The Presidents’ Council and League of Women Voters of Maplewood and South Orange hosted a forum for Board of Education candidates on October 10. Each candidate answered 7 questions — 5 prepared and 2 from the audience. At the conclusion of the question period, candidates gave concluding remarks.
Because of the large number of candidates, the organizers broke the forum into two sessions featuring 4 candidates each.
First up was Marian Cutler, Shannon Cuttle, Javier Farfan and Michael Laskowski. The second group included Christopher Trzaska, Annemarie Maini, Bruno Navarro and Narda Chisholm-Greene. (Note: The following candidates are running together in pairs: Cutler/Trzaska; Maini/Farfan; Greene/Laskowski. Navarro and Cuttle are each running independently.)
For our reporting here, we’re reporting out the answers to Question #1 on re-districting. We’ve provided time stamps on the video below for this questions, as well as the other 6 questions/responses and the concluding statements.
Javier Farfan stated that he was in favor or re-districting and that he favored a plan with choice. “I come from a background where diversity is important,” said Farfan. “I came to Maplewood because I wanted my son and my family to have a diverse experience and providing same type of support for all children.” Farfan said he was interested in “looking at what Seth Boyden [Demonstration School] has done in the past and trying to mimic that model.”
Marian Cutler said that she supported re-districting but that “the idea of re-districting without putting something in place that allows for choice amounts to simply reorganizing mediocrity.” She said she was interested in exploring “taking two schools and making them magnets” or another choice model. “We’ve had ample opportunity to do it,” said Cutler, “but we’ve shied away” due to fear of disruption and transportation issues.
Michael Laskowski said he was in favor of the elementary integration plan but not the proposed 5th & 6th and 7th & 8th grade pairings. “That being said we have not seen the revised plans,” said Laskowski. Laskowski said he was interested in taking elementary schools and “sistering them up,” suggesting Tuscan/Seth Boyden and Clinton/South Mountain pairings that echoed Marshall/Jefferson. “I do believe we should go to a magnet school system like Montclair.”
ShannonCuttle said, “I am for inclusion in our schools with integration,” but added: “It needs to happen not just within elementary schools but across the district overall.” Cuttle said that integration would need to not be “just infrastructure” but also should include curriculum, leadership and professional development training. “I’d like to see us move to a choice model,” said Cuttle, who added, “A pairing model actually re-segregates our schools.”
Annemarie Maini said, “I think people forget that the difference between the $93M and the $131M [in the Facilities & Integration Plan] is the portables. They are unsafe and we need to get rid of them and that’s where the elementary reconfiguration has its basis. Do we add onto each elementary school and manage seven or eight construct projects or do we try to move the portables out of elementary schools?” Maini said she did support of “a reconfiguration where parents have some choice.”
Christopher Trzaska said he was interested in seeing a cost analysis of “what it would take to break out each of the elementary schools to see how best to spend the money.” Said Trzaska, “I don’t think that anyone could argue that a full integration is anything that anyone would not support wholeheartedly.” Trzaska said that Seth Boyden Demonstration School “was not a bad model” and that he was interested in looking further into a “a dual magnet with arts and STEM [Science Technology Engineering Mathematics].”
Narda Chisholm-Greene said, “I would have to say that of course I would support integration in the schools. The elementary schools are very unequal.” However, she said, “What I don’t support is transitioning the kids into multiple schools the 5, 6, 7, 8” reconfiguration. “I think transitioning, particularly for students of color is going to impact them negatively. But over all I support integration.” Greene said she liked the Like Seth Boyden demonstration model “but it needed an anchor and didn’t have one and perhaps would have been more successful.”
Bruno J. Navarro said, “I do support the re-districting. I think when every parent and every student has an equal stake in every building it helps to lift all of the students.” However, he said, “We need to do a better job of helping students transition.” Navarro pointed to the Marshall/Jefferson paring and the transition into middle school and said, “I don’t hear a lot of a lot of complaining about how difficult that transition is.” He concluded, “I think the new configuration does make sense” and achieves several goals in a cost-effective manner.
- The district is in the midst of devising a plan to redistrict the elementary schools to achieve racial and socio -economic balance. Are you in favor of the redistricting? If so, how would you go about achieving racial and socio-economic balance? (Group 1 at 8:00; Group 2 at 1:06:30)
- Special education is a perennial concern both for the quality and large amount of resources devoted to it. There have been 4 leaders in 4 years. What are the most pressing issues related to Special Education and how would you go about addressing? (Group 1 at 15:15; Group 2 at 1:13:45)
- Prior to this run for BOE, what has your involvement been in the district? What are your achievements? (Group 1 at 21:45; Group 2 at 1:21:00)
- Many parents complain about the district’s communication. In your view, what are the district’s most important communication gaps and how do you think they should be remedied? (Group 1 at 29:00; Group 2 at 1:26:50)
- (From Audience) What are you thoughts on leveling? How do you plan on making classrooms more diverse? (Group 1 at 36:30; Group 2 at 1:34:40)
- (From Audience) What are your top three specific executable actions in order of importance as a new board member. (Group 1 at 43:40; Group 2 at 1:39:30)
- What do you believe the school district in general and the BOE specifically has done well over the past 5 years? (Group 1 at 49:00; Group 2 at 1:45:00)
Concluding remarks (Group 1 at 53:45; Group 2 at 1:50:30)