This article was first published on August 15. Since then, the South Orange-Maplewood district has made several appointments, including four new administrators approved at the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education meeting on August 22. Village Green is re-posting the story here for those who missed it during the summer vacation season.
With 11 administrators either retiring or resigning at the end of the 2015-16 school year, many in the South Orange-Maplewood School District community are asking, “What’s going on?”
In effort to answer that question, Village Green has compiled a list and reached out to many of the departing administrators.
The departures include:
- Mara Rubin, Director of Fine Arts K-12 (resigned to take a new position in another district)
- Janine Gregory, English Language Arts Supervisor Grades 9-12 (resigned to take a new position in another district)
- Candice Beattys, Math Supervisor 9-12 (retired)
- Judith Hanratty, ELA Supervisor K-8 (retired)
- Alan Levin, Science Supervisor 9-12 (retired)
- Robert Schmidt, Supervisor of Special Services 6-12 (resigned for personal reasons)
- Mark Quiles, Seth Boyden Elementary School Principal (retired)
- Jerrill Adams, Maplewood Middle School Principal (resigned)
- Jennifer Giordano, Director of Guidance (resigned to take a position in another district)
- Phil Stern, In-House Counsel (resigned for personal reasons)
- Marc Gold, Maplewood Middle School Assistant Principal (resigned to take a new position in another district)
Four of the 11 retired. Two resigned “for personal reasons.” Five resigned to take positions in other districts, although in the case of departing Maplewood Middle School Principal Jerrill Adams, that destination has not yet been disclosed.
Village Green has reached out to several of the departing administrators — and a few others within the district — for comment. Some responded; others did not. The responses are varied. Two administrators leaving for other jobs spoke at length with very different reasons for leaving and different takes on the Strategic Planning process and on Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Ramos and his administration.
All the administrators, whatever their thoughts on Ramos and the strategic planning process, spoke about their pride in the quality of curriculum and education in SOMSD.
Assistant Principal Marc Gold, who wrote a letter to the MMS community upon his departure citing his “considerable reflection and heavy heart” in leaving the “wonderful South Orange-Maplewood School District,” said via phone interview, “I believe in the district’s direction.”
“I was one of the 27 individuals fortunate enough to be selected to be on the Strategic Planning committee,” said Gold. “Personally I think the district is headed in the right direction.” Gold said he was leaving for “a professional opportunity that I couldn’t pass up” as Assistant Principal at Frelinghuysen Middle School in Morristown, where he will join Joseph Uglialoro, the former Principal of South Orange Middle School.
Despite his resignation (Gold will serve in his capacity as MMS Assistant Principal through September 23), Gold continues to serve on the “Multiple Supports” Action Team of the Strategic Plan. “I believe we are planning some really innovative things and they will be right in line with our district mission and will really support all students, families and staff,” said Gold.
“I can’t speak to why other colleagues left. I truly believe that the district is headed in a good direction. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have stayed on the committee.”
Gold’s experience differs from that of one departing supervisor who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“It’s nothing personal about the people involved, as much as the way they are going about it,” said the supervisor. “Why aren’t you involving the people with the institutional memory before decisions are being made? I have parents in the community with whom I have a great rapport telling me what the plans were for my area and I wasn’t included. I think it was like that for a lot of content area supervisors.”
This supervisor also said that the 10 people on the supervisory level “lacked a go-to person for an instructional curricular leader.”
“In the past we had regular meetings, we would plan things together,” said the supervisor, who added that there was “very little support at the administrative level.” The supervisor noted not having personally made a presentation to the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education in two years — “and that used to be a regular part of my job.”
“It’s a definite lack of fact-finding from the folks who are now coming in. Dr. Ramos and Mr. Walston haven’t sat down with us as a team,” said the supervisor, who worried about Ramos and Walston’s lack of connection to the community.
The supervisor also expressed concerns about the district’s readiness to support the Access & Equity policy. “When the access & equity policy happened, I think it’s safe to say that no one on our team disagreed with it. Of course, we believe all kids should have access, but the work of a true educator is to get kids there vs. put them there. When we started to ask questions like, ‘What happens when a student elects for an AP course and isn’t ready? What kind of support do we have in place for him?’ there were no answers and then it was viewed as oppositional: ‘If you can’t get on board, this is not the place for you.'”
“If you got us all in a room besides the retirees, we didn’t want to leave. But there are only so many times you can wipe the egg off your face,” said the supervisor.
The supervisor spoke of pride in the district nonetheless: “It’s an amazing place. It is. That’s what’s made it difficult for all of us. This is not a place with no hope.”
Although science teacher Allan Tumolillo is not a supervisor, he is a 30-plus-year resident of the towns and worked closely with retiring Science Supervisor Alan Levin.
“I think some of the reasons that supervisors are leaving are clearly due to the financial situation of the district,” said Tumolillo, who suggested that perhaps the district “didn’t handle the roll out [of a potential new supervisor structure] well…. Question is: is it possible to reduce the number of supervisors [and] save some money without sacrificing on the academic side?”
Tumolillo voiced his support for the new STEM [Science Technology Engineering Math] supervisor position that combines content areas and replaces previous separate positions for supervisors in math and science at the high school level. “In the area I’m in, the STEM area, it’s not out of bounds that there should be one supervisor for those three.”
Tumolillo noted that some supervisors such as Levin were going to retire “before any of this … but the younger supers, I think they were looking at maybe their positions wouldn’t be tenable in the long term until budget issue changed.”
Tumolillo said he couldn’t “speak to any personnel issues” regarding why supervisors had left.
Tumolillo expressed excitement for the new STEM supervisor position.
“In the STEM area we have a new super who’s young [Jameel Misbahuddin, the CHS STEM 9-12 Grade Supervisor] and I think he’s going to be backed up by … a strong team.” Tumolillo said “This is not a shipwreck. These are pretty strong departments.”
Tumolillo said that Misbahuddin would “be open to pushing along courses and changes that represent education in the 21st century…. Our science is good. Our math is good.”
However, Tumolillo the district needs to make investments in technology. He feels that the district made a mistake in the mid-90s ending its vocational education program — which could have naturally evolved into a technology or STEM program.
Tumolillo voiced confidence, however, that the district was moving in the right direction with the Strategic Planning process — if it finds a way to invest in STEM and other proposed changes. He spoke excitedly of the Action Plan team that he sits on with Assistant Superintendent of Administration Kevin Walston visiting a school in Albany with “project-based learning.”
“It’s clear to people on that committee that significant changes have to be made and will cost some money and if we don’t confront the financial issues we’re going to lose a lot more teachers.”
“You can’t do STEM education in the classroom that I have (D wing, second floor). You need ventilation, machinery, safety stuff … drills, cutters, saws.” There are health and education department rules governing such spaces, said Tumolillo.
Regarding the Strategic Planning process, Tumolillo, who co-chairs the team looking into facilities, scheduling and administrative structures, said, “The ideas that I wanted to push forward, I think they’ve been heard….[and if they are] presented to the board, I think you will see some profound changes.”
Addressing the administrative churn, Tumolillo said, “Any time there is a new superintendent, there are personality issues. I’ve been in town 30 years. Every new super runs into conflict. We’re seeing some of that now played out in a framework of tough financial times.”