As a Matter of Fact!

SOMSD Departmental Updates - January 2020, VOL. 1, ISSUE 5

Superintendent's Corner

I was honored to participate in two fantastic celebrations of learning and equity with our students during the week of January 13. Maplewood Middle School principal Dara Gronau invited me to join her more than 800 students in the 20th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Silent Peace March on Friday, January 17. It was astounding to witness first-hand how seriously our adolescents took the meaning of the march. They were completely silent as we walked through Maplewood Village. They held signs with positive messages that supported civil rights. Members of the community paused to observe our students as they commemorated the momentous work of our civil rights icons ... culminating with a beautiful rendition of “We Shall Overcome” led by the Maplewood Middle School Choir. Students then returned to their classrooms to watch Dr. King's historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

I also have to give a giant thank you (!!!) to our elementary-school librarians, 5th-grade language arts teachers and students, Ann Bodnar, Director of Curriculum & Instruction, Karen Weiland, Parenting Center and the Achieve Foundation! What a tremendous success our first #onebookonegrade project was! All of our 5th-grade students read the book Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by civil rights pioneer, Lynda Blackmon Lowery. The book shares the story of the pivotal 1965 Voting Rights March in Selma, Alabama from the perspective of a child who is believed to be its youngest participant. Students and teachers across our district engaged in meaningful discussions in their classrooms as they navigated the author's vivid depictions of her experience and illustrator P. J. Loughran’s beautiful illustrations. We then held a culminating activity where all of our 5th-graders from across the district, more than 500 in total, came together on Thursday, January 16 for a group discussion with the author, Mrs. Lynda Blackmon Lowery herself, who was visiting us from Selma. Mrs. Lowery and 5th-grade students from each elementary school held a question-and-answer session that was both informative and deeply moving. We know that these types of authentic experiences teach our students valuable lessons of empathy, tolerance, and inclusivity that will empower them to be the future leaders that our global society needs.

Yours in education,

Dr. Ronald G. Taylor

SOMSD 2020-2021 School Year Calendar

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

SOMSD One Grade One Book 5th Grade Assembly w/ Civil Rights Pioneer, Lynda Blakmon Lowery

District 5th graders at the Thursday, January 16 assembly@ SOMS which featured Lynda Blackmon Lowery. 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. Students were able to hear Mrs. Lowery's first-hand account of marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. After her brief talk, ten-students led a peer Q&A session for a deeper dive into the book and her life post-voting rights march.

Big picture

Curriculum and Instruction

Teaching Language Skills in SOMSD?

All teachers want their students to be able to read and write well. A mystery lurks, however, behind teaching these subjects. There are smudged edges between our usage of the very terms “phonics,” “mechanics,” “grammar,” and “conventions” that reflect the tenuous place of language study in the curriculum. We recognize the ability to decode and encode is a complicated process requiring students to read, compose, revise and also to improve these skills over time. According to the literacy development continuum for writing, a widely used model for understanding language mastery, students are expected to use a variety of structures and patterns in their writing. Kindergarteners learn the importance of letters and sounds in both the reading and writing of language. By fourth grade, when the standards become an essential component in the assessment of student performance, students have built on this foundation to become fluent readers and writers. Without these abilities, students face added difficulties in advancing in upper grades at a sufficient pace and with sufficient quality.

An additional challenge in teaching students reading and writing is that many come from households where academic language is not the everyday mode of communication. Literacy scholar James Gee states, “It is just that only a narrow range of culturally specific home-based skills are rewarded in school” (Social Linguistics and Literacies, 24). Very often, the only time students engage with and use academic English, or even hear it, is when they are in school. This mismatch between children’s language patterns and academic ones can hurt learning (Jeff Zwiers, Building Academic Language, 2014). Students struggle if new rules of grammar and writing are implied rather than stated outright, making them perhaps invisible to the learner. Educational psychologists Derek Edwards and Neil Mercer (Common Knowledge, 1993) write that teachers often take for granted common knowledge and procedures among learners.

As SOMSD educators, we engage students in conversations about ideas, experiences, and language rather than working through worksheets, so that our learners master the underlying logic of academic language. For example, we ask our learners to write written words using known parts of words (such as “port” in words related to carrying), We want them to recognize that spelling is the ability to write unknown words using one’s knowledge of letters, word parts, and sound. More broadly, we support students in understanding how to use punctuation, sentences, phrases or clauses to craft powerful and effective prose. Above all, we want our learners to become competent, confident readers and writers through the power of language.

Dr. Jane Bean Folkes, ELA Supervisor

The ABCs of Kindergarten Welcome Event

Saturday, Feb. 1st, 10-11am

274 Boyden Avenue

Maplewood, NJ

We know that preschool parents/guardians have lots of questions about what to expect in Kindergarten. We invite you to join us for our annual, The ABCs of Kindergarten Welcome Event on Saturday, February 1st from 10 am -11 am at Seth Boyden Elementary School. This event will provide a brief overview of the Kindergarten program by a panel of representatives from each of our schools, followed by a Q&A session. You will have an opportunity to engage and meet with school principals, assistant principals, and PTA representatives.

We look forward to seeing you and helping to set the stage for a smooth transition to SOMSD for our next class of kindergarteners! Onsite childcare will be provided by South Mountain YMCA.

Special Services

Introduction to Frontline IEP

Frontline, is the new management system that SOMSD is implementing for IEPs (Individual Education Programs). We anticipate completing the conversion process by the end of the school year.

The primary goal of the Frontline implementation is to help facilitate and increase parent/guardian participation in the IEP process. Highlights of the system include:

  1. Introduction of the Accommodations and Modifications section as an important aspect of the IEP that must be specific to the needs of the students and should not include an unattainable number that becomes challenging in determining implementation and effectiveness.
  2. The new system offers a bank of Goals that parents will be able to track. The Department of Special Services will make this accessible to parents as soon as we determine the best approach to accomplish this task.
  3. More efficient access to students’ IEPs and progress reports through PowerSchool, the District’s student management system. It is important to note, however, that we will continue to rely on EasyIEP to generate progress reports until the conversion has been completed. As shared in the December newsletter, the District schedules IEP meetings on the anniversary date of the student’s initial IEP.

As we focus on rolling out the new system, we want to thank the parents/guardians who were able to attend the January 7 information session about Frontline. We value parent involvement as a vehicle for improving services and outcomes for our students, and we recognize the challenges parents and school personnel may experience as our Department works with them to support our students’ growth and development. To this end, we believe that the new IEP management system will create a more effective and efficient parent engagement process.

Extended School Year 2020 (ESY 2020)

ESY 2020 will take place on June 29, 2020, through August 10, 2020. Families whose children’s IEPs include the four-hour day program will receive an invitation to participate in the program during the second week of February. We will ask families to confirm their children’s participation no later than March 30, 2020.

Dr. Laura Morana, Interim Assistant Superintendent Special Services

Download Equity In Integration Symposium Presentations

Speaker presentations from the January 8, Equity in Integration Symposium event are now available for download.

Maplewood Middle School Students Honor the Life & Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

More than 800 MMS students and staff held their 20th annual MLK Silent Peace March in remembrance of the work of Dr. King. Students walked in silence through Maplewood Village and ended the walk with a rendition of "We Shall Overcome" led by the MMS concert choir. Students carried signs that they fashioned themselves with messages of peace and equality. This year, students were joined by newly-elected Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee and Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Ronald G. Taylor.

Human Resources

2020 – 2021 Teacher Recruitment

Serving more than 7,300 students in ten schools in the towns of South Orange and Maplewood, SOMSD is now enthusiastically preparing for spring new teacher recruitment activities for the 2020-21 school year.

For the past 21 years, the District has been participating in teacher recruiting events at the Teacher’s College of Columbia University, Kean University, Montclair State University, Seton Hall University, St. Peter’s University, Rutgers University, William Paterson University, Drew University, Morgan State University, Rowan University, and the National Minority Careers in Education Expo in NYC. The District additionally hosts its own Minority Recruitment Fair at Columbia High School (usually held in March). Recruitment efforts are aimed not only at hiring the most highly qualified staff but also at developing an instructional team that reflects the diversity that we so proudly celebrate in our community.

SOMSD continues to approach Integration, Inclusion, Access, and Equity deliberately, and teacher recruitment is no exception. At the January 8 Equity in Integration Symposium, SOMSD Superintendent Ronald Taylor emphasized our district commitment to “educating our children in schools that accurately reflect their communities will best prepare them for success as adults.” Penn State University professor of education integration policy expert Erica Frankenberg addressed the research benefits of integrated schools “for students of all races.” While Elise Boddie, Esq., Professor of Law and Director of the Inclusion Project, at Rutgers Law School, shared we have to “reimagine integration.” She clarified, “The school district will have to pay attention to the difference between desegregation, a legal term, and “equitable integration… that is, we have to focus on equity and fairness and opportunity, not just on some legal obligation we have to adhere to (and this includes faculty/teaching staff practices).”

We invite you to check our list of open positions via the District website as well as via the recruiting sites and sources listed below for updates. Please feel free to share our available opportunities with skilled candidates who have the passion and ability to lead our students into the future.

SOMSD Recruiting external recruiting sites:

  • the Star-Ledger Newspaper;
  • Teachers College recruiting website;
  • Columbia University recruiting website;
  •; and

Dr. Gayle Carrick, Interim Assistant Superintendent of Administration

This Month in Review: District Activities

We would like to thank the SOMSD community-at-large for your attendance and participation at the Office of the Superintendent's, Equity in Integration Symposium, held on January 8 @ CHS. We appreciate your feedback from the event and questions that were submitted both onsite and online.

For those who were unable to attend, a video of the Symposium is now available for viewing. Please see the link below or visit the SOMSD III webpage on the District site.

We'd Love to Hear From You!

SOMSD III Feedback Form. As we move forward with the initial planning for SOMSD's III work for our elementary schools, we want to hear from you. If you have a question, comment, concern, suggestion, or compliment, please submit it via our form.

Technology Update

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.

Keith Bonds, Director of Technology

District Upcoming Events

The School District of South Orange and Maplewood

A district that celebrates diversity!