WEST ORANGE, NJ — In addition to the announcement that the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) and West Orange Teachers Association have come to an agreement on a contract for district teachers, board members and district parents also commented on recent acts of kindness shared between students, the status of the high school’s athletic “Bubble,” the importance of educating the school community about food safety and more at Monday’s WOBOE meeting.

WOBOE President Ken Alper said that after agreeing to a teacher’s contract over the summer and taking into consideration some unexpected occurrences, such as going above and beyond during the Nov. 15 snowstorm to ensure the safety of stranded students, “the board and the West Orange Teachers Association—the Teachers’ Union—were able to sign the teacher’s contract.”

“Separately, we were able to work out a mutual agreement to fairly compensate everyone who stayed into the night to take care of our students back in November during Snowmaggedon,” said Alper, who added that he was thrilled to accomplish this one month into the new year and that he looks forward to “continuing to collaborate with the board, administration and teachers’ association.”

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With regard to the search for a permanent superintendent, Alper also announced that a request for proposal (RFP) has been sent out to search firms, posted on the district website and sent to the "Star Ledger" to be published over the weekend. The requests will be due in two weeks, after which the board will work with the winning firm to start recruiting candidates.

In other news, Acting Superintendent Eveny de Mendez shared that Gregory Elementary was recently featured on Channel 12 for its “Week of Kindness,” during which students learned how to be mindful of others by being kind to others.

WOBOE member Terry Trigg-Scales commended Gregory for its efforts during that week, but also challenged the district—beginning with the board—to promote kindness throughout the year.

“This is not just one week, but a posture that we need to adopt,” she said.

During public comment, West Orange resident Betsey Stevens, founder of the “More Love” organization, stated that she is “so lucky to live in West Orange, where the teachers not only focus on academics, but on character and creating whole people to go out into the world.”

As part of her “More Love” initiative, which occurred during the same time as the “Week of Kindness,” children were given a numbered card to pass on after performing a good deed. As Stevens shared some stories of students who logged their good deeds on the “More Love” website—such as a Hazel second grader who helped carry groceries for an elderly woman after her shopping bag broke—she acknowledged the positive impact that teaching kindness has on all children.

Rachel Gordon, West Orange resident and co-founder of the West Orange Cares About Schools (WOCAS) Facebook group, spoke on behalf of fellow West Orange resident Elizabeth Redwine, who asked the board’s opinion on the A1400 bill. The piece of legislation was signed by former Governor Chris Christie in 2016 to allow the expansion of Class III officers to be extended to retired state and county corrections officers to act as armed security officers in schools. Redwine expressed that she did not believe that the bill would make anyone safer in schools.

In response to Redwine’s comments, the board collectively said that no decisions can be made about security until the audit is completed. De Mendez mentioned that Class III has been considered as “a conversation point,” and something that will be considered in the audit, but that discussions would occur later as to whether armed guards are needed.

James Rawls, president of the high school’s football booster program Mountaineer Endzone Club, asked about the status of the high school’s athletic “Bubble,” which has been constructed but has not been usable. He specifically said that some students are currently utilizing facilities at Liberty Middle School four times a week due to a lack of weights and other equipment at the Bubble, but that there is ultimately “no substitute for the Bubble.”

Although the districts expects construction to be fully completed by June or July, business administrator John Calavano said the district is working on a solution that will allow students to use equipment in a fenced off area of the Bubble in the meantime.

Following a recent incident as recently as last week in which Nicole Ruffo, a Gregory Elementary School class parent, encountered food in the school that might have contained nuts that her own children are allergic to, Ruffo alerted the board to the importance of food safety in the schools.

As she passed out informational packets to board members on Monday about this issue, Ruffo suggested that the district form a “Food Allergy Awareness Committee” in order to “ensure a safe learning environment for all of our children.” All board members were impressed with the compiled information and said they look forward to working with Ruffo on increasing allergy awareness.

As a side remark, Trigg-Scales mentioned that January was board of education recognition month in New Jersey. Although it went mostly unnoticed, Trigg-Scales said she would continue to “recognize and celebrate” her fellow board members.

During the meeting, de Mendez also presented the Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) report that was discussed during the Jan. 28 meeting. The board unanimously approved this report on Monday.

To read more about this meeting, where the board and members of the community discuss various accomplishments and goals related to diversity in the schools, click HERE.

The next West Orange Board of Education meeting will be held on Feb. 25.