Election Maplewood South Orange

Letter: Elizabeth Baker and Donna Smith Have Experience, Passion to Meet District Challenges

To the Editor:

I am writing to encourage SOMA residents to join me in voting for Elizabeth Baker and Donna Smith for Board of Education on November 7.

Our school district has great potential but faces enormous challenges. Over the next three years, our Board of Ed will have to recruit and hire a new Superintendent, approve a capital plan to deal with aging and inadequate infrastructure, approve a plan to address overcrowding and inequities across school buildings, oversee the Administration’s implementation of critical policies including Access & Equity and the 504 Policy, and support the implementation of curriculum that is consistent across our schools, that has buy-in from the community and that maintains rigorous academic standards. They will need to do all of this while working to improve the climate in our school communities and while working within extreme budget constraints.

BOE Candidate Elizabeth Baker

Elizabeth Baker and Donna Smith have the experience, expertise and passion to meet these challenges.

Through my work advocating for special needs students, I’ve come to know Elizabeth Baker as a tireless and effective advocate for all our district’s students.  I can say confidently that Elizabeth has done more for struggling students in our district than any board member in memory. In just one example, she was the one board member who most clearly recognized the magnitude of issues around the district’s flawed administration of Section 504 support plans, and she was the one board member who absolutely insisted that the issues be addressed in a formal policy.  Without Elizabeth’s drive and persistence, there would be no policy roadmap in place to ensure these students will consistently receive the supports they need to fulfill their potential.  Similarly, the Access & Equity Policy, which was passed under Elizabeth’s leadership, will drive the district to meet all students where they are and where they aspire to be.  I believe we need to give Elizabeth the opportunity to continue leading as these critical policies go through what are likely to be challenging implementations – the results are just too important to leave in less experienced hands.

More broadly, Elizabeth has been a strong and effective leader, building consensus on a sometime fractious board, and she is a content expert with a strong command of the details around the myriad of issues facing the district.  When she sees a problem, she focuses on finding a solution, not simply on finding fault.  These qualities, along with her concern for all students, will be absolutely critical over the next three years.

Donna Smith

Donna Smith has quietly and effectively worked on behalf of students during her tenure on the board.  She is a policy expert who is content with effecting change through hard work and negotiation, not through grandstanding or focusing on blame while not offering solutions to problems.  She is committed to better serving all our students as evidenced by her strong support for the Access and Equity Policy, programming for gifted and talented students and the new Section 504 Policy.

On the important task of identifying a permanent Superintendent, Donna has stated that her focus will be on hiring someone who will focus on enhancing accountability for the day-to-day operation of our schools, something which has been somewhat neglected under past leadership and which has led to many of the problems we face today.

On finances, Donna’s insistence over the years that the district change its budgeting practices to identify only critical and necessary spending was influential in the adoption of zero-based budgeting for this year.  This new budget framework has already produced positive results for students and taxpayers, and has increased community and board consensus around the district’s finances.  This will be hugely important as we face the financial impacts of the infrastructure buildout and the other challenges ahead.

Donna’s experience, expertise, work ethic and demonstrated civility will be crucial in guiding the board and the community as we navigate what lies ahead.

Experience matters.  Again, please join me on November 7 in re-electing Elizabeth Baker and Donna Smith, and let’s keep making progress for all of our students.

Mike Donoghue

Maplewood

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