South Orange MS Parents Show Support for Principal, School

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Speaking on behalf of more than 100 South Orange Middle School parents, Marietta Zacker addressed the Board of Education on Monday, lauding South Orange Middle School and its principal, Joseph Uglialoro. (The full text of her remarks is below.) Zacker praised improved communication, increased parent engagement, and strong programming. She cited events such as the recent Shakes – Spirit Day and “improved” after-school programs for improving the SOMS experience “for students and parents.”

Letter to SOMSD Board of Education June 15, 2015

We are here representing over 100 parents from the South Orange Middle School. We recognize the last couple of weeks have been challenging, and there is still work to be done to move our district forward. At the same time, we don’t want to lose sight of the positive things that have been happening at all of our schools. We would like to share our experiences as members of the SOMS community.

Despite the decision to discontinue the IB Middle Years Program, there are many exciting things happening at SOMS under Principal Uglialoro’s leadership. These changes have been tremendously positive for students, parents, and many teachers and we trust you will continue to support them.

The changes have been numerous, but we will focus on three: improved communication; increased parent participation; and innovative and creative programming, both during the school day and after. In our experience, SOMS offers an enriched environment, families feel informed and able to participate, and there are numerous exciting initiatives being developed and supported by the teachers and administration.

1. Improved Communication

There has been significant improvement in communication between administration, teachers and families. In his first year at SOMS, Principal U actively supported including staff members on the HSA, encouraging them to partner with parents. This has helped us work together to support initiatives like this year’s “Day of Kindness” and the “Wellness Extravaganza,” as well as supporting teacher grants for materials and resources for classrooms.

Principal U insists on regular and thorough communication with parents. He publishes a weekly email that highlights school events, students, and teachers, as well as parent resources. This complements weekly eblasts from the HSA.

Principal U also responded to the concern that rising 6th graders needed additional information and guidance by hosting a “Welcome to SOMS BBQ” in August and by working with the HSA and teachers to create an FAQ booklet for Rising 6th graders and their families.

2. Increased Parent Participation

Recognizing that parents needed and wanted to be more involved, Principal U organized Parent Academies to introduce parents to issues related to middle school students. He also created the “Lunch and Learn” series that invited parents to lunch to speak to students about careers and interests. Through it, students have been exposed to a variety of jobs, and life paths, with the repeated reminder that it is important to remain true to your passion.

Principal U also is very receptive to ideas from both the HSA and individual parents. When a parent approached him with the idea of implementing the “Hour of Code,” he worked to make it happen. This led to the creation of the YouthNet Coding Club. Principal U also worked with the HSA and a former SOMS student to create a display in the cafeteria of all the pennants from colleges former SOMS students have attended or are attending. Principal U’s next project is to work with the HSA to create a Hall of Honor to showcase the accomplishments of SOMS students across many fields of endeavor.

Parents have also partnered with teachers and team leaders. Last year the 8th grade HSA coordinators worked with the 8th grade team leaders to raise more than $8,000 to support students who could not afford all the year-end activities. The 6th grade HSA coordinators have been working all year to support a planetarium experience at SOMS for all 6th grade

students. With the HSA eblast, teachers can also send information to families that would get lost on paper such as permission slips, trip reminders, requests for service projects, and supplies. This may sound trivial, but when teachers feel that they can turn to parents for support, they are more inclined to initiate activities for the benefit of all students, which is exactly what is happening at SOMS.

Finally, when appropriate, Principal U partners with parents during the hiring process.. For example, he included a parent who is a professional in the children’s publishing industry when interviewing for the new librarian, and he solicited feedback from parents when hiring a secretary for the front office to help identify the person who would be the best initial contact for visitors to SOMS.

3. Innovative Programming

SOMS teachers are spearheading innovative programs and Mr. U is extremely

supportive. Teachers are effectively using technology to help students learn, interface and stay organized. In fact, SOMS was recently recognized nationally for using EDMODO effectively and extensively in all grades and classes.

SOMS teachers are also encouraged to be “risk takers,” and they have risen to this challenge in a variety of interesting and effective ways. For example, for the past two years, teachers from the world language, performing arts, physical education and art departments have all worked together for a day of interdisciplinary learning to celebrate “Day of the Dead”. Our music department changed the Concert Piano class to a Drum Circle class after realizing not a single student had intentionally signed up for piano. There is now a Select Choir in addition to regular chorus. And students are responding. In 2011/12 there were 8 students in choir across all three grades. We now have more than 200. And students don’t have to miss lunch to participate in Select Choir because it is a scheduled elective.

SOMS teachers also bring their passions to the classroom. Mr. Cicenia and Mr. Guastella taught a unit in which they studied the river behind SOMS. Just today, students celebrated ShakeSpirit Day, Ms. Alloway’s idea for getting all students reading and excited about Shakespeare. The math department has been using creative software to help struggling students improve their basic skills and to grasp larger concepts.

Principal U also strongly encourages all students to participate in at least one extra-curricular class, be it music, Model U.N., Mathcounts, or a Youthnet Club. SOMS teachers have once again risen to the challenge and have introduced creative and enriching extra-curricular courses.

In our opinion, these three areas; improved communication, increased parent participation, and innovative and creative programming, are helping SOMS develop a culture that enriches and maximizes learning for all students. At SOMS’ recent School in Action Night, the halls were packed and there was activity everywhere: music, debate, art, math jeopardy, poetry, drama, Sludge science experiments, and so much more. But School In Action Night is just a snapshot of the many exciting things happening at SOMS under the leadership of Prinicipal Uglialoro and the SOMS

staff. We know he and his teachers go above and beyond each and every day, with seemingly endless enthusiasm and energy, working tirelessly for all students. As mentioned at the beginning, we simply wanted the Board to know this and trust you will continue to support them.

Elizabeth Aaron
Mike Aaron
Gillian Aldrich
Will Allison
Tricia Benn
Marty Benn
Michele Bonaldes Lupton
Theresa Burns
Jeff Bryant
Patricia Canning
Carlo Caparruva
Geraldine Caparruva
Camille Carter
John Carter
Amy Cox-Martins
Alicja Crosby
Michael Crosby
Erminia DeJesus
Ellen Dreyer
Amanda Eigen
Kara Erhamza
Gregory Fagan
Tara Favors
Marcy Felsenfeld
Peter Feola
Dan Fleetwood
Katie Fleetwood
Amy Forman
Gary Forman
Sharon Geraghty
Karen Gevirtz
David Giles
Mariana Giraudo
Jennie Gladstone
Richard Gladstone
Jen Glass
Matt Glass
Crystal Glynn
Tim Glynn
Amy Goldberg
Jamie Goldman
Priscilla Goldman
Steven Gordon
Holland Grumieaux
Devyani Guha
Albert Gyan
Shanta Gyan
Anne Harding
Amy Hartford
Ann Harnett
Celina Herrero
Reed Herrero
Yvette Holowczak
Rachel Kaplan
Russell Kaplan
Ilena Kasdan
Michael Kasdan
Kerry Keane
Heather Kern
David Kraiker
Ulrich Kremer
Cathy Lankenau-Weeks
Jung Lee Masters
Jenny Lindstrom
Annemarie Maini
Harpal Maini
Sarah Maloney
Randi Mandelbaum
Glenn Martin
Lori Martin
Mike Martins
Robert C Masters II
Jason McIntosh
Johanne McIntosh
Dana Miller
David Mintz
Chris Mumma
Karen Nicholas
Patty O’Connell
Bethany Pettigrew
Duncan Pettigrew
Lorry Ripley
Victoria Rivkin
Nancy Sabato
Chris Sabin
Sapna Shah-Mitra
Nicole Shealey
Scott Sinkler
Carolyn Smiley
Peri Smilow
David Solomon
Ellen Solomon
Jerry Sullivan
Rachel Sullivan
Tia Swanson
Howie Teitelbaum
Shana Teitelbaum
Liane Thatcher
Linda Thibodeau
Reggie Tindall
Barbara Trumpbour
Deborah Way
Chris Weeks
Allan Wendt
Jessie Wendt
Maria Witt
Doug Zacker
Marietta Zacker

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