Honors Program Acceptance and Clarity are Hot Topics at BOE Meeting

Credits: Chris Harewood

WEST ORANGE, NJ - Parents expressed their concern with the selection process for the Honor’s Program at Monday’s West Orange Township Board of Education meeting. Several parents spoke about their frustration with the information being presented to them via letter that offered limited information on why their child was or wasn’t accepted for next year’s Honor Program. Parents said there have been previous discussions among parents showing that they are like-minded in many of the concerns they have. 

However, while parents made it clear that they didn’t want their child in an Honor’s Program if they don’t belong in one, one particular parent didn’t understand “how could a kid breeze through Edison with straight A’s and not qualify for honors?” 

The letters parents received offered limited information on how their children did on entrance exams for Honors. Parents claimed that rather than an elaborate analysis on how their child did with their school grades, entrance exam, and teacher recommendation, the three elements needed to qualify for Honor’s—all they saw was a box that was checked indicating whether their child passed or failed. Because of this, the primary source of the parents’ concerns was a lack of clarity and detail. 

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The parents weren’t alone in their concerns—Board of Education members also empathized.

“We know when we roll these programs out there are things we need to tweak,” said BOE Vice President Michelle Casalino, acknowledging that it’s “not unusual for there to be communication blips.”

BOE President Ron Charles said he was also bothered by the lack of information, having received the same vague letter for his child.

Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky suggested that parents get in touch with their school principal, and if further assistance is needed to work with the supervisor of the subject they are concerned about.

“The most important thing is that you just have to talk to the principal within the building about getting back to parents about specific things,” he said. He also reminded parents that “just because your child doesn’t qualify for honors, it doesn’t mean your child isn’t a good student. It might just mean they had a bad day.” 

Rutzky said that parents are able to appeal, and further elaborated that the beauty of the honor’s system in place is that even if a child doesn’t qualify for the program this year, they can apply again next year, as the programs rotate yearly with students in and out on the merit of their grades for the prior school year.

“Kids progress at different stages,” said Rutzky. “We wanted to have the opportunity for a child to develop and mature and become more knowledgeable.”

Parents wondered about the class size of the honor classes. Rutzky said they are unsure of sizes right now because principals are still accepting appeal letters, and that the process needs to be completed before the size of the classes can be determined. He also said that the vagueness of the letters will be corrected on the next go around in terms of how to appeal.

There were also some questions about how a child should proceed if he/she qualified for both HAP (High-Aptitude Program) and Honor’s English.

“The thought process behind it is they wanted to include students and not exclude them,” Rutzky said. “Many of parents who qualified for both were notified by principals to pick which they would prefer to have. Many chose honors.”


Speaking briefly on PARCC, Rutzky said they are still waiting on the state to make some final decisions on PARCC for next year. The test has been condensed to one testing period, a fact Rutzky said they are “thrilled about,” and that the state listened to a lot of feedback given to them.

Transportation Director

Parents also wanted to know about the next Transportation Director. Rutzky assured them that somebody was in the process of being hired and should be available to be introduced in the upcoming board meetings, and that he would bring a “fine set of skills to district.”

Update on State Monitoring of Special Education Program

An update was given on the results of the state monitoring of the Special Education Program.

“I am pleased to announce tonight—a year later, that based on the hard work of many in the district, we have received notification that we are in compliance with all the items that we were indicated to be out of compliance with. This was based on corrective action plan done throughout school year.”


Board members were congratulatory of all the students commencing toward the next phase of their lives. Rutzky, who had the pleasure of attending many of the graduation ceremonies, had nothing but good things to say.

“They were all really well done, and most importantly, focused on the students where it belonged,” he said. 

Bond Refunding

Business Administrator and Board Secretary John Calavano spoke about the bond refunding. Details on what this entails, as well as information on the policies passed on second reading can be found on page 1 and page 37-42 of the agenda, respectively.

Save the Date

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for July 13, at 8:00 p.m.  Residents are encouraged to attend. 

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