Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange

Acting Superintendent Ficarra: ‘We Need to Act. And We Will.’

On August 21, South Orange-Maplewood Acting Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Ficarra updated the community in the monthly Superintendent’s Report at the Board of Education meeting. The report spanned nitty gritty practical preparations for school opening to broader issues such as providing supports for “students to thrive within the context of curricular changes” — particularly with regard to the Access & Equity policy. 

Ficarra gets to the heart of the district’s troubles in the latter half of the report. He states, “I think we need to redesign the Central Office to not only fulfill our compliance responsibilities but to develop a laser focus on serving children and our schools. That includes the superintendent’s office and will require a design that inserts me more deeply into the day to day needs of the schools.”

He also outlines the problems of overcrowding, “inadequate facilities,” and “de facto segregation.”

“You have not achieved the level of Equity and Access you have been seeking. The Board made it clear in my interview that change needs to happen,” writes Ficarra. “[M]ake no mistake about it…. There will be serious proposals submitted to the Board in the coming months…. I have talked to many people and a common theme has emerged. I heard it first from the Board and I hear it everywhere I go. We need to act. And we will.”

Read the full report here (the report was included in the email “SOMSD August 2017 Board of Education Update,” which was sent on August 25):

Superintendent’s Report August 21, 2017

Good evening. It’s still a pleasure to be here, even after 21 days. I am trying to get to know the District, the community, and the students it serves. So let me share with you how I am going about transitioning into the District, as well as a few observations.

There are a number of gears shifting simultaneously.

Community mapping and my efforts to meet with and listen to and learn from, a cross section of community, staff, students, and Board members. That is taking place…. While I examine the work that needs to be considered and review with the Strategic Leadership Team for opening the school district in September.

I won’t take you through all of them, but I will give you a snapshot in order to provide context. This exercise is the way in which I assess district readiness as well as the functionality of the organization as it is currently structured.

We have been reviewing Emergency manuals for their efficacy, timeliness and thoroughness. For example, are floor plans updated, policies current, emergency drills easily accessible and clearly spelled out, staff and student rosters current, crisis management teams identified, and many other nuisances and details which wouldn’t be appropriate to delineate tonight.

Are there Readiness and a structure for receiving children?

Does every child have a student schedule, particularly at the High School where student schedules are individualized? Also, Middle and Elementary schedules – are they in place? Is there staff for every classroom? Does every child who rides a school bus have a scheduled stop along the route and a seat on the bus? What are the mailing dates?

Mandatory trainings.

Review mandatory training schedules to ensure each staff member is trained according to the latest code. HIB, right to know – there is a huge list.

Professional development mapped out for the opening of school, and does it carry through the school year?

Internal Processes for services special needs students and special events.

504 policies and regulations ready for implementation – and it will be an ongoing process. Child Study Team and Intervention and Referral Services (I&RS) procedures in place and functioning. The role of the Chief medical inspector. The process for approval of Student Field Trips – are all proposed field trips safe and connected to the curriculum.

We are still exploring testing students for lead.

Technology Audit

A review will be conducted to identify all school technology and be examined with an eye toward equity and efficiency – does it really work?

Review of all communications including website and procedures for schools getting programs, events, etc. through the pipeline to Central Office, as well as lead remediation notifications.

Physical plant readiness. Cleaning schedules – rooms, floors, chairs; repair schedules, renovation schedules large and small, and summer project schedules. Lead remediation schedules – No fountain will be open which was not remediated and tested.

QSAC preparation.

This is simply a partial list of the foundational work which is necessary to support our most important work which focuses on the growth and development of our students. There are many things in place which we are continuing and in cases improving and refining as we go along.

The work on the strategic plan will be continued.

Redesigning Curriculum to support learner-centered environments.
Developing multiple supports for students to thrive within the context of curricular changes.
We will continue and enhance our commitment to
– EQUALITY and ACCESS
– Restorative practices
– Cultural Competency
– Bias Awareness
– SEED work

All of this work must be supported by a Central Office designed and organized to serve the schools and the children in them.

Frankly, the digital world of fast paced regulations and high stakes compliance sometimes dominates central office organizational design. Our administrators are working at a feverish pace. Yet, I think we need to redesign the Central Office to not only fulfill our compliance responsibilities but to develop a laser focus on serving children and our schools. That includes the superintendent’s office and will require a design that inserts me more deeply into the day to day needs of the schools.

Finally, as I worked through the day to day operations it is becoming clear that you have a beautiful vision for our children…you have planned well… you have training… and you have top notch consultants, you have committees and an engaged community…all the pieces are in play…but

It’s clear you have overcrowded schools causing parents and children anxiety through uncertainty.

You have outdated and inadequate facilities.

-From Portable classrooms 20 plus years beyond their life to

-Decaying facilities at the Schools…which have been neglected for decades.

And… You have de facto segregation.

You have not achieved the level of Equity and Access you have been seeking.

The Board made it clear in my interview that change needs to happen.

Realizing I have only been here 21 days, I am trying to move as swiftly and knowledgeably as possible. But make no mistake about it…. There will be serious proposals submitted to the Board in the coming months.

In closing, I have talked to many people and a common theme has emerged. I heard it first from the Board and I hear it everywhere I go. We need to act. And we will.

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