The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education has voted to hire a consultant to review and make recommendations to the middle school schedule.
After a somewhat contention debate at its Nov. 24 meeting, the board voted in a 5-4 split to hire consultant Nicole Sherrin Kessler at a rate of $150/hour (not to exceed 50 hours) to do a middle school scheduling analysis and make recommendations for the 2015-16 school year. The analysis and recommendations are to be completed by the end of January 2015.
Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad, Andrea Wren-Hardin, Sandra Karriem, Board President Beth Daugherty, and Bill Gaudelli voted in favor of the motion. Jeff Bennett, Madhu Pai, Wayne Eastman, and Johanna Wright voted against the motion.
In introducing the discussion, Daugherty explained that Sherrin Kessler is the principal at a junior high in Madison, NJ, and “an expert in scheduling.” Daugherty said that the hire was being made in order to get “an objective outside view at our middle school schedules … to look to continuing to offer the breadth of services that we offer but also to improve the schedule because right now there is frustration over the schedule.”
Board member Johanna Wright strenuously objected: “The people that can fix the schedule are right here… It wouldn’t cost us a dime.”
“Here we go again going out to somebody to tell us what to do when we know what to do when we already have the people in place and had we used them from the beginning we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this,” said Wright. “We should not be spending money on someone from another school coming to tell us what we need to do with our schedule.”
Board member Jeff Bennett agreed with Wright. He argued that the problems of at least the sixth grade schedule could be ameliorated by removing the Rotating Core, and cited a teacher survey that showed that maintaining the Rotating Core was last among four priorities for teachers. “The board didn’t see that survey until after the schedule was approved,” said Bennett. He added that he didn’t see what the consultant would be able to add: “This consultant doesn’t have magic powers to extend time.”
Wright pointed to district Chief Information Officer Paul Roth, guidance counselors and special education teachers as possible leaders for creating a middle school schedule for the new school year.
Acting Superintendent Jim Memoli disagreed. “It’s one thing to recognize the issues we’re having and another thing to technically be able to do that within the parameters that we are setting. … Not everyone has that expertise. We need to do it very quickly because if we don’t do it this January we are going to be where we were this August, running around not having a schedule. We don’t have the infrastructure. We need help.”
Daugherty said she was also wary “timing wise” of looking for a volunteer — albeit with a stipend. “The idea of a volunteer basis, that worries me because we need it done by the end of January.”
Lawson-Muhammad supported the measure. “All consultants aren’t evil bad people,” she said. “They are coming in to work with the team to find the answer. If we are told that there isn’t a person with the bandwidth to find the answer … if we get the commitment that they will involve all the key people … but bring some perspective .. I think that’s why you want to bring someone in…. If you’re telling us that you are bringing someone in with that expertise and there will be a committee of people — both [middle] schools, teachers, faculty, guidance — then I’m okay with it.”