What's Next at SOMS? District Hopes to ‘Move Beyond’ Tenure Controversy
After heated debate, letters and protests, superintendent says: ‘We have heard your feedback, and take it very seriously.’
It’s been a quite a year since Joseph Uglialoro was introduced to South Orange Middle School as the new principal. He stepped in at a critical juncture as the district adopted plans to de-level academic classes and begin an international baccalaureate program. This week, he celebrated his first anniversary since being hired amid the nasty business of tenure and student protests.
The debate over why two popular social studies teachers were denied tenure shifted this week from the lawn of the South Orange school -- where about 100 students demonstrated to save their teachers’ jobs -- to the school’s Home and School Association (HSA). The principal and district superintendent met to “help move SOMS beyond the recent controversy,” according to a statement released by Superintendent Brian Osborne on Thursday.
The teachers -- Steven Cohen and Kathleen McCort -- have the right to appeal. The process involves what is known as a “Donaldson Hearing." Established by the New Jersey Supreme Court, they had 10 days from the receipt of a statement of reasons for non-renewal to request the hearing, which must then be scheduled within 30 days.
The district’s spokeswoman said on Thursday she could not comment on whether either teacher has requested a Donaldson Hearing. (Click here to read the full statement by the superintendent. The Renewal Process for Non-Tenured Teachers is attached to this story as a PDF.).
Uglialoro was chosen from a field of nearly 70 candidates. He is "purposefully dedicated to middle school years where kids take off or turn off," the superintendent said a year ago.
With the decision not to renew the contracts of popular teachers, he's since turned students on to lessons on civil liberities and civil disobedience.
The students who walked out will be serving detention time over the four-day weekend, but they said their protest was worth the punishment. Their efforts continue on online social media sites, where students have posted video of their protest on YouTube, MR. COHEN & MS. MCCORT 2012, with a hand-written introduction, “This is our time.”
The superintendent said he stands firmly behind his choice. “I want to assure the SOMS community that Joe Uglialoro has my full and unequivocal support as Principal of South Orange Middle School,” the superintendent said in his statement.
“I recognize that some community members are upset with the recent personnel decisions. We have heard your feedback, and take it very seriously,” Osborne’s statement says. “We may not always agree on specific decisions, but I know we are all committed to setting our students up for success, and giving them the challenges and the support they need to achieve their fullest potential. We all agree that effective teaching is essential in this journey.”
The middle school restructuring will begin in stages. The international baccalaureate program will be phased in over several years and the district has recently been advertising to hire IB Instructional Coaches. These are new positions, added during the March budget season, according to the school spokeswoman Suzanne Turner. “They do not replace the social studies teacher positions, or any other staff positions.”
"This has been an incredibly eventful year at SOMS," Uglialoro told the executive committee of the HSA according to notes of the meeting provided by the district. (Notes are attached to this article as a PDF).
"It has been marked by both first and second order changes – each intended to move this school from good to exceptional, and in doing so ensure that every one of our students is prepared for success in high school and beyond," the principal said. "In one way or another, those changes have put stress on our school community, and all of the stakeholders who participate in it.