District holds public meeting to share integration plans for grammar schools

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — South Orange–Maplewood School District Superintendent Ronald Taylor and Business Administrator Paul Roth gave an update about the district’s planned elementary school integration at a Feb. 19 meeting at Jefferson Elementary School. According to Taylor’s presentation, the administration will recommend a plan to the Board of Education by June and will be ready to implement that plan by September 2021.

When working on the redistricting plan, Taylor said, factors being considered include sibling preference, transportation, students with special needs, aftercare, systemic pacing of initial implementation, and annually reviewing guidelines and the implementation of goals.

He provided a racial breakdown of the district’s elementary schools, showing the disproportionate percentages of races. At Clinton Elementary School, 62.3 percent of students are white, 17.4 percent are black, 5.5 percent are Hispanic, 6.3 percent are Asian and 8.6 percent are multiracial. At Seth Boyden Elementary School, 23.1 percent of students are white, 55.9 are black, 3.8 are Hispanic, 2.2 percent are Asian and 14.6 percent are multiracial.

The overall district demographics are 55.3 percent white, 25.9 percent black, 3.7 percent Hispanic, 3.7 percent Asian and 11.1 percent multiracial.

When an audience member asked, Taylor said that the administration is trying to make sure that Seth Boyden is not affected more than the other schools. He and the central office staff have used redistricting plans from Princeton; Seattle, Wash.; and Louisville, Ky., as reference points. He also said he doesn’t anticipate massive staff reorganization.

“There is a concern that the majority of our staff is not diverse,” Taylor said at the meeting. “We will have training based on that. I don’t predict we’re going to have mass transfers, but we are going to have massive professional development to inform that.”

According to Taylor, the Princeton plan alone will not work for the district because it relies on short grade-span pairings — students go to one school from kindergarten through second grade, a different school for third and fourth grade, and so on until high school. The SOMSD’s Long Range Facilities Plan will not support that structure.

The integration plan in South Orange–Maplewood will support a kindergarten through fifth grade model at the elementary schools; the Marshall–Jefferson configuration will end under the new plan. South Orange Middle School and Maplewood Middle School will continue to serve sixth through eighth grades.

“This is the elementary school plan, but we’re keeping that in our mind’s eye,” Taylor said about the possibility of the middle schools being redistricted as well. “There are some differences between the middle schools, but they’re not as stark. Is it better for sixth graders to be around kids they’ve known their whole lives, or is it good to be around different kids? That’s being considered.”

In addition, Taylor said the district administration is not yet sure whether current students will be forced to change schools after redistricting. Right now, students entering kindergarten in 2021 are the only ones who will definitely be affected.

“We’re not ready to give that information because the board has not yet had a chance to consider and vote on it,” Taylor said. “But we do understand that concern.”

Professional development for staff will continue through the rest of the planning process, and, after the plan is solidified and voted on by the BOE in June, the district will begin rolling out the operational plan and soliciting bids for transportation. The first phase of the facilities upgrades begin this summer.

Taylor said more town hall meetings will be held for residents to provide feedback. One will be Wednesday, March 18, at MMS and another will be Thursday, April 30, at SOMS. Both meetings start at 7:30 p.m.