statement. Your reply was, ‘Please let me know if I can have our school counselors reach out to your children directly to offer additional support.’ What our children really need is not to feel ostracized in school,” she said. 

Khan continued by saying that January was declared Muslim Heritage Month in New Jersey by Governor Phil Murphy. She “officially invit[ed] the Board and school community to a Muslim Heritage Month celebration on Jan. 7.” 

Woodcliff Lake resident Sabreena Karim continued the sentiments of Khan. She addressed the hurt she felt by the letter and “lack of outreach to the Muslim community” by the district.

Again, I agree that the school does not need to weigh in on international events. But if you do, it is imperative that you consider all people affected by such international events…As we come to the end of the year with Christmas less than a week away, I implore you to make an inclusive statement to all your students

— Sabreena Karim

“As an Indian-American-Muslim woman, I was admittedly shocked and saddened by your letter, Ms. Bilotti. And I spoke to you about it. I would have much preferred no email at all than an unbiased message of peace,” she said.

Karim claimed that she personally reached out to Bilotti, but “never received a follow-up message.”

 “I emailed you and I called you about this. I asked for a follow-up message but never received one. You said that you didn’t know any other Christian or Muslim faith leaders, and that’s why you didn’t reach out to them. So that is why I introduced you to two Christian faith leaders and a Muslim leader, and you did not reach out to either of them,” she said. 

“Again, I agree that the school does not need to weigh in on international events. But if you do, it is imperative that you consider all people affected by such international events…As we come to the end of the year with Christmas less than a week away, I implore you to make an inclusive statement to all your students…I implore you to issue an updated statement of peace and love for all. I implore you to mention our communities by name and to acknowledge our pain, if not for me, than for all of our impressionable children,” she said. 

A second Woodcliff Lake resident, Bushra Sheikh, asked Bilotti to issue a revised letter to the district that is more inclusive to all voices. 

“Ms. Bilotti, I wrote to you in response to your letter 60 days ago to the community. In your letter, you stated ‘But, I am listening to your voices. I hear you. I support you. I was moved by your testimony.’ I ask you again: did you consider the voices of all victims of war, voices of minorities, of the towns you represent? Voices of all communities to whom your message reached and will reach? I am requesting you to acknowledge that all lives matter and they matter equally,” she said.

“I kindly urge you to issue a revised letter explicitly stating your opposition not only to antisemitism, but also to islamophobia. Please condemn not only the attacks on innocent civilians in Israel, but also those in Gaza…I implore you to leverage your influential position, to advocate for justice, and to condemn violence impartially. Your voice carries weight and it is crucial, especially in times when fair and inclusive statements are needed the most,” she said.  

Blundo and the BOE members responded to the comments. 

“I, as the Board president, am not going to comment on that letter. Our role here is to educate all children of all faiths, of all sexual preferences, [and] religions. As the Board president, I will not comment. I will say thank you for bringing your thoughts to us as a Board, and we can all internalize what, if anything, we want to talk about in the future,” said Blundo. 

Voices of the public are very important, and it is of utmost importance to hear all the various viewpoints. We do take it to heart

— BOE member James Stankus

Dr. Blundy responded after each woman spoke for their allotted time. 

“I wanted to thank you guys for coming. It takes a lot of courage and strength to come up and say everything that you said tonight. I would like more information on [the Muslim Heritage Month event]. I think it would be great to know what activities are taking place so that we can get that out for people to know about it,” she said.  

“Thank you for coming out this evening. I do appreciate your words,” said Weaver. He echoed Blundy’s statement asking for more information regarding the event on Jan. 7.  

“Voices of the public are very important, and it is of utmost importance to hear all the various viewpoints. We do take it to heart,” said BOE member James Stankus. 

For a full viewing of the BOE meeting, click the link below. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48BEmRIY_Dc

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About the Contributors
Kaitlyn Verde, Editor-in-Chief
Kaitlyn Verde is a senior at Hills. She joined the publication her freshman year as a staff writer and edited for the Arts & Entertainment and School News sections her sophomore and junior years, respectively. This year, Verde is excited to be the Trailblazer's Editor-in-Chief alongside Olivia Ge and report for the community with Hills Pride. Fun fact: Verde enjoys reading in her free time, and her favorite book is "The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue."
Paige Geanopulos, School News Editor
Hills junior Paige Geanopulos is looking forward to being a part of the Trailblazer for another year. She joined the publication her freshman year as a staff writer and edited for the In-Depth section her sophomore year. This year, Geanopolus is excited to cover breaking news stories within the Hills community. Fun fact: Geanopulos loves the outdoors and hikes regularly.

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