Future Language Arts Plans and the Honoring of Michelle Casalino are Focus of Lengthy BOE Meeting

Mountaineer cheerleaders honored.   Credits: provided by Lisa Bartolo Scalora
Credits: Chris Harewood
Credits: Chris Harewood
Board of Education (Irving Schwarzbaum absent from picture). Credits: Chris Harewood

WEST ORANGE, NJ - A former Board of Education Member was honored and plans for the future of the district’s Language Arts program were presented at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.

In the final meeting for the year, Town Council member Michelle Casalino was presented with a plaque to commemorate her ten years of service as a Board of Education member. Family, friends, and colleagues were in attendance to show support for the event. 

“I just want to thank Michelle,” Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky said after giving her the plaque. “Obviously, I would not be here if not for her and the other four members here.”

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The stage was then given to Casalino, who was gracious in her speech.

“I can’t believe it’s been ten years,” she said, speaking of her service as Board of Education member. “I’ve been honored and blessed to serve our children in this community.”

Casalino thanked those who were there to help and support her in her early years.

“When I came to the board, I was a little bit of a maverick at that time,” she said. 

Casalino, who was a part of the board when big issues, such as: re-registration for students and block scheduling were topics that were being addressed, showed appreciation for her colleagues.

“You were very supportive of me when I moved over to Township Council,” she said to board members Ron Charles, Mark Robertson, Laura Lab, and Sandra Mordecai. “You know that wasn’t an easy decision for me to make. My passion has been with this school district.”

She also acknowledged all the administrators and teachers she’s worked with.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of talented educators,” she said.

She also praised the extracurricular activities in the school district and the students who partake and thrive in them. Casalino said involvement in these activities is paramount for student development.

“If you’re going home at 2:16, there’s an issue there,” she said. 

She commended the teamwork she experienced with Rutzky, Business Administrator John Calavano, and her board peers.

“We’re all very passionate in getting our issues out,” she said. “It’s working together and making sure to respect each other and never let personal issues get in the way. For years, I’ve been blessed to work with my colleagues and tackle some tough issues and do it for all the students and community members.”

Her former colleagues all had kind words for their former colleague.

Laura Lab, who was the person to encourage Casalino to pursue becoming a board member ten years ago, spoke of their close friendship.

“You have a lot of different stuff to deal with in the Town Council, and I wish you the best of luck,” she said. ”I’ll miss you.”

“It was a pleasure working with you,” added Mordecai. “We always tried to make sure to find a balance and a middle ground. No matter what you do, it’s always about passion. You made that apparently your life’s journey. You made community service your passion, and it shows in everything you do.”

Mark Robertson, who replaced Casalino as Board Vice President, said he’ll miss his former colleague.

“You’ve been very supportive of me,” he said. “You’ve taught me a lot. You were open to new ideas, and the passion everyone is talking about comes from one place—love. You really love the kids.”

“I thank you for lending your years of experience to the town,” Charles said. “The district has benefited from your dedication and love for the community.”

Casalino closed by thanking her family, who “have been supportive of all her endeavors.” 

Next, Elizabeth Veneziano, supervisor of English and Language Arts 6-12, gave a presentation on district plans for the curriculum.

Veneziano, who started in Sept., said it’d been a “great three months” and a “busy three months.” In that time, she has done an evaluation of the current program and mapped out a plan for the next two years. She also met with teachers and administrators to talk about the current program’s history and tradition. And, she reviewed data, curriculum, went through formal walkthroughs, and more. She said she was able to come up with strengths for the 6-8 and 9-12 levels, as well as things both can improve upon.

In addition, Veneziano praised the current workshop model for grades 6-8. One of the things she said she liked was how they spent the first 10-15 minutes teaching the students a skill, with the rest of the class used to work on the skill individually or as group before assessment. 

Areas of growth she pinpointed included using independent reading efficiently by making sure books aren’t too hard or too easy for students. She said she wanted to make sure the genres were covered, student reading levels were understood, that reading and writing were balanced, and that common terms were shared between teachers of K-12 to ensure the students are comprehending.

“If one teachers calls it the hook, another calls it the grab, and another calls it the lead, we don’t want to confuse the students,” she said. 

Veneziano said she seeks to build and enhance the foundation with her plans that include developing a 6-8 sequence that features the “must do’s of teaching and learning.”

“We have the curriculum, but we want to create a more teacher-friendly map,” she said. 

On the high school level, Veneziano said she liked that teachers do a nice job of aligning the curriculum with PARCC. She pointed out that this was the first year where two ELA teachers are teaching to make transitions smooth for students selected in 8th grade. She also said she liked the Mountaineer writing center program that takes place during lunch.

Areas of growth for the high school level according to Veneziano include focusing on the expectations for advance placement honors and college prep so the district knows students are being placed in the proper classes. She said she also wants to reevaluate the current sequencing of core curriculum. 

Rutzky spoke briefly about the second Strategic Planning Meeting that took place on December 3. He said they took the information from the first meeting and started to group it into categories that included “strengths in our differences,” “breaking barriers for creative,” “21st century journey,” “nursing the joy of learning” and more. The next meeting is scheduled for on Jan. 26, and if all the information needed is collected at that time, the district will amass the information and create action plans for the schools.

In other news, the Mountaineer Cheerleaders were honored for their success at the Super Essex Conference. The cheerleaders were in attendance to receive certificates for their accomplishments. 

The next BOE meeting is scheduled for next Jan. when school resumes.

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