Moore changes the culture at WOHS, grows leaders to change the world

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Cynthia Cumming / Correspondent 

WEST ORANGE, NJ — When West Orange High School Principal Hayden Moore received the “Administrator of the Year” award Oct. 8 from the New Jersey Association of Student Councils for the 2019-20 school year, his recognition was celebrated by students, staff, parents and the community at large. This came as no surprise to those who know Moore and his leadership style, which he describes as “social-emotional.”

Moore has been the principal at West Orange High School for seven years. The school has more than 2,000 students, 200 teachers and administrators, and is a microcosm of the township’s diverse population of approximately 54 nationalities. It also serves a diverse economic demographic, a special 18-21 Special Needs Program, and the award-winning Jr. AFROTC Mountaineer Squadron.

In the words of Student Council Co-President Brett Zeligson, “Mr. Moore’s drive to take the time out of his busy day to make sure a group of students have what they need to make our school a better place is one of his greatest qualities. His eager attitude towards enhancing the school environment and making every student feel included is reflected in his direct involvement in activities organized by our Student Council; he makes it his priority to interact with each and every student to make sure they feel comfortable in our school.”

“Principal Moore’s vision and enthusiasm towards improving student and staff achievement has led to many successes at the high school and the honor of being awarded Administrator of the Year is evidence of his effectiveness as a leader,” said Ryan DelGuercio, dean and supervisor of technology and engineering. “Being nominated by our most important stakeholders — the students — is a testament to the exemplary school culture that exists at the high school where students and staff thrive under his collaborative leadership.”

Moore said, “It’s my passion and it’s our message here at West Orange High School: no judgment. We care.”

Moore knew from a young age that he wanted to help people. He grew up in Washington Heights and Bergenfield, and attended Kean College, garnering his degree in social work and education. After receiving his clinical license and master’s in social work at New York University, he went on to obtain his master’s in education with a concentration in special education at Jersey City State University.

To help support himself through college, Moore worked in retail but got his real money as a popular DJ. He did well enough, in fact, that he was able to purchase his first house in West Orange in his late 20s.

“I loved West Orange from the start,” Moore said. “It encompassed all the feeling of the areas I grew up in, both in New York and New Jersey.”

After his graduation from JCSU, Moore began work as a special education professional at Beadleston Secondary School in Westfield, where he soon became a dean of students.

In 1997, he met Jerry Tarnoff, then superintendent of schools in the West Orange School District. It was Tarnoff who asked Moore to consider making a move.

“Hayden Moore is the embodiment of a 21st-century educational leader,” Tarnoff said. “He supports his students and staff, is a township resident who is an integral part of the culture and diversity of our community, and who collaborates with parents and teachers on preparing our students for the future. Our high school principal is readily accessible, a good listener to varying opinions, and possesses both an energetic and congenial personality that allows all who interact with him to feel confident that our children are in good hands.”

Moore’s first job in the West Orange School District was as a member of the Child Study Team, with a home base at Washington Elementary School. There he was mentored by Principal Marie DeMaio, who recently celebrated 50 years of service in West Orange.

“Marie is a kind, compassionate leader, and she impacted me and my leadership style tremendously,” Moore said.

In 2000, Moore was transferred to West Orange High School as a dean of students. It was a period of transition for the high school as an increase in student population, extended construction and extensive repairs made for a challenging situation. Discipline issues were on the rise and Moore found himself in the midst of crisis. 

“We worked endlessly to revise the handbook, the dress code and disciplinary procedures,” Moore said. “We worked with the West Orange Police Department to form a partnership and get our first school resource officer, John Morella.”

Most importantly, Moore and the team began to form relationships with the students. With the first round of construction and renovation completed in 2005 and additional work completed in 2009, the environment improved positively and allowed for time to develop a program to help students with issues.

As assistant principal of discipline, Moore established the “Building Blocks” program where students met regularly with administrators, “checking in” and discussing school and life situations. Moore also served as the first dean to engage in what he called “restorative” conflict and behavior resolution.

“We are Mountaineers. We are all important,” Moore said. 

“Hayden is a true leader in every sense of the word. He has an open-door policy and hears/considers all sides,” said Louis DellaPia, current assistant principal and dean of discipline and attendance. “He allows his administrative team to make their own decisions and does not micromanage. He is a forward thinker and, most importantly, always does what is best for the students.” 

In 2012, Moore was named principal at West Orange High School following the retirement of Arthur Allogiamento. His first priority was to establish a block-drop schedule that would extend school periods from 40 minutes to 55 minutes. This added instructional time and set up a universal 55-minute lunch period. Students could gather around the campus, hold club meetings, get extra help from teachers and fellow students, or just relax. The Library Media Center was redesigned to provide students with more of a college feel.

“We continued to address the culture at the high school,” Moore said. “It was important to set up a balance. Academics, the arts, athletics, social, clubs — they’re all important. We continued to build relationships and a sense of community and teamwork among staff and students.”

Assistant Principal of Master Scheduling, Curricular Initiatives and Daily Building Operations Annette Towson worked closely with Moore on creating the new schedule.

“Working for an educational visionary such as Hayden Moore has been my distinct pleasure,” she said. “I have never encountered a person who works so diligently to develop unity and positivity in a wonderfully diverse culture while building educational success. Most would be staggered by the daily activity required to run such a complex environment, but part of what makes Hayden better than most is that he embraces every single difficulty and challenge. West Orange High School is an amazing and special place to work because of the special person who became its principal seven years ago.”

To build relationships with administrators and staff, Moore holds weekly “cabinet” meetings with Assistant Principals Kimberly Macarella, Lesley Chung, Towson and DellaPia; Director of Guidance Cheryl Butler; and DelGuercio.

Management meetings are held monthly with Moore, the assistant principals, Butler, DelGuercio and supervisors. School safety meetings are held twice a month with Moore, the assistant principals, deans and student assistance counselors. Faculty meetings, sometimes broken down into departments to facilitate coordination, lessons and coordination, are held monthly.

In addition to the rotating block-drop schedule, Moore and his team have developed several other innovative programs, including the Collegiate Institute, which provides students with mid-range grades opportunities to improve and move on to Honors and AP classes; Athletic Students for Academic Proficiency, requiring all athletes to maintain grades of C and above; virtual enterprise business and career courses; the Mountaineer Mentors, who assist with underclassmen and visitors; Mountaineer Academy, which provides an academic experience for students who may struggle in a classic setting; the annual Senior Citizen Prom, bringing together students and senior citizens; participation in the Daughters of Israel Oral History Program; expansion of STEM opportunities; and expansion of the AP program at the high school, allowing for more student opportunity and college credit.

“I am honored to work under such an amazing leader who continually demonstrates empathy, trust and compassion for not only students but staff as well,” said Chung, assistant principal and dean of discipline and attendance. “I have learned so much under Mr. Moore’s leadership and he encourages everyone to do their best. Each year he asks us to reflect on new ways that we can help our students and innovative methods to help with our faculty. Mr. Moore’s leadership style has encouraged all administrators to have an open-door policy and to work collaboratively with faculty and staff with all concerns. He is truly a dynamic principal and I hope to emulate his management style and charismatic personality one day. I have to say that every day he inspires me by his interactions with our students. Mr. Moore’s personality is so authentic and genuine that you want to do your best because it will continue to promote West Orange High School’s Mountaineer pride.”

Of all the successful initiatives begun by Moore, he cites the establishment of the Junior Air Force ROTC in 2013 as the program that has “truly helped to change the culture at West Orange High School.” WOHS was originally rejected by the U.S. Army and Moore appealed, with the Air Force agreeing to the program. WOHS Class of 2014 graduate Dylan Pennell brought the idea of the ROTC to Moore and the Board of Education as a freshman. He is currently serving as an ensign in the U.S. Navy.

“I felt aeronautics, space and a possible career track into the military would be a good option for the students,” Moore said.

In fact, since the inception of the JAFROTC, nine students have, upon graduation, attended West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy, and several more have enlisted in the armed forces.

The high school has grown academically, boasting an improved graduation rate of 91.2 percent in 2019, up from 86.7 in 2016. The special education program for students ages 18 to 21 keeps the graduation rate lower because the state counts those students as “not graduated.” However, that is a program that Moore and the administration have said they will not eliminate.

AP test scores have risen 16 percent since 2017. More students continue to take AP courses and test proficiently.

“It has been rewarding to work side by side with Mr. Moore for the past 19 years,” said Mancarella, assistant principal for curriculum, operations and activities. “Mr. Moore invests the necessary time to build strong and positive relationships with students, staff and the community. He truly values the ideas and opinions of others. Most of all, Mr. Moore puts his students first in all leadership decisions. For these reasons, he is admired and loved by many.”

“As we share our message that ‘we are all Mountaineers and we will support each other,’ we want our students to make good memories of West Orange High School that will last a lifetime,” Moore said.

Athletically, sports programs continue to develop, with several state, regional and Essex County championships. The girls athletic program was named the No. 1 Girls Athletic Program in Essex County in 2018. Fencing, girls lacrosse and boys volleyball were added in 2018.

The music, arts and theater programs continue to garner awards, including a 2016 National Championship for the Marching Mountaineers, annual gold ratings for the wind ensemble and individual state awards for drama students.

Dean and head of the West Orange Education Association teachers’ union Mark Maniscalco has known Moore since the beginning of his tenure.

“Having worked closely with Mr. Moore when he was a dean, an assistant principal and for the past several years as the principal of West Orange, I have witnessed first-hand his impressive ability to maintain a global vision for the future of our school, while empowering the staff and students to pursue their individual goals,” Maniscalco said. “This synergy allows our talented staff and students to work to their fullest and maximizes the experiences for all. Mr. Moore embodies his own expectations of others, through his work ethic, his relentless enthusiasm, his selfless support of others, his insistence on decency and kindness, his willingness to cooperate with all and compromise whenever possible and practical, and his steadfast determination to make our school and our town the very best they can be. His leadership inspires others to be better, to work harder, and to see oneself as a part of an integrated whole, dedicated to improving the lives of others.”

West Orange Superintendent of Schools Dr. Scott Cascone added, “Mr. Moore’s previous experience as a school social worker provides him with a unique and highly relevant skill set. He places a premium value on collaboration between the school, families and communities in order to support not only academic achievement, but also social-emotional well-being. Similarly, he recognizes the importance of considering the environment vis-a-vis the individual. As such, nothing is of higher importance to Mr. Moore than the school environment for students and staff and he walks it like he talks it every day, which has translated into a healthy and high-performing school culture.”

As the culture of West Orange High School continues to evolve, so does Moore.

“I keep having a vision, but I allow others to help shape it,” Moore said. “We have such talented administrators and teachers, and we are all working to have a positive outcome for our kids. We want to see them change the world.”

Moore has been married to his wife, Sarahi, since 2008. They reside in West Orange with their three children.

This is the first in a series of feature articles that will spotlight individuals, programs and events in the West Orange School District. Writer Cynthia Cumming is the school district’s communications coordinator. Photos were provided by the school district.