Schedule Changes, Water Testing Results, and District Policy Discussed at the West Orange Board of Education Meeting

West Orange Board of Education - 6-13-16 Credits: Tim Carter
Edison Middle School Principal Xavier Fitzgerald Credits: Tim Carter
Kelly Elementary School Singers Credits: Tim Carter

WEST ORANGE, NJ – Changes to the schedule at Edison Middle School, the results of the recent water testing in school buildings, and parent questions about policy regarding parent visits, dominated the discussions at the West Orange Board of Education meeting on Monday, June 13.

Edison Middle School Principal Xavier Fitzgerald announced upcoming schedule changes for the school. Fitzgerald explained, “For so many years, Edison has been that central six model that started out with maybe five or six in the state, and now we’re down to maybe two. And our schedule never looked like everybody else’s schedule. He added, “Going into my twelfth year at Edison, I think this is going to be the fourth schedule that we have tried to manipulate, not that block scheduling was not successful.”

Among the scheduling changes Fitzgerald noted:

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  • Aligning of Edison’s schedule with those at Liberty and Roosevelt Middle School, featuring 55-minute class periods (rather than the current 76- minute periods)
  • Ensuring science and social studies instruction happen daily, rather than every other day
  • Introducing STEM classes: environmental STEM (focusing on the environmental part of the curriculum) and integrative STEM (including technology and robotics)
  • Expanding computer classes, with instruction of computer applications and coding, moving away from just keyboarding

Public questions about the presentation included concerns about the reduction in daily class time, especially for special education students in resource room for language arts and math. For those students, it was noted, their daily special education instruction time would be reduced. 

Fitzgerald responded, “It’s the quality of instruction, not necessarily the quantity of time we have in place that will matter more to those students in special education. In speaking to the teachers, they understand the task in front of them, and I think they can meet it.” 

Rutzky added “We’ve been working a lot this year with scope and sequence to reflect the schedule change and to make sure the language arts and some of the math pieces are integrated into the science, as well as the social studies for the language arts. That will happen in all areas, not just special education.”

The results of the recent district-wide water testing were announced. Rutzky, along with Robert Csigi, director of buildings and grounds, reported that all water fountains and faucets met EPA guidelines with a few exceptions. Of the 304 units tested, 282 passed EPA guidelines, and 22 did not. The numbers of units in each building needing corrective action included:

  • Edison - 1
  • Kelly – 4
  • Mt. Pleasant – 3
  • Roosevelt – 4
  • St. Cloud – 4
  • Washington – 1
  • West Orange High School - 5

For each unit not passing the lead inspection, the equipment was immediately bagged and taken out of service. As appropriate, units will be replaced and/or filters installed, for retesting to ensure the district is completely lead-free before school starts this fall.

During the non-agenda public comments portion of the meeting, several parents of special needs students voiced concerns to the board about recently being denied the opportunity to observe their children in their classrooms. Each noted the current board policy allows such visits, and that they’ve previously been permitted to observe when the district raised questions or made new recommendations regarding placement.  Each noted varying, changing reasons given by the district as to why visits were denied this year. Concerns were also raised about students with 504 plans and staff training that had been promised.

Excerpts from the district’s parent visitation policy from the board’s website were read by a parent and by Board of Education President Laura Lab:  .

Rutzky noted that there are many parents who’ve observed a “proposed educational placement.” He added, “It’s a major distraction instructionally when the parent is in the same classroom” as the child. In addition, Rutzky said parent observation is currently happening. "It may not be happening to certain individuals that want it to happen,” he added,

Lab further responded, “Clearly, there is a disconnect between what is the practice, what is the policy, and what is the language of the law. I can promise you, this policy will be revised.” Regarding 504 plans and training, Rutzky reported that training is already in place.

Also during public commentary on non-agenda items, parents in attendance expressed concerns that the high school track and field team will not be able to attend the 2016 New Balance National event this year, because of what was stated as a lack of preparation by the coaching staff and low funding by the booster club. Rutzky replied that he had a meeting with the coaches and said, “We’re gonna make sure we don’t have that issue again.”

Approval for the hiring of the new Hazel Elementary School principal, William Kochis, was given by the board. This Thursday evening, Hazel parents will have an opportunity to meet and speak with him. Further details will be announced by the district soon.

Finally, the principal of the Kelly Elementary School, Dr. Joanne Pollara, and music teacher, Deb Rees, were on hand with several students from the school. After singing the national anthem, the children performed a new alma mater song written by Rees, celebrating and honoring the Kelly School. Pollara also shared a touching montage of photos taken at the Kelly Renaming Ceremony.

The next meeting of the West Orange Board of Education takes place on Monday, June 27, at the West Orange High School library/media center. Public session begins at 8:00 p.m.

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