VIDEO: 8 Board of Ed Candidates Answer Queries on Access, Equity, Security, More

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Dorcas Lind was a no-show and Elissa Malespina joined in electronically with Wayne Eastman, Peggy Freedson, Annemarie Maini, Madhu Pai, Marian Raab, Shannel Roberts and Chris Sabin for the Hilton Neighborhood Association’s South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education Candidates Forum last night at the DeHart Community Center in Maplewood.

Candidates discussed what they’d like to see improved in the district (communications, teacher empowerment, more world languages), school security, and the Sage Consultants’ report on access and equity in the district — among other topics.

Regarding the Sage report, the eight candidates all pointed out that it was preliminary and said they looked forward to a second final report with detailed recommendations. Many also said they saw the Access & Equity policy adopted on Monday night at the Board of Education meeting as an important first step that would need details and implementation.

“We must ensure there is a ramp of support,” said Annemarie Maini regarding students provided access to higher level/AP classes through the policy, but Maini called the Access & Equity policy a “good first step that eliminates the gatekeeper.”

Madhu Pai said she was “proud” of the A&E policy and that “nobody should be in the way of a motivated student.” She noted that the district needed to address gaps around data gathering that were pointed out by Sage.

Marian Raab said she wanted to see an end to the “Orwellian doublespeak” that called a lower level math class “College Prep.” She also wanted to see more teachers and guidance counselors of color in the district.

Shannel Roberts said that her running mate Raab “took the words right out of my mouth” and noted that when “students are asked to reach higher, they do better.”

Chris Sabin said the district “needed to be more effective and more transparent” in addressing access and equity.

Elissa Malespina noted that she resigned her position at Sage when she decided to run for Board of Education and said the Sage report “set the stage” for the district to “build a responsible framework” to provide access.

Wayne Eastman said that he thought the district could learn much from Thelma Ramsey and her colleagues at Sage who work in East Orange. He noted that East Orange was “used to providing access and support,” unlike SOMSD where “we are used to being the gatekeeper.”

Peggy Freedson stressed the need to strengthen early childhood education because “too many students are not coming to high school with the levels they need.”

Watch the video for more, provided courtesy of Joy Yagid of SOMAtv.

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