Bergin: South Orange-Maplewood ‘Integration Initiative Now at Risk of Being Chipped Away’

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The following statement is from Susan Bergin, whose resignation from the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education was announced by the Board on February 20. Bergin, who is in the final year of her three-year term, resigned due to potential conflicts posed by a new professional position that she has accepted.

I am excited for my professional opportunity, but also sorry to leave the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education with so much generational work still on its plate. Courtney [Winkfield] and I were elected in 2020 with a mandate for equity. When we ran for the board, we were completely transparent regarding our unwavering and unapologetic commitment to equity. Once elected, we made decisions based on what we believed would make the District more equitable, without regard to politics or electability.

Our good trouble drew the attention of deep pockets that determined to undo our work while there is still so much left to do.

The integration initiative is now at risk of being chipped away before it has even realized its full potential.  Parental  “choice” inevitably leads to an erosion of integration, regardless of intentions and the format it takes, be it hardship exceptions, a transfer portal, or outright school choice.

The Board needs to act with urgency to address the crisis of disparities at Columbia High School – not only disparities in access to advanced courses, but also disparities in failing any courses. In doing so, the community must confront a regressive, broken leveling system.

The CHS fail data shocks the conscience. As a parent, I have seen adults try to put systemic failure on the shoulders of the individual student. But the recent Curriculum & Instruction data demonstrates that there are systemic barriers to students succeeding at CHS.  The crisis is not a student problem, it is an adult problem. After seeing the first quarter failure data, the Board cannot put its head back in the sand and continue to let the District literally fail so many secondary students.

Parents of older students, you will soon have even higher taxes for elementary transportation and still have a high school that is not working for so many students.

I believe that I was the only parent of a student with an IEP [Individualized Education Program] on the Board, and my resignation has left a void in the Board’s special services experience and perspective. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to look at every issue facing the District from an equity lens that includes both race and special services.

I encourage the SEPAC [Special Education Parents Advisory Committee] community to apply for the remainder of my term, and I implore the Board to weigh heavily whether candidates have this background. And if candidates do not want to discuss their children at a public interview, that information can be conveyed in the written application.

To those watching Board meetings at home – it is time to stop joking about popcorn-watching meetings. This is important work, and encouraging pot stirrers and lively entertainment does a disservice to our students and to all the adults who work hard every day for the District. It is your responsibility to become part of the solution.

Lastly, a huge thank you to [Superintendent of Schools] Dr. Taylor and everyone at 525 Academy.  It was an honor and a privilege to work with you and serve the SOMSD [South Orange-Maplewood School District] community.

Susan Bergin

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