Bloomfield’s Public School District serves more than 6,000 students and includes eight elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school.
Approximately 1 in 9 Bloomfield residents are 5 to 18+ and most are enrolled in Bloomfield public schools, where day-to-day operations are overseen by principals hired by the district administration.
In this installment of our education series, we interviewed Bloomfield principals at each school level to give parents and community members more insight into how each school serves the mental health needs of their students and the unique needs of students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and those with special education needs.
Interviewees included Carteret Elementary School Principal John Baltz, Bloomfield Middle School Principal Alla Vayda-Manzo, and Bloomfield High School Principal Christopher Jennings.
What should students or parents of students who are LGTBQ+ know about Bloomfield schools?
At the elementary school level, the focus is teaching respect, acceptance, and inclusivity to all students at a grade-appropriate level, according to Baltz. This can be done through activities in the classroom, books that are read in class, or discussions that are facilitated by one of the school’s guidance counselors, according to Baltz.
Recently one of the guidance counselors read and discussed the book “Pink is for Boys” by Robb Pearlman with some classes, Baltz said.
“Bloomfield has always been filled with a diverse community so you will see that as a goal in everything from board goals to school goals: making sure that every child feels safe and welcoming,” Vayda-Manzo said.
She highlighted that the middle school has had a gay-straight alliance for students to participate in for the last five years and that the school’s diversity committee plans various activities throughout the year that focus on being accepted for who you are, especially during pride month in June.
“We certainly – like the rest of society – have seen more and more students who are comfortable coming out at an earlier age. And so those resources that are available to the high school have increased exponentially,” Jennings said.
The high school also has a gay-straight alliance for students and the school works to create a supportive community in and outside of school in addition to having counselors available to work with LGBTQ+ students, according to Jennings.
What should students or parents of students of color know about the Bloomfield schools?
All three principals noted the work that their diversity committees do throughout the school year to create an inclusive environment.
“We’re constantly looking at monthly activities to promote inclusivity and acceptance for all students,” Baltz said. “For Spanish Heritage Month, we had an assembly program, and each class created a recipe with a Spanish background, and then we made those dishes.”
Vayda-Manzo highlighted the growing number of nonwhite teachers the middle school has added to its staff over the last couple of years.
“Diversity is our strength. We are a majority-minority school…I’d like to keep growing [our staff diversity] because I know how important it is for students to see someone that they identify with in that role,“ Vayda-Manzo said.
Jennings highlighted the Black student union that was recently created at the high school and La Alianza Hispanica, the school’s Hispanic association.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do more of this year is make sure that all of our students are represented, at some point when we talk about holidays, or celebrating successful people in the community that they identify with, “ Jennings said.
How do Bloomfield schools strive to meet the mental health needs of students?
“We have a wingman program that is district-wide, and we were nationally recognized for some of the activities that we do,” Baltz said
The wingman program teaches sixth-grade students to lead activities with the lower grades with a focus on promoting individuality, acceptance, and inclusivity, according to Baltz. Wingman is a program run by Dylan’s Wings of Change Foundation to promote acts of kindness, promote student leadership, and combat social isolation.
“Academics are incredibly important, but if the students’ mental health needs aren’t being met, then we’re never going to get them to engage with the curriculum,” Vayda-Manzo said.
The middle school has four guidance counselors, two of which are licensed clinical social workers.
There is also a child study team made up of a school psychologist, a learning consultant, and a social worker, according to Vayda-Mazo.
Having staff that are experts in different forms of counseling, and promoting connections between students and teachers and students are ways Bloomfield Middle School supports mental health, Vayda-Manzo said.
Jennings also said that the high school has three full-time mental health counselors on staff and that all of the school’s eight guidance counselors have at least one level of mental health training. In addition, a substance abuse counselor is available to work with students who may need help with substance use.
How do Bloomfield schools strive to meet the needs of special education students ?
Baltz said the school district has promoted full-time inclusion, which means a special education teacher is in the classroom all day for students that need extra support.
“It is extremely helpful because they can address individual needs…not just one direct subject like reading or math. They can help them address individual needs throughout the day and provide assistance as soon as possible,” Baltz said.
He also highlighted Carteret Elementary School’s child study team, which works to provide extra counseling to students.
Special education programs at the middle school address a wide variety of needs. There is an applied behavior analysis program, a learning disabilities placement program, a multiple disabilities placement program, and behavior disabilities placement program, according to Vayda-Manzo.
At the middle school, there are also pull-out resource classes for students that need help with a particular subject and inclusion classes in which students are taught by a content specialist teacher and a special education teacher that is certified in special education and the class’s content area.
“What’s really important to mention is that our teachers are just exemplary in the co-teaching model,” she said “And they co-plan together. They teach together. They assess together. And they have common prep time… And all of that results in students with special needs, having their needs met in the best way possible.”
The high school also uses the co-teaching method for inclusion classes. They also have small instruction pull-out classes, and programs for students with multiple disabilities, and an applied behavior analysis program, according to Jennings.
When should Bloomfield parents, caregivers, or members of the community reach out to your office?
“We pride ourselves here [on the] open door policy we share with our parents, and I believe all the schools share that same philosophy, Baltz said. “We also say this, just like any family, we may not always agree on everything, but we will always have the door open to hear. And you can hear our sides as well. And, nine times out of ten times, a compromise can be achieved.”
Vayda-Manzo said there should not be any hesitation to reach out to her office at the middle school.
“I really welcome parents to reach out to us directly,” she said. “We have a lot of staff that are here to answer questions, address concerns, provide information, and provide support. So there should never be hesitation to pick up the phone and call us..”
Jennings encouraged the public to reach out to their student’s teacher or guidance counselor directly as they will usually have the most up-to-date information.
“But if there’s ever a time that either they haven’t gotten a response, or they’re unhappy with the response, they can always come to me, and I will always get back to them,” Jennings said.