The South Orange – Maplewood Board of Education took the first step in launching a “paradigm shift” for the school district when it adopted a Strategic Plan Monday night.
The vote was 8-1, with Johanna Wright voting against.
Roughly ten people spoke during the public speaks portion of the night about the plan; about half of them were in favor and others expressed reservations that the process was moving too quickly or disregarding other urgent issues the district faces, such as how to implement the Access & Equity policy. Several people wondered how the district would pay for the action items suggested in the plan.
Peri Smilow, who chaired an action committee, noted her “deep disappointment” with the tenor of conversation on social media. “I’m embarrassed by it.” She said she was extremely excited about the opportunities the plan would open up. Jane Bleasdale lauded the professional and thorough nature of the process, and said the details did not need to be completely developed yet, but the district should move forward.
Joe Malespina said the plan was “putting the cart before the horse.” He presented a petition with roughly 150 signatures asking the BOE to hold off on voting until certain aspects were made more clear.
Melanie Hochberg said it was “overly ambitious,” noting that there were a total of nine strategies and that work to implement it would come at the expense of other pressing issues. Mary Kay Pavlov said the district had gone through so many initiatives, some well intended, that were eventually stopped “for good reasons” but with much time and money wasted. “If you feel that you don’t have quite enough info to vote tonight, wait,” she told the board.
CHS teacher Dr. Scott Stornetta, who chaired an action committee, said the plan was worked on with “integrity” and that it was for now “deliberately aspirational” with details to be worked out over time. He added that regardless of which side of the issue people come down on, they should “walk across the aisle” and speak to those on the other side. “Be willing to listen.”
Stornetta also emphasized that there were many pilot programs and initiatives built into the plan, so if something didn’t work it could be changed or scrapped.
Supt. Dr. John Ramos explained that the Strategic Plan was a lengthy process that would be implemented over time. He noted that 92 people worked on the Action Plans, and that every step included input from teachers, staff, administrators, parents, students, outside experts and the community.
While he called the plan a “paradigm shift” he also said it was an “evolution” rather than a revolution, and that some of what it recommended was already taking place in some areas of the district — but in a piecemeal fashion.
“This is about the big picture, not adopting any specific new programs or adopting any specific Action Plan.”
The next steps are to prioritize the action plan steps, create a Year 1 implementation schedule aligned with the 2017/18 budget (both of which would be voted on in March 2017) and then create a 3 year implementation schedule.
As for budgetary impact, some of the items would require no funding and others are already budgeted for (such as professional development). Some new ideas would require additional funding which would go through the normal process of going to a vote by the BOE. Finally, the district would be reviewing cost saving opportunities as well as seeking new revenue streams.
In voting on this measure, the board did three things, Ramos said:
- Adopt the Strategic Direction, including the district’s new Mission Statement
- Accepting the Action Plans
- Authorizing the administration to carry out the next steps in the Plan
Overwhelmingly, Board of Education members were enthusiastic and optimistic about the comprehensive nature of the process, and how the plan would guide the district moving forward. Donna Smith said in the past she has complained about the district’s “initiative-itis” (she mentioned the IB program as an example), but she had nothing but praise for the Strategic Plan.
Wright, the lone dissenter, cautioned that the budgetary impact was unknown and it was unclear if teachers and administrators were “on board” with the plan. She also lamented that the plan didn’t address how to fix the district’s Focus Schools. In general, Wright felt the board did not need to vote on the plan tonight.