The Village Green has invited all five candidates for three seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education to submit statements for publication.
I am a proud Maplewood resident of almost 30 years who attended Tuscan, Maplewood Middle, and Columbia High schools. I have been a teacher and an educational leader in a public system for almost 20 years. I have taught music in the heart of Brooklyn, written curriculum for the NYCDOE, served as Director of Fine and Performing Arts right here in SOMSD, and I now run two schools: a School of Music at Montclair State University that trains teachers, as well as a summer music school in Vermont that accommodates students from all walks of life.
It is my core belief that a curriculum rich in creative subjects and experiences pre-K through 12th grade for all students, when integrated in the core curriculum and taught as separate subject areas, lead to increased academic, social and functional skill development and knowledge. My actions as a supervisor in SOMSD reflected my beliefs: I made sure that every student in our district had the opportunity to explore and experience the transformative power of the arts through the most creative scheduling possible in each school.
The considerable attention being given these days to measures of student academic performance within state accountability systems makes it crystal clear that we are adopting a narrow and restricted definition of our expectations for public education – and therefore our children. Expectations of our schools should include outcomes in many areas of life, including physical health, social and emotional well-being, creative/artistic endeavors and citizenship.
Ultimately, students are not numbers; our system is continuing to contort itself to meet a false set of measures. Our marriage to only quantifiable means of assessment is no less than accountability run amok, and it is a clear disservice to all of our students. I would argue that it is actually at odds with our mission to close the achievement gap and serve students with special needs. Our district must instead focus on multiple ways of defining what “success” in school means and commit to optimizing teaching for all of our students based on scientific insights of how individuals learn differently.
While we look forward to what our schools can look like, we must address the issues that we currently face. As a leader in a state system, I understand how to innovate within budget, time, and staffing constraints; I understand that our district’s communication issues with our community is a reflection of the communication within its own ranks; and I have a clear and often well-documented history of collaborating, creating and innovating within this system. This is evidenced in the work I did in SOMSD in bringing a Suzuki Violin Program to our K-4 students; the expansion of arts programming in the middle schools; a new in-state tuition rate at Montclair State University for all undergraduate arts students; and a six-year freeze in tuition at my summer school while experiencing radical growth — all accomplished during a serious economic downturn in our country.
SOMSD can and should be a beacon of what education should “look” like. We have more creative, cultural and intellectual capital amongst our residents and students than most communities I have ever seen. I am honored to have the opportunity to talk with our towns about ways I can help us model creativity and innovation for our students as member of our Board of Education.