WEST ORANGE, NJ - The first-ever Central Sixth Edison Middle School Open House for fourth and fifth grade parents and students was held on Nov. 12 at the school located at 75 William Street, and it was standing room only.

Edison Middle School houses all sixth graders in West Orange, averaging 500-600 students that have graduated from the district's seven elementary schools. Edison became a Central Sixth school in  2005 after the school board voted for the change and Liberty Middle School was built to accommodate the burgeoning school population. Edison was designated for all sixth graders, who then head to either Roosevelt or Liberty Middle School depending on where they live.

TAP into West Orange sat down with Principal Xavier Fitzgerald to get some insight for holding the Open House.

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"Every year we hold a fifth grade parent orientation in the Spring, but we've never held a Fall open house," Fitzgerald began. "Parents on the Elementary level have a great deal of confidence in a learning environment that they have invested 5 to 6 years in and all of a sudden here comes this one year transitional school year and some parents are nervous about how their children will go from one small familiar learning environment to a larger, less familiar learning environment. "

He continued, The purpose of the Inaugural Open House was to give the Fourth and Fifth grade parents who have never been to Edison the opportunity earlier in the year to come out and hear about our school environment, learn about our rigorous curriculum, meet our committed staff members, and see all the classroom, academic and technological resources that we have to reach the needs of all children."

TAP into West Orange then asked Fitzgerald what he felt were the primary concerns of the parents and students.

He said that parents were concerned about the large size of the school and whether their children would make friends or be in class with former elementary school classmates. 

"At Edison the computer randomly selects students for their team; of course with certain students specific educational programs must be followed, but for the most part we take seven elementary fifth grade populations and mix them up," said Fitzgerald.

"The philosophy is simple: we live in a diverse, ever changing global society, our students are encouraged to become a part of that diversity and change and take part in our global approach in how we learn and socialize with each other."

Fitzgerald then went on to address the development of curriculum over the past ten years.

After spending the first six years piloting team, curriculum, schedule, course, and philosophy changes, the past four years have seen the adoption and integration of Common Core Standards in Math (Connected Math 3 program).  English (Balanced Literacy w/ Readers & Writers Workshop Model), Science (Next Generation Standards in Science), and Social Studies (TCI) a more interactive approach to learning history. In addition EMS has implemented the Second Step Character education program,and developed their own Guidance Curriculum to help meet the needs of all students from the academic to the social/ emotional and brain development levels.

Regarding NJ Ask test scores, Fitzgerald noted, "In three years our test scores in math have gone from 78.3% proficient to 88.9% proficient; in Language Arts we have made incremental progress, and with implementation of the Common Core Standards the instructional practices that are utilized in the classroom today has vastly changed from the ones used five years ago which will yield success for our students in the future."

Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky was in attendance at the Open House along with Assistant Superintendent Donna Rando and several of the EMS teachers. Rutzky alluded to 'rumors' and concerns about EMS. He said after spending time with the staff at EMS, he said, "Principal Fitzgerald and his staff work so hard to take care of our kids and prepare them for seventh grade. This is how it is, day in and day out."

"We want you to be here and your kids to be successful and thrive," he continued.

Parents responded positively to the Open House, which included a tour by students.

"It was great bring invited in to the school to be able to see what it looks like, visit classrooms, and it was great that key persons like the Principal and Guidance Counselors were available," said Michelle Cadeau.

Eileen Delahunty, who has already had a child at EMS, said, "Superintendent Rutzky was impressive - he was not afraid to bring up the 800 pound elephant in the room. There are always rumors about the quality of the middle schools in West Orange, and Rutzky is ready to address parents' concerns. We have a daughter in the high school who attended St. Cloud, Edison and Roosevelt. We are very happy with the quality of her education and all the opportunities available to her. Our twins are entering Edison in 2016 and we wouldn't send them anywhere else!"

"The current Edison students were great tour guides," said Caroline Cole. "My son was impressed with seeing the math classrooms and making connections to what he is currently learning in fifth grade. He is eager to be in the school next year. It was a very informative and welcoming evening."

The main concern of the evening was the length of the presentation, which some parents felt could have been shorter. However, a parent that brought her child with her to the Open House said, "She loved it! I think that she will do well there."

"If you inform the parents of the expectations, the environment,and the curriculum, they can use that knowledge to empower their decision making as they ascertain what is best for their child educationally," said Fitzgerald.

"After touring the building, seeing our students perform, lead tours and answer questions; after they listen to the presentation in the auditorium about our school programming, curriculum and standards, meet the staff and see how passionate, dedicated and competent we are, I hope it gives them a level of comfort to at least ask more questions if they are uncertain or to at the very least contact building administration and guidance staff with more in-depth concerns or issues about their child transitioning to a new school environment," he stressed. 

"Our ultimate goal is to meet the needs of every child and parent that transitions to the Thomas A. Edison Central Six Middle School," Fitzgerald concluded.

Visit the district website at www.woboe.org for more information.