MAPLEWOOD, NJ – Office hours and blogging are two strategies the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education will try this fall to improve communication with the public.

The school board agreed at its meeting Monday night to pilot the communication initiatives. The board also adopted a policy on computer use and appointed a new supervisor of language arts.

Board member David Giles presented a plan to hold monthly evening “office hours” attended by between two and four board members. The office hours would alternate between the South Orange public library and the Hilton branch of the Maplewood library.

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While the board supported the idea of office hours, some members had concerns about a proposal that would involve board members contributing to a blog.

“It would provide a vehicle for the board to communicate to the public in a more user-friendly manner,” Giles said. Board member Madhu Pai stressed it would be different from the current newsletter. “There is a clear indication … (the public) wants more direct engagement,” she said. The blog would allow readers to post comments.

However, Lynne Crawford, second vice president of the board, said allowing readers to post without someone to review the comments first could cause problems. “Once the comment is out there … it’s impossible to take it back,” she said. Board member Bill Gaudelli had concerns about the content. “It becomes a public voice of the board,” he noted.

The board agreed to move forward with the technical aspect of creating a blog and to draw up a list of suggested topics.

The board also adopted a revised policy on computer use. The document notes that the district reserves the right to “limit in-school use to materials appropriate for educational purposes.” Among the uses prohibited are using computers for illegal, inappropriate or obscene purposes; using computers to violate copyright; using them for commercial purposes; and using them to post anonymous messages.

The policy establishes penalties for violations, ranging from being limited to using computers only under direct supervision to expulsion from school and legal action by the authorities.

The board also appointed Janine Gregory as supervisor of the English language arts curriculum for grades 6-12.

In other action, the board:

  • discussed the draft of district goals in the following areas: teaching performance and professional development; communication; and facilities and finance. Schools Superintendent Brian Osborne warned the board that a discussion of the budget will be “a high-stakes conversation,” adding that there is “no magic solution on the horizon to our fiscal challenges.”
  • learned that the district has enrolled 514 kindergarteners to date. The district added a section of kindergarten to the Tuscan Elementary School because the enrollment of 121 exceeded the district’s projection of 102.
  • agreed to continue to work with the teachers union to overcome its objections to establishing teaching awards recognizing excellence and innovation.