VIDEO: SOMA Cares About Schools Hosts ‘Passionate’ BOE Candidate Forum

Eight candidates provided a variety of perspectives and approaches at Wednesday night’s South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education candidates forum, organized by South Orange-Maplewood Cares About Schools.

Moderated by Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca and South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, the candidates forum had a unique format that varied from traditional forums where all candidates respond to the same questions and candidates often see a preview of questions ahead of time.

Instead, all questions on Wednesday were gathered from audience members then pulled randomly. The name of one candidate was then randomly selected to answer each question. There were two rounds of questions; thus, each candidate received and answered two questions. This allowed for more questions (16 total) and some interesting and surprisingly pertinent pairings of candidate and question. It also allowed for unscripted and spontaneous responses, making the forum engaging and spirited. The word “passion” popped up in a number of responses and emotion was fully on view.

(For more on each candidate, click on the links here: Elizabeth Baker, Robin Johnson Baker, Shannon Cuttle, Felisha George, Avery Julien, Anthony Mazzocchi, Sheila Shidnia, Donna Smith)

Before the questions came opening statements. After the questions, candidates were given three minutes to write or revise their closing statements. Since they are informed by the immediately preceding questions, the closing statements are very revelatory in this instance. Closing statements begin at the 54:52 mark in the video. 

The questions and their respondents (some of the questions contained lengthly statements and have been edited for the sake brevity):

  1. Question: What is your plan to integrate elementary schools (15:27 mark in the video; answered by Anthony Mazzocchi)
  2. What is your position on strict observance of 2% cap (17:45; Sheila Shidnia)
  3. Do you have school age children and if so what school do they attend (19:47; Shannon Cuttle)
  4. What are you feelings about PARCC being used as the only graduation requirement in New Jersey. Also do you think it is appropriate to use PARCC to measure the achievement gap int he schools (21:32; Donna Smith)
  5. We need a superintendent who will expect leaders to accurately assess the quality of instruction [inaudible] and we need principals who are going to challenge the status quo by identifying truly great teacher as well as the ineffective and developing teachers. How will you be a leader in this work how will you show the courage that is greatly needed? (23:29; Robin Johnson Baker)
  6. How do you plan to address the statement by the SOMA Black Parents Workshop today that says children are being denied the ability to move up a level which is in violation of the Access & Equity policy (26:08; Felisha George)
  7. Please give Dr Ramos a final grade for his tenure in the South Orange-Maplewood School District with an explanation (27:58; Elizabeth Baker)
  8. The Newark Board of Education is reportedly revising their curriculum to be more inclusive of LGBTQ history; do you support the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education doing the same? (30:18; Avery Julien)
  9. We live 2.3 miles from the high school. We pay over $20,000 in taxes. Transportation is not available for our children. Is this something that can be reviewed? (31:59; Donna Smith)
  10. It is well documented that high school students are overstressed and “underslept.” One particular burden is homework. … What are your feelings about the amount of outside of school work that our high schoolers are expected to complete and what would you do as a Board of Education member? (33:56; Anthony Mazzocchi)
  11. What will the next board members do to engage community members in conversation and elicit concerns? (37:39; Elizabeth Baker)
  12. Honors classes are a means for ambitious students to distinguish themselves by showing they are willing to do more work than is req for graduation. State your position on maintaining honors level classes for all four grades. (edited) (39;51; Robin Johnson Baker)
  13. Can you give an example of something we as a district do well? (42:55; Felisha George)
  14. With each election cycle each Board of Education candidates talks about improving communication. Would you talk about re-instating twice monthly BOE meetings? Also what technology would you employ so community members can skype into BOE meetings? (44:25; Sheila Shidnia)
  15. What  are your specific plans with the associated fiscal impact for handling needed and, in many cases, overdue maintenance improvements to existing infrastructure? (edited) (46:31; Avery Julien)
  16. What is your position on leveling and de-leveling and why? (49:16; Shannon Cuttle)

South Orange-Maplewood Cares About Schools can be found on Facebook here. The group is administered by Elissa Malespina and Lauren Freedman.

Video provided by Joy Yagid of SOMAtv.

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