WEST ORANGE, NJ - During the April 28 Board of Education meeting, concerns were raised over the future of both the Horizons and West Orange Achievement Programs.
According to the WOBOE website, "Horizons is a commitment to develop student learning potential to the fullest extent possible. It is an attempt to reach high school students who, for a variety of reasons, have not achieved their potential in a traditional classroom setting. The program is designed to reach students by combining a strong academic program with an equally strong personal approach in a setting that is conducive to learning. Referrals are made through the student’s guidance counselor."
The program has been in existence for over twenty years, and during the budget process, Interim Superintendent James O'Neill reviewed the program and was concerned about several issues.
"Horizons has been for kids who have had some personal or family issues and may need a small group setting to help them get acclimated to the HS. However, the application process is unclear, and the process for identifying students is ambiguous at best".
O'Neill went on to say "There is no data about numbers of kids and how long they stay in the program, or how many graduate on time".
"I have an educational responsibility to the students and their parents but also a fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers of West Orange. I am not recommending a program go forward with no changes based on anecdotal information. We will take care of those kids and we will monitor that program but it will not be the same as it has been".
The second program raising concerns is the West Orange Achievement Program (WOAP). Historically WOAP has operated as an after-school 'school' for students with disciplinary issues like , fighting, cutting, controlled substances on school grounds and other infractions.
According to Mr. O'Neill, "These students have been taken out of the regular school day and placed in this program which runs from about 2:30 to 6:00 pm. There are teachers who get extra money for staying and teaching these students. While the program has been effective in keeping difficult students from being disruptive, it has also become expensive and we have been looking at ways to accomplish the goal without costing so much".
O'Neill recommended that the program no longer be run from 2:30 - 6:00, but during the school day, with the caveat being that "literature indicates the program should be in a somewhat segregated part of the building. By moving them to the part of the building that has been housing the Horizons program they will have a very appropriate program and we will save several hundred thousands of dollars".
While the Board voted to pass the 2014-2015 school budget including the programs, they charged the high school with researching, compiling data, and presenting to the board a modified and more accountable version of both programs.
On April 30, West Orange High School Principal Hayden Moore spoke passionately to the Alternative Press about the value of all students and programs at the high school. Moore had already been in meetings with Karen Perry, Director of the Horizons program, to address the concerns of both Mr. O'Neill and the Board.
"We are working on developing more accountability with the Horizons and WOAP programs," Moore began.
There are approximately 40 students currently in Horizons and Moore said "We are recommending that the program be maintained for a year. During the year, we will implement several modifications. We will monitor grades, attendance, and individual educational performances, creating an EPP for each student".
"It is our hope to see several of the Horizons seniors transition into regular classes," he continued.
"We will focus on college and career readiness with the students as well. We want to see this program really work and even see it expanded and enhanced".
As for the West Orange Achievement Program, Moore said, "WOAP will no longer be held in the afternoons. The students will be moved into the Horizons area of the school and its name will be changed to Mountaineer Academy. We want to see these students be able to integrate into our community and be a successful part of our school".
There are approximately 10 students in WOAP at this time.
"Fiscal responsibility and accountability is important to us at the high school," Moore noted. "Moving the WOAP program to regular school hours will save the district money and provide these students with the help they need".
Moore and the team at the high school will complete their reports and recommendations prior to the next Board of Education meeting on May 12.