WEST ORANGE, NJ — Acting Superintendent of West Orange Schools Eveny de Mendez presented brief update during Monday’s board of education meeting on areas surrounding the school district’s Curriculum and Instruction. During the presentation, de Mendez went over the process that Math and English Language Arts (ELA) departments undergo to evaluate the current programs that are being used in the classroom.

She noted that in the middle schools, the Connected Math Program (CMP), which has been the math program for grades 6-8 for seven years, is currently being evaluated and considered for revision.

While CMP might have been a good program in its “initial form,” teachers have noted that “there was a lack of additional practice and resources for students” over time, and teachers resorted to using Glencoe as supplementary material, she said.

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After three years of evaluations, the math evaluation committee selected Reveal or Ready math during the 2018-2019 school year as potential replacements for CMP. According to de Mendez, the committee’s recommendations will be presented to the board by the end of May.

Both programs are being piloted at all three middle schools within the district thanks to materials donated to the district. De Mendez also noted that there is already money allotted in the 2019-2020 school budget to support whichever program is chosen.

The English Language Arts (ELA) evaluation started after the evaluation of the math program, with the committee being officially established during the 2018-2019 school year “to examine district materials and how they support the balanced literacy model,” de Mendez said. She continued that the committee also is looking at whether materials used in the district are “consistently being implemented at all the schools and how we could better support [the schools] in the balanced literacy program.”

After listening to feedback from teachers and staff, de Mendez mentioned that the district is going to provide supplemental reading and writing materials to K-5 teachers. She clarified that this is not a “new program” or a “new curriculum,” but that supplemental materials that were requested by teachers and staff.

While the “reading units of study were purchased this year through ESSA funds” to be distributed to K-5 teachers in June 2019, de Mendez said the “writing units of study” will be provided next year.

During her presentation, de Mendez also mentioned that the district is changing the way that curriculum updates are presented in the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) meeting agendas, stating that handouts will be made available to all in attendance.

Noting that when a curriculum “only appears on the agenda as an item” when it is submitted for board approval, de Mendez said that “the board [and the public do not] get to really see what that entails.” As a result, during the months of July and August 2018, the district began developing a “curriculum-development process” that will be presented on the agenda as a cover page containing a course overview with credit information and information specifying whether the course is under revision, being developed, or a requirement for graduation.

According to de Mendez, the cover page will also have hyperlinks to a website that will be dedicated to covering information on curriculum and instruction. The district hopes that the site will go live in September 2019 and that it will serve as a “portal to parents,” she added.

In explanation, she said that when parents will be able to click on a link for each unit under the curriculum for an overview of “the objectives,” “the transfer goal”—or how skills will be applied across the curriculum and outside the classroom—“the desired understanding” and “the essential questions of the curriculum.”

The acting superintendent also provided an update on the Middle School Honors program, which begins in sixth grade.

Community members have expressed concern that there are too many assessments being conducted, which include the “Honors” placement exam and writing sample as well as district assessments like the MAP and PARCC that some feel took away from instructional time. However, since most of the students enrolled in the honors program score highly on the PARCC and MAP Growth tests, de Mendez said that these assessments—along with teacher recommendations—are being considered as the new parameters to exempt students from taking the honors placement exam and writing sample.

Resident Micaela Bennett spoke on behalf of her son, who failed to place in the honors program following the exam despite maintaining straight A’s and remaining on the honor roll since entering West Orange schools in third grade. Bennett encouraged the board to take her son’s advice, which is to let anyone who wants to be in honors try “if they have the support of their parents and their educators [because] you cannot allow a test to predict someone’s academic future.”

Bennett reiterated that any students who want to try out the honors program should be allowed to, adding that “the worst thing that’ll happen is that they decide it’s too rigorous and they’ll leave.”

De Mendez announced that a second Middle School Honors Parent Information Night is scheduled for Thursday, April 25, 2019 at the Central Office Conference Room at 6:15 p.m. More on the Middle School Honors Program will be presented in a follow-up article covering Monday's board meeting. 

Although the first of these informational meetings was held on Tuesday, board members Mark Robertson and Cheryl Merklinger as well as West Orange parent Rachel Gordon all commented on Monday that more needed to be done to better communicate the event further in advance. They encouraged all interested residents to attend the next event and to urge their fellow parents to do so as well.

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