WEST ORANGE, NJ — Following a presentation on updates related to curriculum and the Middle School Honors Program during Monday’s West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) meeting, student liaison Sessina Dani expressed her feeling that noted that not all elementary students are treated equally.

Based on her own experience moving from Mt. Pleasant Elementary School into middle school, Dani said the difference in treatment of students among the elementary schools has resulted in “social disparities” as students move from their respective elementary schools to Edison “Central Six” Middle School.

According to Dani, some students who attended school in higher-income neighborhoods fared better academically and socially than those who did not. She also felt that students from schools like Gregory, Redwood, St. Cloud and Mt. Pleasant have a “head start” over students who went to schools like Washington because they have access to more resources and better materials, such as computers. In turn, she said, this puts other students who do not have access to certain resources at a disadvantage if they wanted to take part in the Middle School Honors Program.

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Dani requested that the board address the disparities that exist between the seven elementary schools within the district.

Acting Superintendent Eveny de Mendez agreed that the disparities that exist throughout the district need to be addressed, especially since “it’s something that is inherently built in the [town’s] demographic” because of where the schools are organized. However, apart from reorganizing neighborhoods, de Mendez also mentioned that committees like the one evaluating English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum are looking at how materials are consistently being used throughout the district.

De Mendez added that the district is also considering developing “comprehensive curriculum” across content areas so that the district will “see the same thing being taught” across all classrooms. She also touched upon the impact that poverty has on schools like Washington Elementary, which has an 82 percent poverty rate.

“In some of our other schools, we don’t have even a fraction of that poverty rate,” said de Mendez, adding that poverty, which has a “dramatic and cumulative impact on students,” impacts students’ ability to read, make connections and apply information.

De Mendez concluded that more will be done to address these issues as the district strives for all schools to accomplish the same goals while at the same time not decreasing the rigor of coursework.

On a related topic, Adam Kramer praised the work that teachers are doing based on state report cards, which indicate that most of West Orange elementary schools are rated in the 90’s, while Washington—which he noted has a high population of English as a Second Language (ESL) students—is rated in the high 50’s.

Kramer also commented on the difficulties that exist when students transition from elementary school to Edison. He noted that when the district proposed making Edison a “Central Six” school more than 12 years ago, he thought it was a mistake.

“I’m of the opinion that a lot of tweens are not as mature as they think they are,” said Kramer, who continued that he believes tweens need extra time to mature before making the transition to middle school.

He suggested that the district should adopt a K-6 system, making Edison into an elementary school in order to save money. Stating that middle schools are more expensive than elementary schools, Kramer said this would ultimately lead to “better educational outcomes.”

De Mendez agreed that the transitions currently exist transition—from elementary school, to a central six middle school, to a grade 7-8 middle school and then to high school—might be too many. She stated that each change poses a “stressor on academic achievement,” and suggested that the board conduct a more in-depth conversation on this topic in the future.

Click HERE to learn more about de Mendez's updates from Monday's meeting. 

In other news, West Orange High School (WOHS) Principal Hayden Moore briefly discussed the positive impact that the West Orange Mountaineer Academy (WOMA) has had on the district.

According to Moore, the WOMA currently services 34 students who have been identified as needing more social and emotional support because they struggle in a traditional school environment. He stated that the program helps “at-risk” students stay in school so that they can eventually transition back into the normal school day, graduate and thrive beyond the “walls of West Orange.”

For every year that the academy operates, WOHS saves the district approximately $1.5 million by avoiding having to send these students out of district for these educational needs

Board member Terry Trigg-Scales told Moore he should be proud of the fact that other schools like Orange High School want to emulate this “Best Practice.”

Also during Monday’s meeting, de Mendez announced that there a diversity job fair will be held on Saturday, April 27 from 9 p.m. to 12 p.m. in the Liberty Middle School gymnasium.

“We will be looking for qualified, exceptional, diverse candidates for our anticipated vacancies for the 2019-2020 school year,” said de Mendez.

Information about how many job openings exist will be made clear after May 6 when the budget is finalized.

Comment on the district’s presentation of the preliminary budget, resident Michael Kessel cautioned the board to reword its advertising for the job fair, stating that words like “diverse” or “multicultural” can be seen as “codewords for ‘non-white.’”

De Mendez also mentioned that the board will begin looking for a principal for Hazel Elementary at the end of the month, with the first and second rounds of interviews being conducted by search committees.

Board secretary John Calavano also commented that a contract has been awarded to a contractor who is slated to start work on the interior of the “Bubble” during spring break. At the same time, an effort will be made to bring weight-room equipment back into the “Bubble.”

The next West Orange Board of Education meeting will cover the finalized budget for the 2019-2020 school year on May 6 at 8 p.m. at Liberty Middle School.