Maplewood Opinion Schools / Kids South Orange

Madhu Pai: We Need To Do Better on Communications & District Operations

Madhu Pai is a member of the Board of Education of the South Orange Maplewood School District. The opinions in this statement represent the opinions of one BOE member, not the BOE as a body.

As someone who works in communications, and a parent in the district, I can understand why parents are shocked, flummoxed and upset about the timing of the communication around the administrative changes, and the lack of details/specifics. For that, I am personally sorry, and I resolve to work with [Interim Superintendent of Schools] Dr. Ficarra to ensure improved communication. As it relates to personnel, the district (and Board of Education) is VERY limited in what can be communicated. According to our legal counsel, nearly anything skirts on the edge of a legal infraction. These protections, established mostly for the benefits of staff, must be respected.

The BOE is in receipt of many passionate letters questioning the Administrative changes made by Dr. Ficarra. We heard many passionate voices speak at the BOE meeting. While I appreciate everything that was said, I do support the changes. Our district’s infrastructure is in a terrible state. There have been many years of neglect to our programming, staffing, physical plant – layers and layers of bandages to patch up leaks and holes (literally and figuratively) coupled with bad initiative-itis. This is what has prevented our district from having innovative programming, retaining good staff and being able to offer our kids the BEST education. Many of you will say your experience in the district has been great – I envy you. Mine has not, and I believe that is the case for far too many. It’s not acceptable.

A BOE is a governing body – only as strong as the person it chooses to lead the district. I can honestly say that I believe we have the right CEO with the right agenda and the right experience to not only identify broken infrastructure, but also to fix it. I am energized and optimistic!

To that end, I believe one of the most important issues to address is the K-8 reconfiguration. It is something I have passionately been advocating for during my entire tenure on the BOE. The K-8 reconfiguration will not only help us address our space issues in the elementary schools, and ensure each school community is representative of our wider community, but it will also enable us to re-think how to deliver a 21st century education during the most critical years of learning. This need has been neglected for far too long as attention and resources have generally been allocated to the secondary schools. The work will not be easy – both in terms of identifying the right space configuration, structures and programmatic changes (and how to fund them) but also working with the community on the plan to re-draw zoning lines. We need the right talent aligned to this very complex work.

As a board member, I am accustomed to changes that directly impact my children but which serve the greater good of all the district’s children. I have seen the positive contributions that great teachers and administrators who were reassigned out of my kids’ schools have made to the district on the whole. I understand that by supporting these changes, I am making a large ask of the community. But, I am still making the ask.

Now is the time for us all to come together for the good of the district – whether it is staffing changes, facilities planning, curricular re-alignment etc. We are at a turning point where we can make great things happen – we can finally build the foundation for a district that can be innovative and forward thinking vs. being mired in tired 20-year-old debates and programming. A district where the true definition of equity – the ability for each student to have what s/he needs to succeed – can actually be supported. Changes have been considered thoughtfully and with the intention of improving every child’s experience in this district — today and in the future. That is why I support the changes, and I hope you will too. 

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