MAPLEWOOD, NJ – During the public comments section of this week’s Board of Education meeting, a dozen South Orange Middle School (SOMS) teachers stood while representatives spoke to the board about their concerns with the school’s administration, scheduling and curriculum. It was clearly an organized protest, as many teachers signed up to speak, only to yield their time to the teachers who had prepared statements.
Carlos Salguero, a teacher at SOMS for 11 years, told the board of the faculty’s displeasure with Principal Joseph Uglialoro.
“Many South Orange Middle School teachers feel that this principal, during his short time with the district, has cultivated a climate that does not effectively support the students, teachers, non-instructional staff and the communities of South Orange and Maplewood,” Salguero said. “This unfamiliar climate of mistrust has been growing and festering. Our children deserve more than they are receiving in a school that the state has on their Focus list since the beginning of his tenure.”
He concluded by saying, “An overwhelming majority of the staff is in agreement that the current environment is unacceptable.”
Sixth-grade math teacher Jessica Squires asked that programming and scheduling changes be made in collaboration with the school’s teachers.
“In addition to the state’s demands, which are out of are control, the demands from within our district, which can be controlled, just keep pouring onto us,” Squires said. “Combining math levels, a new sixth-grade schedule and IB (International Baccalaureate) are major changes the Board of Education and parents can control. It’s like a snowstorm. More keeps coming.”
She pointed out that the teachers were not consulted prior to the changes made, and the changes are not working to the students’ benefit. In addition, the teachers still have no contract and have not been offered any additional compensation for the extra work. “If you want to know what is really going on at South Orange Middle School, please ask a teacher,” she implored.
Maplewood resident and SOMS teacher Angela Ferraro said that working at SOMS is very challenging due the many rapid changes the school has experienced.
“From our state’s adoption of the common core, our Focus School status, to new teacher evaluations, to our being an IB school, to new administration, and to our fifth new English Language Arts Supervisor since I was hired, I think the stress level is high due to the simultaneous introduction and adjustment to all these initiatives and people in a relatively short span of time,” Ferraro said.
“Our transition to becoming an International Baccalaureate school is a rollover that should not have been handed to new administration,” she said. “I think we have the right to question why teachers were not consulted prior to implementation.” She said there has been some confusion over the rollout of IB and suggested the creation of focus groups across disciplines and grades to improve IB strategies and tactics. She suggested finding ways to increase the length of instructional periods, pointing out that district students go from receiving two hours of language arts instruction daily in fifth grade to 45 minutes in sixth grade.
As is their policy, there was no response given by the board to these ideas.