Outgoing West Orange Interim Superintendent James O'Neill Heading to Livingston

Members of the West Orange School District and community turned out on June 24 to honor outgoing Interim Superintendent James O'Neill for his two years of service to the school school district. L-R, O'Neill and Mayor Robert Parisi. Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ - (Editor's Note: This is Part I of a two-part interview with Interim Superintendent James O'Neill).

Departing West Orange Superintendent James O'Neill is heading to Livingston after two years of district changes and improvements. TAPinto West Orange sat down with O'Neill to recap his impact and implemented changes to the West Orange School district since June of 2012.

O'Neill's first week in the West Orange School District began with a bang when the 2011 Essex County Teacher of the Year, West Orange High School English teacher Erica DePalo, was arrested for Endangering the Welfare of a Child on Aug. 31, 2012. In a deal with the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, DePalo lost her teaching license and had to register as a sex offender. 

Sign Up for E-News

On Feb. 7, 2013, Washington Elementary School teacher Christopher Yonitch was arrested and charged with Sexual Assault and Endangering the Welfare of a Minor. After the case was dismissed as a "no-bill" by a Grand Jury, a district investigation determined Yonitch was innocent of all charges. In an almost unheard-of ending, Yonitch will return as a fifth-grade teacher in the West Orange School district in September. 

With 40 years of experience in education, O'Neill has a wealth of knowledge and was not afraid to make changes. Those changes were felt in particular at West Orange High School, where every coaching position in every sport was reposted, requiring coaches to reapply for their jobs. Controversy erupted, in particular, when long-time football coach John Jacob was not rehired. Current coach, Jim Matsakis, took over the program and led the team to a successful 7-3 season. In addition to football, softball, girls basketball, boys basketball, hockey, lacrosse, and bowling saw changes too.

"Coaches have a tremendous impact on the climate and culture of a high school," said O'Neill.

"Head coaches must buy into the goals of the administration and principal; challenge athetes to pursue academics first and athletics, second; and be a responsible representative of the school, demonstrating character, sportsmanship, and teamwork."

O'Neill, who has been passionate about school athletics throughout his career, went on to say that nine high-performing students/athletes are returning to West Orange High School from private schools as the demand for academic rigor and athletic excellence continues to develop. He was a familiar face at many games and meets and even traveled to the Boys Soccer State Championship Game. 

As for the development of the academics of the school district, the implementation of Rotating Block scheduling and revision of curriculum to adhere to common core standards posed logistical challenges district-wide. The elementary schools and Edison Middle School Central Sixth already had modified block scheduling; under O'Neill's leadership West Orange High School just completed their first year with a Rotating Block schedule and a common lunch, allowing for more free time for studying, socializing, clubs, and more. The Livingston School District also employs a Central Sixth and Rotating Block/Common Lunch at Livingston High School.

O'Neill was convinced of the importance of the switch. "We institutued the Rotating Block Schedule in Chatham and Roxbury," he said, "and it was a thousand times better for the students and teachers."

"There is less wasted time; more instruction time; and a reduction in discipline issues. There were only six fights in the high school during the 2013-2014 school year because less idle time was spent in the hallways."

A special district-driven SAT Prep program including the administration of the PSAT to all ninth and tenth graders, along with the provision of an affordable SAT Prep class, resulted in a boost of student SAT scores by an average of 140 points.

Implementing the Rotating Block Schedule at Roosevelt and Liberty Middle Schools created concerns and dissension, particularly with an external Special Needs group that filed complaints against the school district with the Office of Civil Rights regarding district 504 plans and the New Jersey State Education Department regarding schedule changes at LMS and RMS. Both of those complaints were dismissed without merit, and RMS and LMS also completed their first year of block scheduling.

O'Neill has repeatedly noted that, "The past two years have been some of the most rewarding of my career. The students and teaching staff are extraordinary." 

There were several highlights that O'Neill mentioned including the Boys Soccer State Championship and the "Senior Prom," where senior citizens were invited to the high school to interact with the students. "West Orange is the only school district where the school population and demographics are not the same. The interaction between the students and senior citizens is an amazing thing to see and goes a long way towards building community relationships."

O'Neill was feted on June 24 by the school and township community at the Rock Spring Country Club. He will remain as a consultant to assist new Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky through July 31 and assumed  his duties as Interim Superintendent in Livingston on July 1.

A discussion of the switch to PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing and the new teacher evaluation process will appear in Part II of our interview with Mr. O'Neill. 




TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Livingston Lacrosse Senior Jason Scher Named Athlete of the Week

April 20, 2018

LIVINGSTON, NJ — Livingston High School senior Jason Scher has been named as TAPinto Livingston’s Athlete of the Week after scoring 14 goals and contributing 15 assists in his last five games—bringing him to a total of 35 points so far this season.

With Scher leading the pack, the Lancers are 5-2 after winning their last five consecutive games. Scher scored three ...

One Free Class at Cycle Bar Livingston

April 23, 2018

LIVINGSTON, NJ — Get a free ride at Cycle Bar Livingston. Livingston’s premium indoor cycling facility invites the public to sign up for their first ride free.

Click HERE to see the full class schedule.

During this week only, Cycle Bar is also participating in the Livingston Fitness Crawl, offering five days of free classes through Friday.  

Cycle Bar ...

Livingston Fitness Crawl: Five Days of Free Classes at 12 Livingston Businesses

LIVINGSTON, NJ — The public is invited to enjoy one free class at as many of Livingston’s fitness businesses as they would like during this week’s Livingston Fitness Crawl, a Livingston Business Improvement District event, beginning on April 23 and continuing through April 27.

For five days, no purchase is necessary at the following locations:

BARRE3 ...

Full Pet Grooming Service 25% OFF

LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Cloud Canine Grooming Salon & Spa in Little Falls is open for business and owner and pet stylist Melissa DiRoma is offering 25% off a FULL GROOMING SERVICE for all new customers. Call (973) 837-8884 or visit to schedule your appointment. Mention promo code TAP DOG for discount. 

About Cloud ...

Free Wellness Event at The Joint Chiropractic

WEST CALDWELL, NJ — The public is invited to a "Wellness Event to Remember" at The Joint Chiropractic in West Caldwell on Thursday, April 19 from 7 p.m. to  9 p.m.

Guests will include:

Michael Piercy, owner of The Lab
Justyna Debski, owner of Revive Mind Body
Karen Caplan, owner of Nutrition Transitions

Join the ...

Luxury Facial Services 50% OFF

MILLBURN, NJ - DeAmour Salon & Spa is proud to announce its newest team member, Renee Rudikh, formerly of the famous Georgette Klinger Spa at the Short Hills Mall.

Rudikh has extensive experience and specializes in a plethora of facial styles including: deep pore cleansing/European, microdermabrasion with collagen, teenage, men's, back, LED and customized European ...

YMCA $0 Enrollment in April

LIVINGSTON, NJ - For the month of April, the West Essex YMCA is offer $0 enrollment. 

Take advantage of all that your local Y has to offer for the whole family!

Personal Training
Group Classes
Low monthly membership
And much much more!...

Check out all that the Y has to offer HERE

About the West Essex YMCA:
The West Essex YMCA has ...

Upcoming Events

Mon, April 23, 1:30 PM

Livingston Public Library, Livingston

Monday at the Movies: LOVING VINCENT

Arts & Entertainment


Wed, April 25, 10:00 AM

Estelle Finkel Center for Learning, Livingston

Upcoming 2018 Spring SAT and ACT Courses


Wed, April 25, 7:00 PM

Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, South Orange

Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity


Essex County Executive Announces Improvements to County Parks System

April 22, 2018

ORANGE, NJ - Using the tennis courts in Essex County Irvington Park as the backdrop, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced last week that the tennis courts in Irvington Park and Weequahic Park, and the basketball courts in Ivy Hill Park and Monte Irvin Orange Park will receive facelifts with new asphalt playing surfaces, equipment and fencing. The project is part of ...

Abilities Expo 2018 Offers Resources for People With Special Needs

April 22, 2018

LIVINGSTON, NJ — Livingston’s Abilities Expo 2018 will be held on Sunday, April 29, from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Livingston High School. This family-friendly event showcases a variety of resources, products, services and technologies for people with special needs – all under one roof. The Expo is co-sponsored by Livingston Public Schools and the Livingston Advisory ...

Letter to the Editor: Don't Complain. Vote!

April 12, 2018

Don’t Complain; Vote!

It’s no secret that people have strong feelings about what’s happening in our country. It’s also true that much of politics is local. In November, 11th District residents will have the opportunity to choose a new congressional representative who will not only serve as a critical check on the federal level, but also determine how our distract fares ...

Cluelessly Clueless

I teenaged my way through high school under the assumption that my parents had no idea what I was doing.  I like to think I was pretty good at withholding information and presenting situations in ways that were other than they really were.


Still, sometimes they found things out.  Like the time my friends plopped me on our front door step at one o'clock in the morning ...