Teachers, Residents Talk Back to Board of Ed

The South Orange - Maplewood Board of Education met Monday. A throng of educators addressed pointed questions to the board.


More than 60 South Orange-Maplewood teachers and members of the public turned up to Monday night’s Board of Education meeting to ask questions of the board and voice concerns over the state-implemented Focus program and International Baccalaureate program.

Melissa Butler, sixth grade teacher at South Orange Middle School and head SOMEA representative, spoke first on behalf of her association. Butler said she was concerned that the Focus program, designed to improve schools with a low performance and graduation rates from special education students, was being managed too much by the state and not enough by the SOMA teachers and families.

“I attribute a lot of the success in my life to my education,” said Joe Malespina, a lifelong South Orange resident. “And the [International Baccalaureate] is a great concept, but from where I sit, it is expensive… and our teachers haven’t been properly trained… We’re looking at a sky high school budget and [IB] certainly doesn’t do anything to decrease the cost of our children’s education.

“Next to the students themselves,” Malespina added, “the professional members of this district’s staff are more equipped to create a curriculum for our children than anyone else.”

Several teachers addressed the board, posing questions about improper use of special education teachers as substitutes, out-of-date technology and curriculum materials in the foreign language departments.

Ana Reyes, a fifth grade teacher at Tuscan School, asked the board, “Are you aware that we have an infestation of mice in our building, and many around the district? They run around the classrooms during instruction.”

The Board members do not generally reply to members of the public who speak: Monday night was no exception.

Patch will have additional coverage of the Monday meeting throughout the week. 

John Harvey April 23, 2013 at 03:59 PM
Out of curiosity why would board members not respond to, or comment on issues raised by the public. As a resident and taxpayer i would hope for additional context and clarity. as a voter i would want to know the position of individual Board Members. Seems odd. no? thanks - John
CJV April 23, 2013 at 05:00 PM
I was very impressed with the traditional MS curriculum two years ago. Then, we suddenly turned to watered-down IB in our efforts to broaden purported measured attainment. The fact the Super willfully misled us on the full costs involved with the switch IB is a major issue to me, not a minor one.
Julia Burch April 23, 2013 at 05:33 PM
Since IB Middle Years is a program, not a curriculum, the curriculum you appreciate will not change. Moreover, as IB will not be implemented till next fall, I am not sure how you can know that it is "watered down".
Amy Higer April 23, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Mr. Malespina says: "We’re looking at a sky high school budget and [IB] certainly doesn’t do anything to decrease the cost of our children’s education." This comment may be taken out of context (there's very little context in this report on the School Board Meeting), but I don't think the community's primary goal should be "to decrease the cost of our children's education." As a property tax payer, I'm certainly not in favor of higher taxes. Who is? But the primary goal should be to increase the quality of our children's education. IB may or may not do this. I think there are good reasons to think that it will. Given that it hasn't been implemented yet, however, isn't it a bit premature to attack it? Wouldn't it make more sense to unite and try to make it work? My sense is that many teachers are excited about it, most of all for the professional support and mentoring it offers them. Respectful criticism is important, but what is reported here seems to be relentless and unfocused negativity. This isn't helpful, and may unintentionally undermine the community's support for a program which really should be given a chance to succeed.
Voice of the People April 23, 2013 at 06:51 PM
Because they probably don't want to show how uninformed they likely are.
Frank DiGeorge April 23, 2013 at 07:33 PM
1) IB will increase college costs for most students. 2) IB will not improve student performance. 3) IB's pedagogical method is one of constructivism. 4) IB is extremely expensive. 5) Many schools drop IB. Reasons: a) Cost, b) Lack of student improvement with IB, c) Less flexible than AP, d) Lack of participation in IB classes, e) Lack of college credit for IB. 6) Some people object to IB on religious grounds. 7) There is no record of a school ever being turned down for IB. 8) At the elementary level IB is required for all children in the school and the stated goal is to "develop attitudes," and to get students to "take action." Children of parents who object to the IB ideology are sometimes forced into IB. 9) IB is an NGO of UNESCO (UN). 10) With IB schools give up some local control. 11) Some states and political parties are trying to eliminate IB. 12) The IB diploma required TOK class is composed entirely of questions like, "When can it be right to disobey the law? Can suicide bombers be right?" 13) AP is the best fit for gifted students. 14) IB is implemented in a deceitful way over and over throughout the United States. When someone questions IB an open and honest discussion is never allowed.
Irene Langlois April 24, 2013 at 04:13 AM
I've been listening to these debates for years now, and I've yet to hear anyone clearly lay out or define what the hell IB is, what it's supposed to do to improve our kids' education, and how it purports to do it. (The idea that it's expensive is an almost inescapable fact of life in this unassuming little town where you can't blow your nose without paying through it.) Any informed explainers out there?
Irene Langlois April 24, 2013 at 04:17 AM
CJV April 24, 2013 at 08:38 AM
Julia, "watered down" in comparison to no IB. IB has never been shown to increase measured educational attainment in any way. It's a bunch of nonsense that diverts time and resources away from core instruction.
CJV April 24, 2013 at 10:32 AM
We have a state-mandated cap on total spending increases at a percentage level far below the growth rates in costs for teacher compensation and special education. We must decrease costs elsewhere to remain under the cap. Adding IB, notably much more expensive than we were told it would be, is a bad idea. We spend a fortune on administrators and superintendents. We shouldn't have to hire outside consultants whenever there is any actual work to be done.
Julia Burch April 24, 2013 at 02:35 PM
You might start here: http://www.somsd.k12.nj.us/cms/lib7/NJ01001050/Centricity/Domain/8/IB_FAQ_dec_2012.pdf
Marian Cutler April 24, 2013 at 04:14 PM
While critical of the move to bring IB to our middle schools due to economic and ROI reasons, I have remained agnostic to the "can IB or can't IB" debate focusing rather on a fundamental ask of "If IB, then HOW IB". An area still needing attention from the District, it seems. But for those interested, a number of SOMA residents have written about IB related to our situation and offering both sides of the argument. http://maplewood.patch.com/articles/op-ed-kicking-the-tires-on-international-baccalaureate http://maplewood.patch.com/articles/op-ed-kicking-the-tire-redux http://maplewood.patch.com/articles/op-ed-a-response-to-kicking-the-tires http://maplewood.patch.com/articles/deleveling-the-international-baccalaureate-and-implementation Marian
Marina Budhos April 24, 2013 at 08:48 PM
I encourage people to attend the Board presentations where updates on the IB process were offered with many of the details requested. I believe there will be another update in June. Board members are also aware of what scrutiny needs to be paid to the budget and I believe all that information is available (I'm not aware of some dissonance from the original projections, but I make no claim on this). The Curriculum Night this past fall also offered information and firsthand experience by those helping lead the implementation. I also encourage people to speak to the middle school principals, the IB coordinators, the teachers who have gone for training. I have done so, certainly, and have also seen some of the approaches starting to roll out in my middle schooler's classrooms--they are impacting the rubrics and the reflective component that students now engage in for their work. Be aware too that IB was part of the Middle School Transformation whereby we now have many more competitive club opportunities for middle school students--National History Day, for instance, at SOMS, and Model UN at MMS, which for us was spectacular. Everyone must make up their own minds, but this is a good place to start.
Marina Budhos April 24, 2013 at 09:06 PM
Like Julia's posting, this may be of help too: http://www.somsd.k12.nj.us/cms/lib7/NJ01001050/Centricity/Domain/8/IB_BOE_Presentation_12-19-2012_final.pdf
Kailin Martin April 25, 2013 at 12:20 AM
Maybe it's time for board members to start speaking to the people it supposedly represents and drop the arrogance of dictating from on high
Ken Houghton April 25, 2013 at 12:58 PM
If that piece of bollocks is representative of IB, there is no punishment sufficient for the people who caused its adoption.
Joe Malespina April 25, 2013 at 05:39 PM
I need to comment in two parts because there are too many important issues to hit.  So here's part one... For me, the key is to give the community as much information as possible and I don't feel like that's happening.  I do not support the idea that a bottom line should be the deciding factor in how we choose to educate our children -- to the contrary.   What I will say is that adding cost by adopting an expensive program that may or may not do anything to move the needle on shrinking the multiple achievement gaps our district and others like ours face could be a foolish move that could end up costing all of us money but more importantly could hurt our students as the district fumbles to bring the program online. One has to look at the fact that there is little traction for this program in the US and frankly worldwide.
Joe Malespina April 25, 2013 at 05:40 PM
Now for part 2... I could go on for days with statistics, but here's the one that sticks out for me -- applying IB's own numbers, less than 4% of middle schools in the US currently implement IBMYP.  This number drops down to .14% in our home state with only one middle school using IBMYP.  To be clear I'm not attacking the program. If you had the opportunity to hear my whole statement at the board meeting you would have heard that I like a lot of the concepts included in IBMYP, but these concepts aren't and shouldnt be exclusive to complete buy in to becoming an "IB school."  I'd rather see our district blaze its own path by combining common core standards, elements of IB and its knowledge and unique understanding of its own student population and what that population's needs are.  We shouldn't need to spend more money to say that our schools are IB -- we might be smart to focus our thoughts on fostering and growing our OWN model.  
shewithnoname May 08, 2013 at 01:59 PM
How long were you employed by IBO, Marina Budhos? :-)


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