Stafford School Superintendent Says ‘Coffee Meeting’ Was Productive

First of Five Scheduled for Concerned Parents
Oct 11, 2017

A few years ago, not long after George Chidiac took over as the Stafford Township School District superintendent, he sought the feedback and ideas of parents within the community as a means of developing an understanding of the district’s needs and intricacies outside of his own perspective. This year, amid some ongoing and harsh criticism of him during recent months, Chidiac thought it best to return to one of his original ideas at fostering more-positive relationships between himself and the parents. So, on Oct. 4, he held the first of a scheduled five meetings dubbed “Coffee with the Superintendent.”

“I believe it’s my obligation and duty to listen to the parents of the community and that it’s important to have an informal dialogue with them,” Chidiac said after a pleasant and calm meeting with about a dozen parents who showed up for the first session inside Oxycocus Elementary School’s Stafford Room. “For me, I can get more out of this than a formal meeting, such as a school board meeting, and I believe it’s a more productive approach to address the concerns of parents, individually and for the district as a whole.”

At the outset of the meeting, Chidiac and several administrators mostly talked about some of the bigger things going on this year – Achieve 3000, a database for hundreds of non-fiction texts available to students in third through sixth grades, interpreting PARCC test scoring and the school-upgrades referendum project – before the superintendent addressed one issue, centering on some confusion and concern regarding a decision made in June to replace the district’s classroom furniture, making its rounds on social media forums.

“Social media is good for a lot of things, but sometimes misinformation is put out there and it gets around really fast,” he said. “And part of the benefit to this kind of format allows me, and my fellow administrators who are here, to present the facts and clear up some of that misinformation, in a direct way.

“This is the perfect format for that kind of interaction, when parents have specific concerns and questions, and we can address those face to face. We’re not here to hide anything. We want to be problem-solvers and really take on those issues as we work with the community to improve our school district.”

Of course, Chidiac expects some to use such informal meetings as opportunities to hammer him on various things, and he’s fine with that. Fortunately, that didn’t occur on Oct. 4. Instead, several parents raised issues and voiced concerns that indeed may help improve a few things within the district at some point.

A few parents addressed an issue with school lunch periods and the amount of time students have to eat their lunches, particularly those who purchase their food and have to wait on longer lines before getting to eat. Another parent asked about the process of summer school enrollment, after she and her son had experienced some difficulties this past summer upon moving into the district from the Cherry Hill area, and suggested measures and a necessity for better communication to make it easier. Also addressed were a district proposal on charging community groups to use school facilities as well as problems with the playground at the Ocean Acres School.

Afterward, Chidiac talked with many of the parents who raised concerns – some briefly and a few a bit more at length.

“Depending on the nature of their concerns, that’s something I’d like to do, meet with them for a few minutes to further discuss them,” he said. “For some of these issues, it’s important for the parents to get to the chief administrator of the district and get my personal feedback on those things. Maybe I can’t fix everything, for whatever reason, but the parents need to know I’m here for them and their children.”

The next “Coffee with the Superintendent” is slated for Wednesday, Nov. 1, starting at 6:30 p.m., followed by three more sessions on Jan. 10, Feb. 7 and March 7. All of the meetings will be in the Stafford Room at Oxycocus School, located 250 North Main St., Manahawkin.

“I expected a few more people tonight, but it was nice to hear from the parents, especially the positive feedback,” Chidiac said. “It was a great meeting, and I’m looking forward to the rest of them.”

— David Biggy

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