West Orange Board of Education Meeting A Mix Of Information And Emotion

The Board begins the meeting at 8:00 pm. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Interim Superintendent James O'Neill discusses the reapplication process for all coaches and assistant coaches. Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ -  The Monday night Board of Education meeting was a mix of information from the board and superintendent regarding the reapplication process for all coaching positions in the district, and a groundswell of support from current and former WOHS football players concerned that John Jacob, the varsity football coach, was about to lose his job.

Board President Michelle Casalino opened the meeting by noting the young people in attendance. She also announced an initial BOE Budget Workshop, open to the public, on Saturday, Feb. 9, at 9 a.m., at the Central Office, 179 Eagle Roack Avenue. No public comment is allowed during the workshop.

The board approved the hiring of a new girls' softball coach, Joel Troast. He has coached several Little League and girls' softball teams in the Pequannock area.

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The spring assistant coaching positions were also approved. They are:

Jason Tiseo, Stephen Olshalsky and Nicholas Alfano for baseball; David Alfano, Bridget Amirr-Haine, Flecia Blake, Pierpaolo Mancarello and Althea Charles for track; and Dave Perez and Mike Velez for lacrosse.

James O'Neill, interim superintendent, said parents will be able to make appointments for  kindergarten registration on Feb. 4, for registration beginniing on April 8. He also reported that a pipe burst at West Orange High School last week, forcing an evacuation. He also advised the public that there would be a diversity meeting, open to the public, at 7 p.m. on Feb. 19 in the Library Media Center at WOHS. Information would be posted on the school website.

He then spoke to the audience regarding the reapplication process for coaching positions. He said he was happy to hear from everyone, but was concerned with "inaccuracies" in information out in the community.  Since the process had not been done in the West Orange School district before, O'Neill determined it would be a fair and equitable process to require all  coaches reapply.

Fall head coaching positions were posted in many venues (the district's website, NJSIAA,, etc), as well as assistant coaching positions. He noted that no other sport rallied in opposition of the process except for football. He said there was no conspiracy in the process, and emphasized that his primary interest was the best interest of the students and district.

The decision to recommend head coaches will be determined by O'Neill, WOHS Principal Hayden Moore, and WOHS Athletic Director Ron Bligh. As board member Laura Lab then clarified, the board receives the recommendation, and votes either "yes" or "no" but does not select the coach. 

When public comment began, many of the football players, current and former, spoke highly of Jacob and the assistant coaches. Several parents and supporters also shared, often emotionally, their love for the football community at West Orange and for all the coaching team does. Some questioned O'Neill's intent in making coaches reapply at all. Others questioned the validity of the reapplication process.  

After public comment, Casalino reminded the audience that coaching positions are not tenured positions, even if a coach has been around a long time. In West Orange, she said, the situation has never been handled this way before. Positions were not advertised unless there was a vacancy. Just as the Central Office was reorganized, the athletic program is now being audited.  She, along with Sandra Mordecai, thanked the students and former students for sharing, saying "We hear you" but warning of misconceptions, misperceptions and rumors.

Casalino reminded everyone that several board members had sons in football, and while they sympathized with the frustrations, told everyone that the process needed to be worked through. The board could not share personnel information. She said she was disappointed to hear threats made against board members who are up for re-election.

O'Neill said the application deadline is Feb. 4, and he hopes to work with Moore and Bligh on the recommendations for head coaches. He said the recommended and approved head coaches would select their assistants, and had helped to expedite that process by posting those positions as well. He anticipates presenting the recommendations at the Feb. 25 board meeting.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 4, at the Library Media Center at WOHS.  

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