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SOMA Schools Superintendent Talks Math at Town Hall Discussion

Michelle A. Bingham

Sunday, March 23, 2014 • 2:53pm

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - Parents, teachers, and principals of the South Orange and Maplewood school district had a lot to discuss with Superintendent of schools, Dr. Brian Osborne, at the town hall meeting held at Marshall Elementary School.  Shortly after Osborne’s introduction, the floor was opened for intense dialogue.

Immediately the discussion focused almost solely on the many new changes in the district’s math program. A seemingly simple question on why the district was eliminating the pull-out math enrichment program for grades four and five started the open forum. Osborne concluded that budget cuts over the years have led to this decision, but reassured that another way to implement advancement in math were to go into effect by choosing the best aspects of the program and bringing them to the classroom.

But budget cuts weren't enough for the math infused questions to come. “ST Math” or “Spatial-Temporal Math” is an application used for children at home that doesn't seem to be a big hit amongst the parents or students. ST Math was one of the main concerns of the parents of the evening along with the changes in curriculum over the last four years. As Osborne insinuated that ST Math is a big hit for students, the crowd almost unanimously disagreed. “The novelty wore off by Thanksgiving,” exclaimed Cathy Rowe, whose two children attend elementary schools in the district.

From the students’ obligation to 90-minute intervals of ST Math training, to the program’s lack of reinforcement of what’s been learned in the classroom, parents expressed that this requirement doesn't seem to be the way to go. With the exception of one mother of two, whose children enjoy the program, the parents’ disgruntled feelings toward this aspect of the curriculum had somehow gone unnoticed.

Along with the math curriculum, the parents questioned the spelling program being taken away, the budget cuts for the special education curriculum, the newest “Chromebook” phenomenon, and the achievement gap between black and white students. Osborne addressed all of the inquiries and stated, “This is a learning year for us.”

The Board of Education has undergone budget cuts and implemented new, trial-and-error ways to better the curriculum for the district. With new strategies for identifying gifted and talented students and requiring a reading program for younger grades, Osborne addressed the questions of the community and informed them of upcoming ideas for enrichment. 

-The reporter is writing as part of a journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Kean University.

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