WEST ORANGE, NJ - Discussion over West Orange High School’s lower than average graduation rate and the recognition of West Orange High School Justin Davis, who acted kindly during a crisis, was the focus of Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky spent a large portion of his bi-weekly report talking about what went into WOHS’s reported graduation rates and why scores were low. He said that part of the reasoning for the graduation rates being lower is because of the school’s credit system.

“We had a very large number of students that moved into the high school at the latter part of their school career,” he said. “Kids that moved in (late) were behind on credits because West Orange has a higher requirement of credits than many districts around us. Kids might have missed things that give credits and may not graduate because they didn’t qualify to do so, and that reflects on our graduation rate.”

Sign Up for E-News

In addition, Rutzky also cited the fact that West Orange’s special education program, which allows students to continue learning from the age of 18-21, rather than the regular four-year graduation period, as a reason for the low graduation rates.

He said, “Many other schools don’t have that (program). I would never recommend we change it. The students need that training and skills.”

Rutzky also lamented the fact that the state doesn’t pay closer attention to West Orange’s unique programming.

“It’s unfortunate the state doesn’t recognize that,” he said. “They don’t, and it negatively impacts us. It’s not fair that we’re helping kids be ready for the real world, but with the graduation rate, we get hurt by it.” 

Though Rutzky said he isn’t accepting the fact that all students who come from out of town into the West Orange school system will struggle, he acknowledges it’s difficult.

“We’re doing everything possible to help those children, but when you come in behind on credits, it’s very hard to catch up,” he said.

In addition to the graduation rates presented, Board of Education Vice President Mark Robertson said he would like to have more information on how many of the graduates from WOHS get accepted in two-year and four-year colleges.

Next, the superintendent proposed that that Edison School’s Parent/Teacher conference schedule be moved from November to February.

“Doing so (changing the Parent/Teacher conference schedule) will give a real solid foundation within the four months of education that takes place, and then they (teachers) can talk to the parent,” he said.

Rutzky also emphasized that parents will still be able to talk to teachers whenever they want, but said the actual conferences being moved will allow for more continuity and less disruption from the various breaks throughout the November month.

In addition, the HIB reports presented by Rutzky from the months of September to December of the school year showed “only” 19 incidents in all schools. Robertson said he was pleased with these results.

“When you consider that we have nearly 7,000 students, 19 is a very small number,” Robertson said.

It was also announced that an elaborate presentation on the Middle School Honors program will be held on Feb. 24 at Liberty Middle School, and on Feb. 25 at Roosevelt school. The presentation will give details on rubrics, grading scales, appeals, and other elements of the program.  

In other news, the BOE recognized WOHS student, Davis, whose selfless deed on Feb. 18 quelled the worries of concerned mother, Denise Gustavson, during last week’s power outage that lead to two schools being closed and multiple bus delays.

Denise Gustavson, whose son, David, has Tourette’s Syndrome, was afraid for her son when she discovered his phone was off during the Feb. 18 outage. She then posted on the West Orange 411 group on Facebook for information on her son, who was on one of the buses stuck in traffic. 

At this point, Davis saw the post and asked the mother for David’s name and bus number. Justin then got off his bus and checked on David, putting the mother at ease.

“It was really a God send to be called by him,” Denise Gustavson said. “Not only are there teachers and staff who look out for David, but there’s students like Justin.”

Davis said that it was his natural instinct to want to help.

“I know if my mother was in that situation, she’d want someone to help her, so I wanted to do that,” he said.

At the meeting, Rutzky heaped praise on Davis for his deed.

“You exemplify the students in West Orange, and I thank you for that very kind effort you provided to David,” he said, “You’re an absolute gentleman for helping.”

The recognition of Davis is part of a new dedication program from the board.

“There’s always enough time to recognize things like Justin helping,” Rutzky said. “The board and I talked, and we asked why are we not recognizing more students who do this?”

Additionally, Redwood Elementary School's orchestra performed before the meeting. 

The next BOE meeting is scheduled for March 14 at 8 p.m. Residents are encouraged to attend.