WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange faculty members were recently surprised to hear that the job of their colleague, Mary Giovine—a clerical aide based in the media center at West Orange High School (WOHS) who is typically tasked with making and providing photocopied materials to teachers—was at risk of being cut for the sake of recovering efficiencies for the 2019-2020 budget.
As a result, many teachers and staff members attended last week’s West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) meeting to support Giovine, and some made appeals to the board in an effort to convince its members to allow Giovine to keep her job.
Social Studies teacher David Sehr said that Giovine is one of the most hard-working and dependable individuals that he knows. Despite her busy schedule, Giovine always finds time to help teachers with emergency copies that are needed because the “copier machines in the teacher’s workrooms are so often out-of-service,” he said.
Math teacher Thomas Gargiulo praised Giovine for helping teachers increase their productivity time in the classroom and presented data that he collected from a survey using a sample of 135 teachers at the high school. According to that survey, 90 percent of teachers said they use Giovine’s services routinely, and nearly 100 percent of respondents said that her copies were of high quality, effective and quick.
Gargiulo said that in addition to saving teachers one-to-three hours per week—allowing them to focus on grading, feedback and class preparations—Giovine also provides a service that is still necessary in the high school even though the district is making the move toward using less paper.
Special services and in-class resource teacher Anthony Edelstein added that he thinks it is “laudable to try to reduce our use of paper,” but that he thinks people who are not in the classroom “have some unrealistic expectations or understandings about how easy it is to go paperless in the classroom environment.”
West Orange Mountaineer Academy teacher Camilia Cielo mentioned that paper copies “are essential for instruction and learning, specifically [because] handwriting is a crucial skill.” In addition, all of the teachers who spoke at the meeting mentioned that students need to be able to have access to printed documents so that they can work on annotating and highlighting documents.
Gargiulo said that Giovine also helps teachers to print out necessary documents, such as document-based questions (DBQs), sheet music, theatre scripts, SAT practice tests, AP mock exams and the 140-page Air Force ROTC cadet manuals.
Edelstein added that those who teach with him need to print out 30-to 40-page packets for at least 10 units per school year for more than 100 students. Without Giovine, he said the time spent waiting in line at the copy machines would be “unbelievable.”
Cielo noted that a recent study published “New Republic” magazine found that 92 percent of students were able to concentrate better with printed text. She also urged the council to consider the Vision Council’s point that “prolonged digital reading causes eye strain and headaches.”
Students who are expected to use their Chromebooks daily can also be met with difficulties in the classroom, Cielo added, stating as an example that the Wi-Fi can be inconsistent between classrooms, students might forget to charge the laptop, or they might forget the device at home.
Edelstein added that although teachers have been making an effort to go paperless—such as some math teachers who have given tests and quizzes via Google forms—“somehow our very bright students managed to go online and find a hack that allowed them to then access the teacher’s answer key.” This, he said, is one of the “pitfalls of technology—not to mention the distractions that are available to students when they do have the Chromebooks in front of them.”
He continued that there is nothing stopping students from watching “NBA highlights and playing Fortnite,” while teachers are preoccupied with other students. Teachers, therefore, want to seek a balance between the use of technology and paper in the classrooms, Edelstein concluded.
All of the teachers who commented concluded their appeal by urging the board to reconsider removing Giovine’s position due to the necessary services that she provides to all teachers at the high school.
In response, acting superintendent de Mendez said that she could no make any promises, but that she would take every comment made on Giovine’s behalf “into definite consideration.”
Board vice president Sandra Mordecai, whose children have been friends with Giovine’s for many years, also commented, saying that this news was “heartbreaking to hear.” She added she had not been notified about the state of Giovine’s position.
In other news, Harold Maltz spoke on behalf of his wife, Ester Maltz, who is a substitute teacher at WOHS and has worked for the West Orange district since 1998. He noted that his wife has full state certification but has not been given a raise since 2013. At that time, he said, the board decided to raise the pay rate of state-certified substitutes to $100 a day, while substitutes without that certification have not received a pay raise above $90 a day since 2003.
The board was not prepared to address his comments, but said the data he shared would be taken into consideration as the board continues to work on the budget.
The next WOBOE meeting will be held at Liberty Middle School on May 6 at 8 p.m.