Letter to the Editors:
November 7 is an important day for the future of our community. Please take the time to come out and vote for all elected positions and questions. Your vote, which is your true voice, makes a difference.
As parents of the South Orange Maplewood School District, we are delighted to express our personal support for Elizabeth Baker, Shannon Cuttle and Robin Baker for the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.
We first met Elizabeth Baker when we were all parents at Tuscan Elementary School. Our daughters quickly became friends, which led to our meeting Elizabeth and her husband Joel. We’ve been friends ever since. At the time, we had just moved to Maplewood from Massachusetts. And while we were very excited about our new community and school district, the challenges in our school district were difficult to ignore and there was much room for improvement.
As a result of outdated practices and policies which had been adopted, implemented and followed within the district for decades, it was very clear that transformational change and leadership was needed to ensure that our community’s most important resource, ALL children, felt welcomed and academically challenged. Elizabeth was that transformational leader. Even before she decided to run for school board, Elizabeth was active as a Tuscan parent, offering insight and advice to many parents on how to best advocate for their children to secure needed services and supports.
Elizabeth was elected to the school board in 2014 as a change agent. A true standout, Elizabeth became Board President in only her second year. She has worked and continues to work tirelessly – often around the clock – and with a sense of urgency to advance policies that put our children at the center. Her record includes:
- Adopting policies to ensure access and equity as a necessary component to narrowing the achievement gap, while also providing the necessary academic supports.
- Underscoring that access to special education is not a matter of funding, but about fighting for the rights of every child.
- Increasing transparency in the SOMSD budget process to ensure better alignment with student needs.
- Fighting to hold school administrators accountable for the success of every child in their building.
- Making positive school climate a top priority to ensure that ALL students are treated with respect.
- Improving communication and coordination between the School District and Maplewood Township Committee.
Elizabeth has a demonstrated ability to speak truth to power, make tough choices – even when wildly unpopular, stick to the facts, understand the facts, and do the difficult work required to ensure that our Board of Education in collaboration with all key stakeholders – the superintendent, students and their families, school administrators, teachers and the community at large – get it right. While South Orange Maplewood district have made marked improvements and progress under Elizabeth’s leadership on the school board, the challenges that remain are complex, multifaceted and will not be fixed overnight.
It’s imperative that we have leaders and change agents in place with bold vision, who act with the utmost integrity, transparency and gravitas, who clearly understand the issues, who have strategic experience, depth and resolve and are willing to do the hard work needed to secure our children’s future. Elizabeth Baker is that leader.
Shannon Cuttle is a nationally recognized thought leader and educator. With experience in anti-bullying initiatives for the District of Columbia as well as experience working with the United States Congress and the Obama Administration, Shannon will add leadership to our school board on a national scale.
Shannon is the founder of the Safe Schools Action Network and National Safe Schools Day. In addition, Shannon is a former teacher and administrator who is deeply rooted in public education. With more than 20 years of leadership with inclusion and social justice education at the center, Shannon brings a credible and intersectional perspective to SOMSD for advancing student-centered issues – from creating policy solutions for safer schools to teacher training to implementation.
As a Maplewood resident, Shannon has provided strategic counsel to municipal leaders on ways to better support diverse youth and adults in Maplewood and South Orange. The Board of Education would benefit greatly from Shannon’s vision, expertise and proven ability to work with people of different viewpoints, achieve consensus and take meaningful action to create a climate and culture where all students can reach their full potential in an equitable manner.
Shannon is a role model and inspirational leader. As a member of our school board, Shannon will set the right tone needed to move our district forward.
As the parent of a 2014 Columbia High School graduate, Robin Baker knows firsthand what it takes to produce a highly accomplished scholar in our district. She has been and continues to be a go-to resource for many families. In this capacity, Robin is a highly skilled and effective communicator – not shying away or backing down from real-talk – to ensure that students and their families, particularly families of color, have the insight needed to narrow the achievement gap.
A veteran of the SOMSD School Board (from 1998 – 2001) that established the Seth Boyden Demonstration School in 1999, Robin has a demonstrated track record in our district. She is also keenly aware of the racial and economic disparities that exist throughout the district and the work needed to upend unfair practices based on implicit bias.
With experience in strategic planning, operations strategy and fiscal operations analysis, Robin is both pragmatic and data-driven. She would apply her world-class expertise to enhance the district’s analysis relative to a wide-range of issues including enrollment in higher-level classes, and disparate treatment when it comes to student discipline and the impact this has on student learning and their overall health and wellness.
Since her tenure on the school board, she has been an active volunteer for the YMCA, Achieve Foundation, the Jaguar Track Club and CHS Track. A long time resident of South Orange, in 2014, Robin received the South Orange Rotary’s “Service-Above-Self” award, recognized by the New Jersey Legislature.
Her willingness to come back, do the hard work and serve as a member of the SOMSD school board speaks volumes and is the type of leadership and commitment our community and children need.
This election matters. With many critical issues and challenges facing our district both near-term and long-term, please join us in voting for Elizabeth Baker, Shannon Cuttle and Robin Baker for the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education on November 7!
Marie and Frank McGehee
Frank McGehee is an elected official as a member of the Maplewood Township Committee. His views here are his own and do not represent the Township Committee.