Jeffrey Bennett has been a member of the South Orange – Maplewood Board of Education for three-and-a-half years. He decided not to re for re-election this year.
To the Editor:
I’m very pleased to endorse Peggy Freedson, Madhu Pai, and Wayne Eastman for the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.
A good Board of Education should have a balance of new members and members with more experience. If Madhu and Wayne were to not win reelection, the only Board member on the new board who is not in her or his first term would be Beth Daugherty and the Board’s institutional memory would collectively be very short.
Having observed Wayne as a Board member for the past three years I can testify that his long experience on the Board has informed many conversations, especially in areas like deciding to reverse Administrative non-renewal decisions, construction of district goals, the history of Seth Boyden, and the critical hiring and onboarding of a new superintendent.
Madhu, for her part, is very knowledgeable about the budget and as she becomes a senior board member she would have much to contribute based on personal Board experience. (As an very active PTA member, Madhu is also keenly aware of the pulse of the community and brings that to the table at Board meetings.) Moreover, serving on a Board has a long and steep learning curve – even after three and a half years I am still learning new things about district operations – so it behooves the community to have a mix of experienced and new members.
I’ve known Peggy since 2012 and am always grateful for her insights into education and this school district. Peggy Freedson would be a new board member, but she has far more professional experience in education than most Board members have, having started as a public school teacher at a large, ethnically diverse urban elementary school in Los Angeles. Peggy, a professor of education at Montclair State, is a bona fide expert in curriculum, literacy, and in helping teachers better serve special-needs populations. As a true education expert, Peggy would be highly aware of what education strategies have worked in other districts, what has fallen flat, and what has had a mixed record. When the school district is under such budgetary pressure and has to make its curricular and pedagogical choices carefully, Peggy will have much useful advice on what roads to take and not to take. As a member of the Excellence & Equity (ie, Curriculum) Committee, Peggy would be an outstanding voice for better services for children with special needs, more effective math and reading instruction, and for a content-rich, balanced curriculum.
The Board of Education is not above criticism for his processes and decisions, but I think that one criticism about the Board that it does not “listen” is not quite fair. I know that sometimes the Board may seem like it does not “listen,” but sometimes this is because the Board cannot do as it is being asked for budgetary or legal reasons.
Also, on several key issues the Board has been responsive. The Board has been very diligent in responding to concerns about math and had several committee discussions on this. Now, for 2015-16, leveling criteria for 7th and 8th grade math are being improved and more students will be in higher-level math classes than ever before. Tests are supposed to be sent home to parents as well.
Also, when numerous members of the Boyden PTA asked for additional resources for Boyden the Board listened and supported this. Faced with the fact that fewer students are opting-into Boyden than in the past and its FRL-eligible rate was triple the average of the other elementary schools, the Board tentatively considered redesigning Seth Boyden’s magnet or sending zone to balance out the elementary schools demographically. However, the Board always knew that listening was critical and thus participated in a community forum for Boyden. When the Board learned there was no desire for any large change to Boyden’s model it stopped considering any such change. Finally, the Board is moving in the direction of open access higher-level classes.
Madhu and Wayne specifically have attempted to make the Board better at listening. In her first year on the Board Madhu was the #1 advocate for the Board to have office hours, where the public could have conversations with Board members. Eventually office hours were set up, but participation by the public was lower than anticipated and office hours were discontinued. Wayne, as president of the Board, has also begun to have the Board respond to public comments. Both Wayne and Madhu, (as well as every other Board member in my opinion) are always ready to talk with anyone from the public in informal settings as well.
In conclusion, I hope you consider all the candidates and study the issues, but I hope you join me in voting for Wayne Eastman, Madhu Pai, and Peggy Freedson for the Board of Education. All three represent a broad agenda and are taxpayer sensitive. I feel that the three of them represent what our school district best needs at the moment and would address all of our challenges with proper deliberation, knowledge, and consideration for all.