Dear SOMSD parents and community members:
I am one of your representatives on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. I’ve served in that role since January of 2016, and I am writing today to share with you some of my remarks from our last Board meeting, on Tuesday, February 20. The Board was discussing our superintendent’s proposed reorganization of our secondary science and math programs. Interim Superintendent Dr. [Thomas] Ficarra and interim Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. [Donna] Rando presented their proposals to streamline and rationalize the course offerings in high school math and science after a great deal of research into best practices. My remarks in response conveyed my strong support for the proposal. I — joined by a solid Board majority of seven members — voted in favor of adoption for implementation in September of 2018.
I’m sharing my remarks here because I want to share both my hopefulness and resolve with you, the community I have the honor of representing. I am hopeful, because with the professionalism of our new district leaders, we have an opportunity to bring true, meaningful, lasting equity to a system that has sorely lacked it, AND to bring widespread excellence to a system which has only had excellence in part. We must seize this moment. I have resolve, because it is the Board’s responsibility, as representatives of the community, to guide and to closely observe as the new policy is implemented, to ensure its effectiveness for all students.
Our district has for too long denied too many students the opportunity to take advantage of upper level courses in which they are fully capable of succeeding. Our community has been wrestling with this question for too long. It is time to act. Personally, I have been involved in the effort to streamline the number of levels and broaden opportunity since 2010.
I am an educator, with a BA in Mathematics with Secondary Education Certification from SUNY Geneseo and an MA in Mathematics Education from Syracuse, with actual experience teaching high school mathematics step up programs and designing curricular approaches that reach all students. As many people know, I also manage a local preschool where I see first-hand, every day, how children respond in a child centered environment with teachers that have the time to develop caring relationships with their students. I was pleased to see that Dr. Ficarra’s proposal focuses on expanding teaching strategies that address diverse learners as well as infusing technology and data driven instruction. This focus aligns to my view of best teaching practice.
Dr. Ficarra is a lifelong educator with a track record of success as a Superintendent in multiple New Jersey districts like ours. He has done this before. That’s why the Board hired him. He has, in turn, brought in Dr. Rando as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, with similar, relevant experience. She has done this before. That’s why we confirmed her appointment. They know what they’re doing, and I have confidence they will implement their proposal effectively. Dr. Ficarra has also committed to allocating budget dollars to support professional development to support teachers and to developing a comprehensive monitoring program to ensure implementation effectiveness.
There should be no doubts about the educational soundness of this policy or the ability of this district leadership to manage its implementation. In fact, it was our previous system that was not in keeping with the best educational practices. I urge all supporters of equity and excellence to give their full support to this effort.
Following are my remarks (with some clarification noted in brackets):
Thank you Dr. Ficarra for your leadership. This work was the reason we were so excited to hire you. This was a goal of the board and you have done this work before. We the board also supported your recommendation to hire Dr. Rando because she has done this before. Regular board watchers: don’t think we are rushing. This work was outlined in the math audit of 2010 and the DMC Special Education work of 2012.
I would also like to remind the board and the community that the rest of the work that you outlined in your presentation to make this change successful is embedded in the district goals #2 and goal #3 [adopted in December of 2017]… I look forward to your plan which already includes:
- a comprehensive restructuring of the guidance structures,
- revamped g&t [gifted and talented] and summer school programming,
- [measures to improve] building climate and culture,
- [work already underway aimed at] revamping the code of conduct and starting with how we view children’s behavior and the influence the school has on their behavior,
- [work already underway aimed at] improving special education services,
- and the list goes on and on.
[Board of Education Student Representative] Ms. [Josie] Sandor spoke to the culture and climate [at Columbia High School] and I think this also includes our teachers and supporting them in why they entered teaching in the first place. I don’t think there are many teachers that entered teaching to play “gatekeeper” or to keep kids from learning. They entered teaching to positively engage and mentor students and to encourage them to see the beauty and joy of their favorite subject matter (which — I agree with Dr. Rando — is Math for me). So part of this implementation must be figuring out how to create a schedule that supports the development of those relationships and supports real student learning, as well as has time for in school supports and time to support relationships.
Fellow SOMA residents: I urge each of you to watch the online video of Dr. Ficarra’s presentation at somatv.viebit.com (starting around the 6 minute mark). I ask our entire community to do its part – in person, on social media, and in the way you support our students and our teachers and administrators – to be part of the solution and to join the movement towards equity and excellence. For further dialogue, please reach out to me at [email protected].