Columbia High School Stage Urgency Takes Center Stage at Board Meeting

At the recent South Orange-Maplewood School Board meeting, the need for repairs to the Columbia High School (CHS) stage dominated the discussion, as students and community members advocated for swift action to address the deteriorating conditions that threaten the school’s robust arts programs. The impassioned pleas from the CHS community, which underscored the stage’s critical role in numerous events and the educational experiences of its students, were a focal point.

The deteriorating state of the CHS stage was brought to the forefront as students and performing arts group leaders emphasized the negative consequences of the broken stage on the school’s programs. Not only did the broken stage affect the upcoming spring musical and Dance Company performances, but it also impacted the stage crew, band, orchestra, Multicultural Club, student council, and Hall of Fame events. Students expressed their frustration with the administration’s response to the issue, urging the board to prioritize the repair and maintenance of the stage to ensure the continuity of the arts programs. They highlighted the stage’s importance for rehearsals, safety, and the quality of their productions, with one student pointing out the relocation chaos and strain on resources.

The importance of the arts within the school district was further emphasized by students who shared personal stories about the significance of the performing arts programs, particularly the special dance program, in their educational journey. They praised the dedication of teachers and the need to maintain safe spaces that foster creativity and expression. The impact on the community was also stressed, with the CHS Auditorium being described as a special place for students and a central space for many events and performances.

The superintendent update included discussions on recent security incidents at CHS, with a focus on enhancing school safety and security measures. The superintendent detailed the installation of door alarms, the reinforcement of ID policies, and ongoing conversations with the Maplewood Police Department to address security concerns. Moreover, the superintendent acknowledged the absence of the CHS principal and expressed gratitude for the acting principal’s efforts.

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On the governance front, the board discussed the search for a new superintendent, with a presentation from the national firm HYA explaining the search process’s structure and community engagement. The desire for an experienced educational leader who prioritizes equity and inclusion was outlined, with the board discussing the strengths and challenges of the district.

Public comments also touched on various concerns and proposals beyond the CHS stage issue. The proposed installation of artificial turf at Ritzer Field sparked debate, with several community members expressing environmental and health concerns, urging the board to reconsider the decision. The financial impact and lack of community outreach were also highlighted as areas of contention.

The meeting also addressed other topics, including emergency communication and security measures, the district’s annual audit, and the superintendent search.

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The board’s focus on improving student well-being was evident as they mentioned a retreat to align priorities and build a foundation for the future. The board president provided an update on the superintendent search, emphasizing community engagement in the process, which saw over 2,000 individuals providing input.

During the meeting, various committees provided updates on their respective areas of focus. The Special Education Committee discussed the implementation of a strength-based approach and plans for a resource fair. The Personnel Committee focused on improving transparency and data-informed decision-making. The Facilities, Finance, and Transportation Committee examined the annual comprehensive financial report and budget considerations, while the Policy Committee presented updated policies on staff conduct and student identification.

The Curriculum and Instruction Committee updated intervention and referral services and instructional coaching support. Additionally, the committee discussed academic intervention support and the transition towards the science of reading, emphasizing proactive student support. The Data Committee’s goal to improve data collection and utilization was also highlighted.

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Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

Superintendent:
Kevin Gilbert
School Board Officials:
Qawi Telesford, Arun Vadlamani, Nubia DuVall Wilson, Elizabeth Callahan, Regina Eckert, Bill Gifford, William Meyer, Shayna Sackett-Gable, Kaitlin Wittleder, Gwyneth Brown, Asa Glassman, Dr. Kevin Gilbert (Asst., Supt., Access & Equity)

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