South Orange-Maplewood BOE Candidate Statement: Robin Johnson Baker

The Village Green has invited the ten candidates for the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education to submit statements for publication, which we will run as we receive them. Election day is November 7, 2017.

I have lived in South Orange since 1994 and have seen the best and the worst that the South Orange-Maplewood school district has to offer. My daughter benefited from the excellent preparation she received in our district schools. It enabled her to fulfill her dream of attending one of the top universities in the nation. However, many of her classmates were not as fortunate. It is no secret that our district does not always serve all children well. But I know that we can.

I served on the Board of Education from 1998-2001 and am running again – so many years later – because it is my hope and plan that every student will have the opportunity to pursue his or her aspirations with the full backing and support of a learning environment that encourages excellence and provides a realistic and attainable path to high achievement. I know that all of our students are capable – the question is only whether we adults will do what is required of us (in our various roles) to successfully reach each child, bringing out the best that every student has to offer.

The diversity of our communities results in a broad spectrum of needs competing for funds and practical attention. During my time on the Board in the late 1990s, I witnessed how diverse views can result in polarization, or – with the right leadership and effective management – can produce creative, effective solutions that serve all students well.  High-performing, well-run schools are essential to healthy, productive communities. For our district in particular, many issues loom around establishing the best and most efficient path for raising the achievement levels of all students within the context of very tight budgets and a dearth of classroom space.

Educational outcomes that are both superb and equitable are absolutely possible, but they are not a given. They require policy decisions that are informed by facts and best practices and skillfully implemented. Making that happen requires determined, thoughtful leadership and can ultimately succeed only through the hard work of a committed staff and cohesive community support. Our Board of Education needs to lead in a way that brings the entire community together behind efforts to ensure that all of our students are fully prepared for their next step in life when they graduate from Columbia High School.

I have worked in many volunteer roles in our district over the years and know how contentious all of our discussions can be. Yes, we need to debate the issues but we also need to reach agreement and act. As I did during my last term on the Board of Education, I pledge to work to bridge the many divides in our community and build consensus around the steps we must take if all our children are to realize their full potential.

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