WEST ORANGE, NJ — Although a health education program for West Orange Schools was discussed during a preliminary budget hearing last month, it took the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) until last week’s presentation and adoption of the 2019-2020 school budget to explain exactly what the program would look like.
During public comment, West Orange resident Robin Isserles wondered about the rationale behind implementing a K-5 health education program and also inquired whether anything would be “diminished or eliminated to make this expansion happen.”
Acting Superintendent Eveny de Mendez explained that there are related arts classes that are offered to students at the elementary school level, including art, library media, physical education and music. Of those classes, physical education (P.E.) is the only class that is a state requirement, de Mendez said.
“We’re required by law to provide 150 minutes of health and physical education [because] it’s a state mandate,” said de Mendez. “Districts are all struggling with this mandate.”
The superintendent added that in grades K-3, 60 minutes of P.E. is offered, while in grades 4-5, 90 minutes of P.E. is offered. However, health is not offered in either case, de Mendez said.
As a solution, de Mendez explained that this year’s budget proposes to integrate health education at the elementary school level by making music class—which currently meets twice a week for 30 minutes—into a class that meets once a week. In other words, when the K-3 level music class is reduced to one music class per week, the extra 30 minutes will now contribute to a 90-minute P.E./Health class. Additionally, the fourth-and fifth-grade music levels will have one class for 45 minutes, with the extra 15 minutes being contributed to a 105-minute P.E./Health class.
De Mendez hopes that with the new and creative scheduling, P.E./Health will be integrated to meet state requirements and the needs of elementary students.
“It is difficult,” said de Mendez. “We do not wish to reduce any of our programs.”
However, de Mendez also reassured parents that there will not be any cuts made to current staff at any of the schools within the district.
In thanking the board for its continued support of the music program at all levels of the district, Matthew Mongelli, co-president of the West Orange High School (WOHS) Music Boosters Association, also reminded the board that children need to have the “appropriate building blocks” in the music program starting at the elementary level. This way, he said, students will have continued success throughout their educational career and after high school graduation.
Several parents—including Victor Ector, Sarah Kravits, Krysta Senek and Marpessa Bell—echoed the importance of students having a strong musical foundation at an early age because many of them want to pursue music or music education as a profession.
“Music has heavily influenced my life,” said Senek, reading from a statement prepared by her son. “It’s influenced my friend groups, my interests, and most importantly my future. I want to go into music education. Teachers such as Mr. Romano, Mr. Krewer, Mr. Kelly, Mrs. Lagatic, Mr. Zimmer, and so many more have influenced me in a positive way. They have taught me not only to appreciate music, but how to be a better person.”
Senek concluded her comment by encouraging the board to “keep going forward and keep influencing these programs in a positive way,” because if the foundation is eliminated the strength of West Orange’s music program will diminish.
“It’s only a matter of time before the high school level’s reputation of excellence is diminished,” said Kelly Elementary music teacher Deborah Rees, speaking on behalf of the music department.
Rees spoke with concern about the loss of contact time between teachers and students and its impact on the future of the music program at WOHS.
“Regarding the music program, for those of you who have served with me, you know I was always a strong supporter of the music and drama departments,” said resident and former board member Laura Lab. “For many kids, that was the hook; that’s how you got them in.
“A lot of kids are not sports people, they’re not academics, but they come to school everyday because they get to play on that trumpet, or sing in that song, or be in that play. So, as you look to cut those programs remember that those kids are affected by that.”
Shane Danaher, a Roosevelt Middle School drama student, implored the board to continue funding all programs under performing arts. This includes musical theatre, which he said benefits of all students—including those who just sit and watch performances.
Nicole Adelson, a WOHS senior and band member who plans to continue performing in college, added that the band is like a family to her and that making changes to these programs could impact future students’ sense of belonging and their mental health.
In other news, parents also attended last week’s WOBOE meeting to advocate for the track and field program as well as its coach, Flecia Blake.
According to West Orange parent Takiyah Smith, Blake is inclusive and supportive of students of all skill levels, including those with autism. However, parents said they believe Blake is underpaid compared to other coaches within and outside the district.
“From my perspective, Coach Blake, who is the head coach of the cross country team and she’s the assistant coach of the indoor/outdoor track teams, but as a head coach of the cross country team, she’s paid less or equal to the assistant coaches,” said West Orange parent Deborah Aromin.
Aromin also talked about the lack of budget funds for the track program, specifically for boys and girls uniforms. When she and other parents asked how much money it would cost to purchase extra uniforms for students, she said none of the board members gave a satisfactory answer.
“Is the standard practice not to reveal the budget to the coaches so that they don’t know how much money they have to work with stuff?” Aromin asked.
The board collectively did not want to jump to any conclusions regarding Coach Blake’s coaching stipend and the lack of uniforms. However, WOBOE vice president Sandra Mordecai said that she wants to make sure that “coaching stipends are equitable between the male and female coaches.”
Mordecai also said she was mortified to hear that parents had fundraised money to purchase 90 uniforms, when other sports teams are provided with uniforms.
Business Administrator John Calavano concluded that the district would look into the lack of uniforms for the boys and girls track teams, but that coaching stipends are actually part of negotiated agreements.
To read more about the recent board meeting, where the budget was presented and adopted, click on the headlines below:
The next board meeting will take place at WOHS on May 20 at 8 p.m.