From South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education member Annemarie Maini:
Dear South Orange Maplewood Community,
Thank you for providing me the privilege of serving on the school board for the past 5 ½ years. It has been an honor and an incredible opportunity for me to learn and grow as an individual and as a board and community member. The Village Green and TapInto asked me if I was planning to run for a third term, so I am formally informing our community that I will not be seeking a third term.
I have had the privilege to work alongside some of the most thoughtful board members and SOMSD staff, and I have received emails from engaged, and expert, community members. Many of these exchanges broadened my thinking and allowed me to frame questions to the administration for deeper understanding. Even if we disagreed, I hope people saw some of their concerns and language used in the final discussions and decisions.
I have also had the honor of learning from several superintendents. Dr. Ramos brought humility and humanity to the role that allowed him to identify the urgent needs of our district: crumbling infrastructure, hyper leveling and lack of opportunity at the high school, and lack of integration in our elementary schools. He also identified the district culture of inconsistent policy implementation – labeling us as the district of exceptions. Interim Dr. Ficarra brought a clear sense of project management and commitment to execution. He had the expertise to push back on the architects and demand updated identification of urgent repairs. He used that experience to navigate the current, extensive construction project and bond funding through the community. He also reminded the board that changes in school climate and culture could not come from the board room; he articulated the role of individual school leaders and classroom teachers in driving the culture of the school and district.
Dr. Taylor joined us two years ago after extensive interviews and discussions. He decoupled the construction timelines from the integration plan allowing the district to move forward with the planned Kindergarten assignment algorithm this year even with the COVID related construction delays. Dr. Taylor has also invested in training for our school leaders starting with inviting HMI to monthly meetings to ensure all conversations had an equity and inclusion lens, to incorporating Dr. Severn’s professional development, Leading for Adaptive Change, to support the development of all building leaders. Supporting and mentoring great school leaders is critical to building welcoming and inclusive school environments where all children and staff can thrive.
One of the most challenging things about serving on the school board is that the job isn’t really the job we all want it to be. We want to be able to run the schools or at least have significant influence on the decisions made while running the schools. Instead the board needs to ensure the schools are well run by monitoring the work of the Superintendent through asking the questions: what problem are you trying to solve and why is that important, what constraints and alternatives did you consider, and how are you going to measure the impact. Defining the annual district goals is an opportunity for the community, board, and superintendent to identify the key district issues that prevent the success of each and every child and to understand how the action plans will deliver positive movement toward addressing those issues. The action plans are based on the superintendent’s experience and expertise, and their assessment of the capacity of the organization. Throughout the year the board should request action plan updates from the superintendent so that the community and the board are clear on positive progress, as well as the reasons and impact of any adjustments or delays. These regular updates then lay the groundwork for any adjustments to the district goal and action plan development for the following year, and the cycle begins again.
I look forward to observing the continued success of the current board and superintendent on delivering a successful infrastructure project (so that students and staff can have safe and functional learning environments), continuing with the elementary and middle school integration efforts (so that each school reflects the demographics of our vibrant community), accelerating the commitment to improving curriculum and instruction across our district (so that all students can thrive), and enhancing our recruitment, mentoring and retention of our highly qualified and committed staff (so that students can see themselves in the building leadership and classroom teacher).
Thank you for allowing me to have this opportunity to serve our community.
Speaking as an individual SOMSD board member and not intending to reflect the will of the board.