From Annemarie Maini and Javier Farfan:
Maini and Farfan: Getting from the School System We Have to the One We Need
We share the deep conviction — based on our own personal experiences — that all children are capable of excellence. Growing up, we both had special, caring teachers who made a transformative difference in our lives. (See Javier’s and Annemarie’s personal statements.) We believe it is a teacher’s approach to engagement and instruction that is central to ensuring that all children are well served.
We agree on what outcomes we want for children: schools where all students feel welcome, respected, inspired and safe. Our goal is to help all students discover that they can, through persistence, curiosity and self-reflection, become lifelong learners. We want an environment where students are active and engaged members of the school community, where excellence is not just an aspiration but a reality for all students, and where every teacher is enabled, encouraged, and supported to become that special teacher who inspires students, who reminds us of that special teacher from our own school days.
We are both educators and we know that all children have the ability to become successful learners. Javier is an adjunct professor at the Seton Hall Stillman School of Business. Annemarie has experience teaching college math during and immediately after her graduate work in Math Education at Syracuse. For the past ten years, she has been the owner and Director of the South Orange Country Day preschool.
Central to the transformation we seek is the development and cultivation of powerful relationships — between teachers and students, teachers and families, teachers and teachers, teachers and school leadership teams, and school leadership teams and central office.
Getting From the School System We Have to the One We Need:
We believe that any successful effort requires teamwork on multiple fronts.
- We need a Superintendent with a track record of success in districts like ours, who is strong on vision/leadership, but who also knows how to manage a large organization by directly supervising central office and the district’s principals. Our new Superintendent must be able to mentor and inspire all district staff, but also able and willing to hold everyone in the organization accountable to comply with the law, regulations and Board policy. The new Superintendent must understand the importance of regular, effective, transparent communication with parents and the community, and who can teach all administrators and staff to do that as well.
- We need school leadership teams who are able to do the same thing with each and every adult in their buildings and who enjoy regular engagement with parents.
- We need a Board with the diligence and determination to shepherd through the final facilities upgrade plan, explaining to the community the urgency of renovation to address serious health and safety concerns and new construction to provide desperately needed classrooms to replace the 16 failing portables and the additional 10-15 classrooms necessary to accommodate our growing elementary enrollment. The superintendent, working with the Board, needs to clearly communicate the decision making process, the trade-offs accepted and the rationale behind the recommendations.
- We need a Board with the courage and resolve to stand by its charge to the Superintendent that the district must comply with New Jersey’s Comprehensive Equity Plan regulations to ensure that the demographics of each school in the district mirror the composition of the district as a whole at each grade level. The Board must perform due diligence on the Superintendent’s eventual recommendation for socio-economic integration, listen to community input and then give its support to the effort.
- We need a human resources process that makes the “ability to engage and motivate all students” and the “belief that every child can learn” central criteria in hiring and evaluation. The district must seek out the best and brightest experienced teachers — especially teachers of color — and convince them to apply for open positions in our district. The district must provide a more effective support system — including ongoing instructional coaching — that helps us retain existing staff as well as our new hires. Cultivating an environment in which teacher collaboration can flourish is essential for all new teachers to build meaningful relationships with their colleagues. The district must encourage teachers to grow into becoming lead teachers or principals, with support and mentorship along the way.
- We need a Board and Superintendent who are committed to full implementation of the Board’s Access and Equity policy by taking concrete steps to prepare and encourage all students to opt up to more challenging courses, providing them with the necessary academic and emotional supports when they do so and providing teachers the necessary support (including lower class sizes) to enable them to succeed.
- Access and Equity is not enough to eliminate the many gaps in achievement that persist for members of several sub-groups, including students of color, immigrant students, female students, students from disadvantaged families and students with disabilities. Some of these students have serious skill deficits and are struggling to keep up while others simply need a little extra support and higher expectations from teachers. We need a Board and district committed to improving instruction, aligning curriculum, and providing the resources, across all grade levels to provide the academic and emotional supports for all struggling learners.
- We need a Board which will stick to its policy governance and oversight role, one which will support the Superintendent in keeping his or her focus on achieving the agreed district goals and avoid the temptation to continually insist he or she attend to less critical matters.
- We need a Board and Superintendent committed to getting all district operational processes (guidance, scheduling, transportation, just to name a few) up to a level that is compliant with the law and policy and to develop appropriate monitoring of these processes to ensure that all of our students are well served (Special Education, Out of District students, Gifted & Talented, struggling learners, etc.)
- We need a Board and Superintendent determined to seriously address the climate and culture of our schools and to put an end to the incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying (“HIB”) committed both by staff and students, especially against members of the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups, which violate NJ law, Board policy and undermine all our efforts to become the district we want to be.
The district is set to interview and hire a new superintendent. The person hired will be a central factor in whether we succeed or fail as a district in the years to come. Please participate in one of the Community Forums scheduled and fill out the online survey.
No less important to the district’s success will be a Board which is courageous, committed to working together for the common good, and able to reason together toward a strong consensus on district goals and have the will to stay focused on achieving them.
We want to be part of that process and believe that we have the understanding, energy and experience to help make this a district where all parents have confidence that their children will be served well, whatever challenges arise in the K-12 journey of each.
We welcome your feedback. In the course of the campaign, we look forward to meeting many of you, both parents and others across the community, and building trust in our shared outlook, as well as our experience, expertise and commitment to see this work through to the end.