As a matter of Fact!

SOMSD Departmental Updates - November 2019, VOL. 1, ISSUE 3

Superintendent's Corner

Dear SOMSD Families,

The district administrators and I hope you find this monthly newsletter very informative! Each department leader has contributed an update on what's happening within their scope. We are striving for clear, useful and transparent communications with you in all spheres, and we genuinely welcome your feedback.

I’d like to share the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA) data presentation from our October 21 Board of Education meeting (please click here to view). While standardized exam results are only one benchmark that we use to evaluate our student achievement progress, they are an important tool to inform our classroom instruction. In compliance with New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) mandates, the purpose of the presentation was to share with the public and Board our district’s spring 2019 NJLSA data, including grade year-to-year comparisons, multi-year comparisons for single class years, and subgroup comparisons.

Yours in education,

Dr. Ronald G. Taylor

CHS Virtuosi Ensemble Performs at the 2019 NJSBA Convention

Big picture

The Columbia High School Virtuosi Ensemble was very honored to perform at the New Jersey School Boards Association State (NJSBA) Convention on Wednesday, October 23, 2019 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The Virtuosi Ensemble submitted a video performance to the NJSBA and received an acceptance to perform at the convention in June 2019. The ensemble was one of six student groups invited state-wide to perform at the convention, and were the only string ensemble invited.

The ensemble played the first movement of the Felix Mendelssohn Octet in E-flat Major, Op.20. The students considered it an honor to be chosen and had a great time exhibiting their talents at the convention. The ensemble was also pleased to be supported by various administrators and board members of the district who were present at the performance and have been supportive of the program throughout the years.

FRONT ROW: Hank Mecinski, Gabriel Roth, Daisy Andrejco, Hazel Allison Way, Zubin Kremer Guha, Jasper Thomas Yount, Imogen Pranger, Tess von Brachel, Julien Gagnier, Frida Rahmani

BACK ROW: Dr. Ronald G. Taylor (Superintendent), Dr. Kalisha Morgan (Interim Principal, Columbia High School), James A. Manno (Supervisor, Fine and Performing Arts), Todd Van Bevern (String Orchestra Teacher), Paul Roth (School Business Administrator), Annemarie Maini (School Board President)

Students from South Mountain Elementary School Bring NBC, Today Co-Anchor, Hoda Kotb's Book to Life

Curriculum and Instruction Update

Updates on K-5 Social Studies Curriculum Revision

The Social Studies curriculum in grades K-5 is currently undergoing revisions that will be piloted in some classrooms across the South Orange/Maplewood School district this year. Full implementation across the district is planned for the 2020-21 school year.

Some notable changes to the curriculum include units of study in kindergarten through 2nd grade that are aligned with the Teaching Tolerance Anti-bias Framework. The 3rd through 5th grade curriculum revisions focus on the parts of United States history that intersect with the history of Africa, the Caribbean, and the First Peoples of the Americas.

The American Revolution unit was moved to 4th grade from 5th grade as it better aligns with the Teachers College Unit of Study in 4th grade English Language Arts. For the Social Studies curriculum, students in the 5th grade will now learn about US History 1, which will better prepare and lead them into the 6th grade, U.S. History 2 curriculum. The district is also introducing grade-level alignment with the Amistad Curriculum and Teaching Hard History: American Slavery.

We are very excited about all the updates to our K-5 Social Studies curriculum and are sure that it will be a good foundation for our students to learn about the many stories in our history.

Ms. Ann Bodnar, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Special Services Update

What is I&RS / PIRT?

The South Orange & Maplewood School district’s effort to foster a positive home-school connection is demonstrated through the implementation of the Intervention and Referral Services process, known as I&RS or PIRT (Preschool Intervention and Referral).

The importance of a strong partnership between schools and families to educate children is a critical component of a child’s education, particularly in today’s complex and demanding global society. Neither educators nor parents are afforded the time to get to know one another and to establish a mutually supportive relationship on behalf of children. To this end, each school has established one or more I&RS or PIRT Teams.

I&RS or PIRT is a school based problem-solving team for general education students intended as a primary way in which general education teachers or specialists can assist a student who is at-risk within the general education environment. Read more.

Dr. Laura Morana, Interim Assistant Superintendent Special Services

Human Resources Update

SOMSD Utilizes Danielson Framework to Evaluate Teachers

Consistent with New Jersey Department of Education’s requirements for the hiring and employment of staff members, the South Orange & Maplewood Board of Education operates in compliance with the state Department of Education’s New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) by fulfilling the six required indicators:

  1. Evaluation of staff (includes summative evaluation scores using an approved evaluation instrument);
  2. Professional learning of staff (includes professional development plan);
  3. Provisional certification of staff (includes mentoring and standard certification attainment);
  4. Staffing practices (includes criminal history clearance, physical exams, personnel file maintenance);
  5. Position control roster (includes base salary, position type, status, stipends, tracking #) and;
  6. Supervision and feedback (Includes employee evaluation and goal setting).

The South Orange & Maplewood School District (SOMSD) uses the state and SOMSD board-approved Danielson Framework for Teaching in the annual evaluation of staff. The Framework for Teaching is a common language for instructional practice that is grounded in a philosophical approach to and understanding of great teaching and the nature of learning. The Framework was developed not only to define great teaching and elevate the profession but also to outline a comprehensive approach to teacher professional learning across the career continuum – from pre-service teacher preparation through teacher leadership (The Danielson Group).

Read more.

Dr. Gayle Carrick, Interim Assistant Superintendent of Administration

Technology Update

SOMSD Goes Mobile, NJLSA Scores Added to Portal and PowerSchool Sign-Up for Parents

Our school district will begin using SchoolMessenger to deliver text messages to staff and parent mobile devices. In addition to robocalls and email notifications, text messages will now be used to send information about events, school closings, safety alerts and more.

In order to begin receiving text message notifications from the district, all staff and parents must opt-in to messaging services. Over the next few weeks (and throughout the remainder of the school year) the district will begin sending opt-in text messages to the phone numbers that we have on file for all parties.

  • Recipients can opt-in by responding “Y” (or “Yes”), via to the opt-in message
  • Recipients can opt-out by responding “STOP” or by visiting

In order to communicate with you through SchoolMessenger, it is important that we have the most up-to-date contact information available for all parties. Therefore, for parents, if you have not yet completed the annual online parent portal forms, we are requesting you do so as soon as possible.

Additionally, all staff members are asked to communicate any telephone number changes to the Human Resources department using the “Change staff contact information” form found on the Human Resources website.

PowerSchool Parent Portal

The district continues to collect vital forms from SOMSD families in the Annual Welcome Packet on the PowerSchool parent portal. These forms provide the district with family contact information, student health information, and a range of important permissions and agreements. In addition, the portal allows parents/guardians to view student grades and attendance.

For a step-by-step guide on how to set up your PowerSchool parent portal account and access online forms, please visit the Parent Portal Help page.

All families are encouraged to sign up and complete these crucial online forms if they have not yet done so.

NJSLA Score Reports Added to the Parent Portal

In addition to NJSLA score reports being mailed home, scores are now available through the SOMSD parent portal. Emails and robocalls were broadcast during the week of November 4th, providing instructions on how to access the scores.

If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact the parent portal help desk:

Mr. Keith Bonds, Director of Technology

Facilities Update

Long Range Facility Plan (LRFP) Project

Schematic design reviews were conducted with all elementary school principals. Next steps include staff surveys to determine classroom interiors such as whiteboards furniture, cabinetry, etc. Additionally engineers will begin surveying school sites to determine if geothermal heating / cooling is a viable option.

Varsity Baseball Field Renovations

Work began to repair the district’s varsity baseball field on October 25. Repairs are expected to occur over a three-year period with the first phase of the project focusing on removing the lip between the infield and the outfield, which will help water to drain off of the field effectively. Additional work entails leveling and grading the outfield, which currently contains a number of depressions so that the outfield can be seeded and aerated.

Future plans include adding grass to the infield, replacing back stops, repairing bleachers and placing gravel in the visitor seating area.

Mr. Paul Roth, School Business Administrator/Board Secretary

The School District of South Orange and Maplewood

A district that celebrates diversity!