As a matter of Fact!

SOMSD Departmental Updates - December 2019, VOL. 1, ISSUE 4

SOMSD 2020-2021 School Year Calendar

The 2020 - 2021 school year calendar is now available. Please visit our District website to view or download.

Superintendent's Corner

Dear SOMSD Family,

I hope this correspondence finds you well. As we quickly approach Winter Break, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to wish you and your families a happy and restful holiday season. During this joyous time, please take a moment to reflect on those in need, while also realizing that undoubtedly every school building in our District (more than likely) has at least one child and family that is in danger of 'doing without' because of financial stress and fiscal limitations.

For many of our students who are in these aforementioned circumstances, the instruction they receive while in our charge will ultimately empower them to change the trajectory of the lives of those in their families. I remind you of this sobering (and I hope motivating) fact, to acknowledge the efforts of Karen Weiland of the Parenting Center, the countless volunteers and all those who contributed more than $30,000 to provide gifts for more than 500 students in our community. This is an annual herculean effort that deserves high recognition. Thank you for all you do for our children and the community every day.

Yours in education,

Dr. Ronald G. Taylor

2019 SOMSD Parenting Center Toy Drive

Now in its 22nd year, the South Orange Maplewood School District Parenting Center Holiday Toy Drive provides holiday gifts for children of families in need in our school district. This year's toy drive benefited over 500 children in 180 families in our two communities. Thank you to all who contributed by volunteering their time, providing gifts and monetary support.

Curriculum and Instruction Update

One Book One Grade Initiative for District 5th Graders

The Parenting Center and C&I department received a grant from the Achieve Foundation to fund our new initiative called, "One Book One Grade." In January, 5th graders will be immersed in experiencing the memoir of Linda Blackmon Lowery, author of "Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom." In this journey of “One Book, One Grade,” our students will explore the civil rights era through the experience of a 14-year-old who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to change American history.

Elementary-school librarians have been working to develop a study guide that pre-teaches the concepts and events of the Selma March. Working with fifth-grade language arts teachers, they will unpack the rich language and imagery derived from the book; ideas and thoughts generated from this experience will be explored in classroom discussions throughout January.

As a supplement, parents/guardians will receive periodic updates and students will also be sent home with flyers that provide a summary of topics, discussion questions, and activities that they will experience in their classrooms so they are able to extend the discussion from the classroom to home.

To culminate the book's activities, all 5th graders will participate in an assembly featuring Lynda Blackmon Lowery. The event will take place on Thursday, January 16, 2020, at South Orange Middle School. Students will hear her first-hand account of marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to secure the right to vote for African Americans.

Book Synopsis: As the youngest marcher in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, Lynda Blackmon Lowery proved that young adults could be heroes. Jailed eleven times before her fifteenth birthday, Lowery fought alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. for the rights of African-Americans. In this memoir, she shows today's young readers what it means to fight nonviolently (even when the police are using violence, as in the Bloody Sunday protest) and how it felt to be part of changing American history. (Penguin Random House)

Ms. Ann Bodnar, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

SOMSD Equity in Integration Sympsosium

Wednesday, Jan. 8th 2020 at 7-9pm

Columbia High School, Auditorium

The Office of the Superintendent invites you as we re-engage the community, including parents, students, administrators, teachers, staff, and concerned citizens regarding the SOMSD Intentional Integration Initiative (SIII). Join us for an evening of engaging dialogue as we hear from our District Superintendent as well as leading scholars in the areas of equity, access, and integration in the K-12 landscape.

The Symposium will look at desegregation efforts across the country, variables that lead to more successful outcomes, and present previously discussed models as well as new options that may best fit the SOMSD community integration initiative. Q&A and community dialogue will follow. Learn more.

Special Services Update

The Annual Review of a Student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program)

The end of the calendar year is upon us, and plans for the 2020-2021 school year are well underway. Our District schedules IEP review meetings on the anniversary date of the student’s initial IEP. The annual review process is a critical driver in the design of programs for the following school year.

The annual review offers:

  • a district-wide approach to program planning to meet the individual needs of our students;
  • an opportunity for our families and school staff to discuss individual student progress, determine eligibility for extended school year (“ESY”) services, and to appropriately plan for the next school year;
  • a glimpse into the newly adopted IEP system that provides a more teacher- and parent-friendly format;
  • an overview of the services that apply to the current school year and what applies to the next school year, with a specific focus on key transition years (PreK-K, 2-3rd, 5th - 6th, and 8th-9th grades);
  • planning for high school and beyond at age 14, or in 8th grade, whichever comes first;
  • planning transition services that promote movement from school to post-school activities, which may include college, adult vocational training, employment, continuing adult education and adult services, independent living and/or community services[ttl1]; and,
  • for preschool students, a re-evaluation by June 30 of the year they are scheduled to enter kindergarten. If it is determined that the student continues to need services; the student will be classified using one of the thirteen categories (in accordance with NJ Administrative Code).

Mark Your Calendar:

  • January 7, 2020 – Introduction to Frontline IEP - New IEP Management System; 7 pm – 8 pm, Columbia High School Auditorium
  • June 29, 2020 – August 10, 2020 – Four-Hour Extended School Year Program

Dr. Laura Morana, Interim Assistant Superintendent Special Services

Multiple Grammy-winning Jazz bassist Christian McBride Masterclass at Columbia High School

Jazz students from Columbia High School and Maplewood and South Orange Middle Schools gathered at Columbia High School's auditorium on Wed., November 20, for a free jazz masterclass event with Christian McBride, hosted by New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) made possible by support from TD Bank. Six-time Grammy-winning jazz bassist McBride interacted with student ensembles addressing a range of topics tailored to help students improve musicianship, ensemble blending, rhythm section support and comping. At one point Mr. McBride, who plays numerous instruments, jumped on the drum set and modeled what he called "feathering" with the kick drum to help support a walking bass line. The session concluded with a 15 minute Q&A period, where McBride offered advice that included: students listen to great solos and copy playing those solos, learn what scale notes to play over different chords as they begin to develop their jazz language and play fluid linear phrases that tell a story rather than a few unconnected notes. With a career now blazing into its third decade, the Philadelphia native has become one of the most requested, most recorded, and most respected figures in the music world today. He currently hosts "The Lowdown" on SiriusXM and NPR's "Jazz Night in America."

Human Resources Update

Preschool Education Update

In October 2018, the South Orange–Maplewood School District received a grant from the State of New Jersey to offer preschool education services at no cost to all interested Maplewood and South Orange residents. Prior to that, the District offered an integrated regular and special education preschool program for a number of years. The program shifted from Jefferson Elementary to South Mountain Elementary to Marshall Elementary before finding a permanent home at the Montrose Early Childhood Center (MECC).

At the start of the 2018-2019 school year and with the appointment of a new principal, Ms. Bonita Samuels, the program was ready to move forward. The grant posed the opportunity to expand the program, and with appointed Interim Assistant Superintendent of Special Services, Dr. Laura Morana, the District was now in a position to further advance the preschool program to address the needs of the early childhood population throughout the District. Read more.

Dr. Gayle Carrick, Interim Assistant Superintendent of Administration

The Month in Review: Our Students & Staff Activities

Facilities Update

Long-Range Facilities Plan (LRFP) Project Updates

Design work continues. Architects and engineers have been surveying elementary school buildings to determine exterior and interior designs, faculty bathrooms (additional bathrooms will be added to all schools to meet faculty needs and privacy rooms for nursing mothers will also be included in all schools), and the feasibility of geothermal heating and cooling. The comments gathered at multiple meetings with administrators and comments were used to inform the architects’ work. A variety of building materials and color palettes were presented as options. Building materials included traditional ones as well as sustainable products for consideration. Color palettes contained school colors. Renovations will reconfigure entrances or relocate the main office so that visitors can access the office directly without having travel through any other part of the school. Asbestos environmental testing is underway to determine areas that need to be abated prior to construction work. Construction schedules will depend on the results of environmental studies.

Mr. Paul Roth, School Business Administrator/Board Secretary

CHS Observatory

A little-known fact is that Columbia High School has an observatory located at the top of the clock tower. The roof of the observatory was designed to open and turn to provide the ability to view the night sky using telescopes. Over the years the roof mechanism stopped functioning. The roof shutters and the track have recently been repaired. The shutters now open and the roof rotates again, allowing students to once more view the night sky.

The Month in Review: Our Students Activities

Technology Update

SMS / Text Message Opt-In Request to Begin on 12/19

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. Beginning on Thursday, December 19th (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. Read more.

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. All families are asked to complete these crucial online forms as soon as possible.

Remember, the PowerSchool parent portal can also be used to view student grades and attendance. If you need assistance with your account or with navigating the portal, go to the district home page and select Quick Links > Parents > PowerSchool Parent Portal Help or email the parent portal help desk at Read more.

  • NOTE: The District is aware of concerns that PowerSchool is not configured to reflect the diverse family dynamics found in our community. We are actively working to make system-wide changes and plan to have them completed in the coming months. We ask that families continue to utilize the current fields to update their contact information while we work to complete the PowerSchool updates.

Phone System Upgrades

  • The South Orange Maplewood School District is upgrading its phone system! The current phone system antiquated and our district has outgrown its capabilities. The IT department is currently in the planning stages to implement a Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone system. This new system will allow the district to provide services to staff and the community that are not possible with our existing phone system. Over the coming months, we will provide updates about the overall phone system implementation and how it will impact staff, students, and the overall community.

Keith Bonds, Director of Technology

Upcoming Events

The School District of South Orange and Maplewood

A district that celebrates diversity!