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Parents, Students and Faculty Support Teachers at Board of Ed Meeting

Monday's Board of Education meeting was standing room only.

Current and former students, parents and faculty members filled the room at Monday's Board of Education meeting, nearly all there to protest the district's decision not to grant tenure to teachers Kathleen McCort and Steven Cohen. Both teach eighth grade Social Studies at South Orange Middle School.

In an hour of emotional public commentary, Board members heard repeatedly of what Columbia High School teacher and district parent Kate Dodd described as a "disconnect" between the administration decision and the public outcry against that choice. Dodd said she "experienced directly the benefit of his teaching as a teacher and as a parent." She noted that many students in her AP Art History class have studied with Cohen. "He is phenomenal."

"She changed the way I learn," said one of McCort's current students. "I learned not only that I have to study, but how to study." A parent described McCort's "constant outreach" to her children.

Parent Ilena Silverman said she felt she "won the SOMS lottery" with a child in Cohen's class. "She comes home excited."

Speaking earlier in the day for the Board of Education, Suzanne Turner noted, "By law, administrators and Board of Education members are not permitted to publicly discuss personnel matters.  The District will therefore not comment on any decisions to renew or not renew a teacher's contract."

Board of Education President Beth Daugherty reiterated that at the opening of the meeting. "I know that is frustrating," she said, explaining that the Board of Education's role was to approve the reappointment list for next year's faculty, without adding or subtracting from that list.

Earlier on Monday, to protest the decision. Additional students, many from CHS, attended Monday's meeting. Several noted that they are now enrolled in AP United States history, a point echoed by parent Barbara Canace, who credited Cohen with the 2012-13 AP United States history enrollment, which is the highest ever.

Teacher Jazmine Wright read aloud a letter from the South Orange Middle School faculty describing McCort as "an expert in her field," and "motivating and encouraging." She described Cohen as "experienced, knowledgeable and versatile."  Teachers wearing green SOMEA shirts were a visible presence in the audience.

Many students wore t-shirts with the teachers' names. So many students wanted to address the Board that after calling a break, Board members permitted four more members of the public to speak on this matter.

A number of students spoke of their success in history classes in high school, including a cohort of ninth graders who are taking the World History Advanced Placement test this week. "He made me relish Social Studies," said one of Cohen's former students. "To this day, I love Social Studies."

Patch will continue to follow this story.

Robert F. Galgano May 15, 2012 at 11:22 PM
I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Cohen at SOMS for one year. He is a passionate and dedicated teacher, but I am not shocked because from my personal experience, it seems that SOMSD is no longer interested in hiring teachers who have qualities similar to those of Mr. Cohen.
John Davenport May 16, 2012 at 09:31 PM
There was a sit-in protest by 7th and 8th graders in SOMS today who refused to leave the cafeteria. I think more such protests are planned. This is not going away. A bitter divide is setting in that needs to be rectified soon. Robert, could you expand? Do you mean the district is looking more for people who hew to certain views or who will tow whatever line the admin lays down?
Robert F. Galgano May 16, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Having taught at SOMS for two years, it seems to me that they are looking for teachers who are compliant, aka younger teachers straight out of school who will fall in line. I myself was 44 at the time of my layoff, Mr. Kalan was in his late 50s, Mrs. Schuele was in her early 40's and Ms. Stankus was in her late 20s. We all brought considerable real-world experience to the classroom and to my knowledge, we all worked very hard to educate the children of South Orange and Maplewood. I will tell you this - if they want you gone, they will find a way.
MnM May 18, 2012 at 12:58 AM
I can tell you that if Mr. U. continues to "manage" the situation as poorly as he has so far, perhaps the students have a new cause next year -- to petition to remove him.
Chuck Mahoney May 18, 2012 at 01:32 AM
What lesson have the students learned from all of this? That the BOE acts with impunity and disregard for quality education. To say that their role was to approve the recommendation from the principal without changes is to say "we were just following orders". As for Mr.Ug, his primary objective seems to be to save money, which also shows that he does not value education or educators.

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