LETTER: Eckert, Wilson & Gifford Are Committed to Rebuilding Our School System

by Peter Shapiro
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Five community members are running for three seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education this year: Regina EckertNubia WilsonBill GiffordRitu Pancholy and William Meyer. Eckert, Wilson and Gifford are running on the “Students Come First” ticket. Pancholy and Meyer are running on the “Doing Better, Together” ticket.

Read more about the candidates in Village Green’s “Ask the Candidates” series on busing/transportationaccess & equity, the Superintendent and BOE functionality.

Bill Gifford, Nubia Wilson, Regina Eckert
(credit: Lisa White Photo)

Dear Editor:

I’m writing in support of the election of Regina Eckert, Nubia Wilson and Bill Gifford to the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. The three of them, running under the slogan Students Come First, are people of sincere commitment to our students, with a willingness to work selflessly to improve our schools and the education they provide to all of our students.

Since I left office as County Executive in 1986, I have rarely gotten involved in local elections. But this one is different for two key reasons. First, I feel our School Board has gotten off on the wrong track for several years, too often dominated by ego conflicts and narrow agendas, to the detriment of what should be the Board’s fundamental mission: excellent education. Second, I believe that in Eckert, Wilson and Gifford, we have the opportunity to elect exceptional people to the Board who will help begin the arduous process of rebuilding a Board that we can once again have confidence in.

I grew up in South Orange and have lived here for 59 years. My parents moved here from Millburn because the South Orange-Maplewood schools were known to be the best in the state. When I attended Columbia High School, it was better than any private school around, sending its graduates to the best colleges and universities in the nation.

Eckert, Wilson and Gifford are committed to rebuilding our school system so it is once again renowned for the excellence of the education it provides. They believe that our school district’s diversity is a source of strength, with a vibrant array of talented students of all backgrounds who can and will respond to being challenged by the finest teachers.

They have thought long and hard about how to improve our schools. Among the key issues they emphasize are:

  • A focus on improving elementary education and addressing student outcomes and achievement gaps starting in the earliest years of schooling (the current Board goals have a myopic focus on high school only).
  • Improving implementation of the Intentional Integration Initiative, through immediate remedies for the failure of the current Board to plan for safe transportation of elementary school children to assigned schools, and reexamining the algorithm used for school assignment. Too many families have been caught by surprise and had their lives disrupted by the Board’s poor planning and the safety and wellbeing of our youngest children has been placed in jeopardy.
  • Encouraging open discussion and debate at Board meetings. The current Board leadership has stifled debate, shut out minority opinions, and often acted without community and professional input. Openness to outside ideas is the hallmark of a well functioning Board, and tends to produce better results for our students.

I haven’t had a child in school for nearly twenty years.  But it is clear to me that our schools, and the education of our young people, are arguably the most important thing we do as a community. As citizens, we have an obligation to change our Board of Ed for the better. Electing Regina Eckert, Nubia Wilson and Bill Gifford will help us fulfill that obligation. Please give them your votes.

Peter Shapiro

South Orange, NJ

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