West Orange Board of Education Approves New Seventh- and Eighth-Grade Schedules

Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ - The West Orange Board of Education approved  the proposed middle school schedule for seventh and eighth grades after presentations from district supervisors, and information provided by Interim Superintendent O'Neill and Assistant Superintendent Donna Rando. Questions were raised by board members, and questions and allegations made during public comment by parents, especially parents of students in the HAP (High Aptitude Placement) Program.

The board approved the schedule, 4-0.  Board member Laura Lab was not in attendance due to a family emergency.

The June 26 meeting was scheduled after the June 17 Board meeting resulted in the tabling of both proposed changes to the HAP program and changes to the Middle School schedule. The seventh and eighth grade currently have nine periods of 46 minutes and would move to seven periods of 55 minutes. Edison Middle School has utilized the block schedule for the past year; the elementary schools also have a block Schedule; and West Orange High School is beginning its rotating block Schedule in September.  These changes were implemented due to research by the district supervisors and state requirements under the Common Core State Standards, the new state requirements from the New Jersey State Department of Education for educating students, and the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness and College Careers), the assessment tool to ascertain compliance.  By the 2014-2015 school year, these state requirements will be de rigeur for the West Orange School District. 

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The 7-8 Middle Schools are the last of the West Orange school district schools to implement block scheduling. K-8 Language Arts Supervisor Jim Aquavia, 6-12 Math Supervisor Frank Ianucci, K-12 Science Supervisor Alex Rosenwald, and K-12 Social Studies Supervisor Marc Lawrence all presented information about the need to change the schedule and adopt a new curriculum that would integrate the new requirements and provide students with the necessary tools to succeed.  World Language Supervisor Ana Marti and Director of Support Services Connie Salimbeno also presented to the public regarding the integration of ESL and Special Needs students into the new schedule and curriculum.

The public was informed that the HAP component of the last board meeting was tabled, and that HAP would remain in its current form for 2013-2014, until it could be revisited at a later date. Students in grades 3-5 would receive HAP once a week for approximately 2.5 hours; and sixth and seventh grade students would receive HAP in lieu of Integrated Language Arts, though HAP teachers would be required to adjust HAP classes to reflect CCSS requirements.

In sixth grade, there would be a more rigorous and 'accelerated' math curriculum for all students.  Once students got to seventh and eighth grades, their performance in sixth would determine if they would move into honors math (as well as Honors Integrated Language Arts). According to Frank Iannucci, research showed that students were better off not taking Geometry prior to ninth grade,  and the district was moving towards a curriculum that would set students up for the completion of Algebra I in eighth.  

Despite the tabling of the HAP program, several parents with children in HAP were in attendance to grill the BOE regarding changes in the seventh grade HAP program.  They also  questioned the sixth grade math program and expressed concern that their children would be 'bored' in the class. Interim Superintendent O'Neill responded that the small percentage of HAP students "could not drive the curriculum for the other 96-97% of students at Liberty and Roosevelt."  

Other parents demanded that they be able to approve and review the 7-8 curriculum prior to a board vote.  The co-presidents of a special needs group grilled the board and Director of Support Services on the requirement to redo student IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) for special needs students and accused the board of "not listening to the needs of 504 students." 

Jay Wecht, an English teacher at Roosevelt, and Christine Mooney, a reading teacher at Liberty, recommended that the district wait to implement the schedule and curriculum changes.  Other teachers present expressed support of the change, along with Bob Klemt, principal at Liberty Middle School.

After three hours of presentations and questioning, the board approved the new schedule at 11:10 pm.

In other news, Interim Superintendent James O'Neill's contract for the 2013-2014 school year was approved at a cost of $177,500.

The presentation will be made available on the website.  The meeting will be televised on 36/45.  Check your local listings.


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