WEST ORANGE, NJ — Although the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) could not hold its semi-annual "Parade of Honors" on-site this year, West Orange Public Schools (WOPS) Superintendent Dr. J. Scott Cascone still wanted to honor the achievements of students, staff, and members of the community who have distinguished themselves over the course of the school year and during the school closures because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The superintendent started by recognizing the members of this year's junior honor guard, West Orange High School (WOHS) students who are in the top of their class, because they will not have the opportunity to participate at this year's on-site graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020, currently scheduled for July 8.
Board President Ken Alper also presented the 2020 Dylan Pennell Mountaineer Trailblazer Award, named for the Naval Officer and Class of 2014 alumnus who established the Air Force Junior ROTC program at the WOHS, to Sandra Guerro.
According to Alper, the award is given to a student "whose ideas and actions result in a lasting contribution to the West Orange School District" while also enhancing the culture of the district.
In addition to being the most distinguished wrestler in the WOHS's 58-year-old program, Guerro has also served as a captain of both the boys and girls wrestling program and most recently was the first place winner of the 2020 NJSIAA Girls Individual State Wrestling Tournament. Guerro was also a four-year member of the AFJROTC program, serving with distinction, in addition being one of the few cadets (25-percent) who participated in the program for all four years of high school.
Alper also said that her class is also the first and only West Orange class to have earned the USAF distinguished unit award for all four years, which recognizes the best AFJROTC units in the world.
Suzanne Pennell also read a statement congratulating Guerro on behalf of her son, currently stationed in Charleston, S.C. for nuclear power school.
The superintendent also recognized several staff members including District Multimedia Technician Lauren Grof-Tisza and District Social Media Coordinator Perry Bashkoff, who were both instrumental in allowing the public to have virtual access to the WOBOE meetings and ensuring that electronic communications were efficiently sent from administrators to parents and other members of the public.
Cascone also thanked staff members who provided technology services, while also helping to close the "digital divide" over the course of the school closures by assisting students with technology issues, like malfunctioning Chromebooks and chargers.
There were others who Cascone referred to as "standing in the gap," a series of staff members including clerical aides and security who helped to disseminate surveys, conduct wellness checks, and deliver food and Chromebooks to families in need.
The transportation department and food services were also recognized as essential services throughout the school closures because buses were used to deliver food and Chromebooks to different buildings in the district.
Cascone added that after distributing between 7,000 and 9,000 meals a week at all elementary schools, food services will continue to be offered during the summer several days a week with the help of other partners.
These partners include the food pantry at Holy Trinity, headed by Cynthia Cumming who also handles public relations for WOPS, Toni’s Kitchen, the Grassroots Foundation and The Life Christian Church, who have provided large donations of food and other supplies.
Teachers, clubs, and West Orange families, who gave the superintendent the initial idea to start a district food pantry, have also provided continued donations for families in need.
“It’s truly been a testament to the strength of this community coming together that we’ve managed to navigate this challenge successfully and get to the end of the school year,” Cascone said. “And it will be the strength of this community that will enable us to continue forward successfully, regardless of what challenges we may face down the road.”