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South Orange Middle School Students Protest Non-Tenure Decision

Social Studies teachers Steven Cohen and Kathleen McCort were denied tenure

South Orange Middle School students today protested the denial of tenure to two Social Studies teachers, Steven Cohen and Kathleen McCort. About 100 current and former students gathered in front of SOMS chanting and holding signs that read, "Don't Let Go of Cohen," and "Save Ms. McCort."

Both teachers were denied tenure this spring by the South Orange - Maplewood Board of Education. Some parents, such as Sam Stoloff, found this decision "shocking." Stoloff, a parent of a current eight grader who has Cohen for Social Studies, said, "He is the best teacher Anya has ever had. He has extremely high expectations for kids, and asks them to engage in material that's challenging." Stoloff added that his daughter "has become engaged, and that's very exciting to us."

Speaking 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."

Cohen declined to comment, and Patch was not able to reach McCort.

Inside the school, students posted flyers in support of the two teachers. (One is pictured.) A number of Columbia High and SOMS students joined a Facebook group in support of the teachers; several plan to attend tonight's Board of Education meeting, as well.

The demonstration, which lasted about half an hour, was peaceful, and overseen by two South Orange police officers. Two CHS freshmen, both of whom are preparing to take the World History Advanced Placement exam this week, credited Cohen's class last year with preparing them for this year's advanced work. Both hoped to speak directly to the principal, Joseph Uglialoro, new this year. "I want to tell him," said one student, "that we wouldn't do this for just any teacher. Mr. Cohen is special."

Patch will continue to follow this story.

John Davenport May 15, 2012 at 10:40 PM
I have now changed my mind a bit, since I think we should let the SOMS principal reflect on all the public response. It's possible that he may have received some bad advice, and he is fairly new to the district. I think the administration understands very well that we do not want a bad school environment going into the further deleveling of 8th grade and the beginning of training and plans for IB. Bad relations between principal and teachers in the building and between principal and parents (and the wider community) can still be avoided here. Various solutions are remain possible; give this a few days now.
Non Ya May 15, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Cohen aint goin. Support Ms.McCort
Robert F. Galgano May 15, 2012 at 11:28 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. (Speaking for myself here, but other great teachers have been run off by administration - Mrs. Schuele, Ms. Stankus and Mr. Kalan to name three.)
MusicalMe May 17, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Could it be that setting high standards is the problem? O, we wouldn't want that, now would we?
MnM May 18, 2012 at 12:51 AM
How can a principal fire what is basically the entire 8th grade social studies team?

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