The West Orange Board of Education met Monday night, January 7, 2013, in the Library Media Center of West Orange High School. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Michelle Casalino is sworn in for a third term on the West Orange Board of Education. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Ron Charles is sworn in as the newest member of the Board of Education. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Interim Superintendent James O'Neill presents Coach Stephan Zichella with a certificate from the township acknowledging his assistance with a former student that was considering suicide. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Assistant Superintendent Donna Rando and Interim Superintendent James O'Neill present outgoing board member Paul Petigrow with a plaque commemorating his 12 years on the board of education. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
West Orange Board of Education Meeting Takes Emotional Turn
Tuesday, January 8, 2013 • 1:47pm
WEST ORANGE, NJ - The first Board of Education meeting of the new year held at West Orange High School Monday evening, brought with it Board reorganization, personnel appointments, and readoption of various by laws for calendar year 2013. Michelle Casalino and Ron Charles, who were re-elected and elected to the Board in November, were sworn in. Ms. Casalino was then voted in as President, with nominations from Megan Brill and Laura Lab. Mr. Charles nominated Megan Brill as Vice-President, and Michelle Casalino seconded. Board member Sandra Mordecai nominated herself for Vice-President, but no other board member seconded, and Ms. Brill became the new Vice-President. Several members of the audience disagreed with the decision and Board Attorney Steve Christiano advised the public that there was no rule in the board by-laws regulating who could, or should, be president or vice president.
Public comments regarding the selection of Ms. Casalino and Ms. Brill as Board president and vice-president became contentious quickly . Several community residents were present and expressed anger that Ms. Mordecai was not named as President or Vice-President. With emotions running high, they voiced their opinions of the board and the process and vowed that they would do something about the situation. Board members were accused by some residents as unfair and wrong to not elect Ms. Mordecai who possesses a college degree, deriding board members without college degrees. Members were cited as 'exclusionary' and mean spirited', that they 'talked the talk but did not walk the walk' and told that the ' black community will not stand for this...this is war'. The NAACP was purportedly present at the meeting, but did not speak.
Comments continued to escalate with speakers saying that they would write and post about the board of education's 'disgraceful and scandalous' actions, noting that 70% of the children in the public schools were minorities. One resident said they would never play the card, but that 'they were 'playing the card' and another resident, 'appalled' that the board was so 'lackadaisical and pompous', also called them 'racist and bias'. One resident called on Megan Brill to step down as Vice President, bringing applause from audience members.
Another resident likened the situation to the days of segregated water fountains. In speaking to the board he said "You told me to trust you in the past and I did.....but I don't trust you anymore. I will do everything in my political power to get you all out."
Ms. Mordecai spoke, saying that she assumed it was her turn to be Vice-president, and didn't think to speak to the board members about it. She recounted several of her efforts while on the board in describing her ability, and said that it was clear that "my colleagues don't support me." Michelle Casalino told the audience that she had put her name out for nomination 18 months ago and the board did not vote for her. She also stated that she discussed with Ms. Mordecai what she would need to do if she was interested in the Vice Presidency, in December. Laura Lab said Ms. Mordecai never made her intentions known to her. Megan Brill noted that 'getting elected is just the first part of the equation. The next step is learning to work with the other board members.'
Interim Superintendent O'Neill said that in his experience with Board members, they have shown 'great sensivity to diversity' and that it shows in the school district by the way the children treat one another in the public schools. He asked that people not 'read more into the events of the evening' than was there.
In addition to the outcry over Ms. Mordecai, the agenda included several appointments, especially the Spring Coaching positions. The appointment that was most contrversial, that of a new Girls Softball Coach, was tabled. Ms. Valerie Gino, who was to be recommended to replace Coach Jamie Galioto, rescinded her application, and Interim Superintendent O'Neill explained that he, Hayden Moore, West Orange High School Principal, and Ron Bligh, Athletic Director, would review the other applicants and consider whether to repost or move forward with another candidate. Mr. Bligh also noted that the coaching decisions were unanimous.
Mr. O'Neill provided an explanation regarding the process and rationale of coach selection, and indicated that Fall Coaching positions will be posted within the next few weeks, followed by Winter Coaching:
"Process: Spring head coaching positions were posted on the website, the online services we use and in the Sunday Star-Ledger. Principal Moore, Athletic Director Bligh and I reviewed all the applications that were submitted by the deadline of December 18th; we decided which candidates to interview but agreed to interview all internal candidates. The 3 of us discussed each candidate interviewed and agreed on the coach who would be recommended. Rationale for selection: there are multiple factors involved in the selection of head coaches; these are high profile positions, and they have a great influence on the culture and climate in the school as well as on the quality of the athletic experience that student athletes have during their high school years; coaches are instrumental in helping us establish priorities like 'academics come first' and while your education is an entitlement, participation in interscholastic sports is a privilege. Being successful in life requires dealing with the ups and downs, the successes and the failures (or disappointments). Coaches are in a unique position to teach these lessons after the wins and losses that come each season. We are looking for coaches who are role models; adults who interact with adults and students the way we want student athletes to interact with their teammates, their classmates and the opposing team. We want coaches who believe it is more important to have a class operation than a winning program; we want coaches who demonstrate by their actions what it means to carry yourself well in victory and defeat. We want coaches who are students of their sport and are eager to teach the sport to our students. We want coaches who are good teachers and who communicate well. There are other considerations also; we want coaches who take ownership of a program and have a commitment to West Orange athletics. Title 9 requires us to have equity in the number of teams and the funding of the teams but I also think there is an implication there should be a representative number of male and female coaches. Finally, coaches often hold on to their positions for many years and newer or younger teachers may feel like they never have an opportunity to move into these positions so periodically it healthy to have an open process where talented individuals have an opportunity to take on the challenges of being a head coach. I believe the head coach needs to be the key person in selecting assistant coaches; we will allow head coaches to recommend their assistants since they have to work with them and need to have a positive personal and professional relationship with them. Once head coaches have made their selections we will review and confirm or tell the head coach if we think there is someone who is not up to our standards."
Mr. O'Neill then read a statement from the West Orange Police Department regarding the assistance of wrestling coach Stephan Zichella during an attempted suicide on the Edison Battery Factory property in December. The distressed young man was a former WOHS student and wrestler, and Coach Zichella traveled in the middle of the night from North Arlington to speak to him. The young man eventually came down off the water tower.
Paul Petigrow was recognized by the board for 12 years of service to the school community. Former Superintendent Jerry Tarnoff and former board members Debbie Hauss, Larry Feigenbaum, and Jim Quinn thanked Mr. Petigrow for his time and efforts, helping with school expansions, curriculum, and sports advocacy.
Approval of the contract between the Board and the West Orange Education Association (WOEA-Teacher's Union) was tabled because the WOEA had to ratify the agreement on their end, expected later this week. The BOE then made a motion for a special meeting, to be held Monday, January 14, at 8:00 pm in the WOHS Library Media Center, to approve the contract and discuss its components.
Once the board worked through all remaining agenda items, public comment began. Several of the girls, former and current, from the WOHS Girls Softball team, spoke on behalf of Coach Galioto and their desire to see him remain as coach.
The meeting ended at 11:20 pm. The meeting will be televised on Channel 36/45. Please check your local listings for broadcast dates.