Superintendent Rutzky Talks Honors Criteria and Departmentalization Plans for West Orange Schools

Credits: Chris Harewood
Credits: Chris Harewood

WEST ORANGE, NJ - Monday's Board of Education meeting focused on the criteria for West Orange middle school students getting into honors classes.

Superintendent Jefrey Rutzky gave an elaborate presentation and provided matching packets that detailed how students can qualify for honors courses in mathematics, language arts, science and social studies

Rutzky noted that criteria for the honors program will be different for the sixth grade because “we don’t have a unified grading policy in the elementary.” Rutzky said they would be looking into implementing one next year.

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Due to there not being a universal grading policy in the fifth grade leading up to the sixth, the honors criteria will only take into account a placement test that accounts for 45 percent, a writing sample that accounts for 35 percent, and a teacher recommendation that accounts for 20 percent. Students will need at least 64 points combined from the writing sample and placement to qualify for the teacher recommendation that comes with a Teacher Rating Scale. If they do not get 64 points, they will not qualify. After the TRS is taken into account, the student must have at least 80 points to qualify for the honors program for the particular subject they are applying for.

Because the middle school has a unified grading system, the honors criteria for seventh and eighth graders is to be altered to include an average subject grade for the first, second, and third marking periods of the current year. This will be 15 percent of the criteria, with a placement test being 40 percent, a writing sample being 30 percent, and teacher recommendation being 15 percent. A student must achieve at least 55 points from the placement test and writing sample to qualify for the TRS, and must have a total of 80 points to get into the program.

Rutzky said that grade six applicants will be assessed by grade seven teachers.

“They know exactly what the students need to comtend with,” he said. 

The board acknowledged the effort put into the grading guidelines. 

“This is a meticulously constructed rubric,” said Board member Mark Robertson.

Rutzky then spoke on plans for departmentalization for grades three to five, in the elementary school. These plans will involve teachers teaching particular subjects they are stronger in, rather than having all teachers teach all subjects.

“We identify who we feel are the strongest language arts and math teachers,” Rutzky said in an example. “We will make specialists out of teachers so that’s all they have to focus on.” 

Rutzky believes this will allow teachers to focus more on the individual needs of kids.  He also believes that teachers will be more passionate toward subjects they are more knowledgeable about.

“When you condense it from four subjects to two subjects, you go to a different place when it comes to attention to detail,” he said. 

He said that the students will not have quality of education reduced in anyway. All the lessons will still be taught, but in a system of rotation. In an example used, he said that if one teacher specializes in science and math when another specializes in language arts and social studies, they will teach those particular subjects and then switch the class to the other teacher to teach the other subjects.    

Rutzky emphasized that this is nothing new.

“This has been around for thirty years or more around the world,” he said.

He believes that it will help teachers become better at their job, and that most love it because they can hone in on particular subjects. 

The board was mostly supportive of the idea.

“I’m excited,” Robertson said. “This has been going on for a long time. This is a progressive step.”

The board acknowledged that the “devil was in the details” when it came to constructing a departmentalization plan, and that a lot needs to be done to ensure it is successfully implemented. 

In other news, there has been a proposal about the Roosevelt and Liberty cross country squads coming together to compete as one team. Rutzky said that, rather than each school wearing different uniforms and colors, “we'd be wearing the same uniform as West Orange.”

The next Board of Education meeting is being held on March 18, at 8:00 p.m., in the WOHS Library.   

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