To the Editor:
Growing up is the act of replacing wrong perceptions with correct ones. It’s time that we replace some of these wrong perceptions that have long plagued our community. I’ve received countless emails from residents struggling to navigate our school system for their children. Some of you have told me that you do not have the courage to speak out; because of the unjust retaliation your children may receive in the district.
We can stop this cycle of frustration and anxiety by voting for candidates who have the tenacity and the courage to stand up for our children and our community. When I became Chair of the BOE’s Community Engagement and Outreach committee, I reached out to the entire community to reverse the downward spiral of the district’s communications. Those listed above came forward to the CE&O meetings and offered ideas and concrete examples of what worked inside and outside of our district. They collaborated with me and the CE&O to organize several meetings with parents, students, and residents. During our time together, I got to know each and every one of them very well. I am endorsing Marian Raab, Shannel Roberts and Elissa Malespina for the Board of Education.
Marian Raab has helped parents as the co-founder of South Orange-Maplewood Parents for a Quality Education. Her work has greatly impacted many schools, including special education schools. She also led the opposition to the “boutique” charter school that tried to drain our district’s resources
Shannel Roberts shares my belief that the Board should assess the performance of the administration. Shannel’s commitment to our children is beyond clear as she’s the founder of the Essex County Chapter of Little Sistahs in the Know Inc., which fosters literacy. She also co-founded ROSES, an after-school leadership and peer-mentoring program.
Elissa Malespina is a nationally recognized educator and communications and IT specialist. She has assembled parental groups, spoken at board meetings, and educated and mentored students. She has also volunteered her expertise about budget issues dealing with communications. Some ask what is Malespina like; they’re really asking, what was Malespina like before. It’s sort of like the “Ah Ha” moment for the Captain of the sailing ship who wrote “Amazing Grace.” At a certain time in life, you are “…blind, but now you see.” That comes through with Malespina.
Malespina, Roberts, and Raab will bring a change that our district needs. Current board members must take ownership of the QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum) report, which is the NJ Department of Education’s monitoring and evaluation system for public school districts. Our district scored 52 out of a possible 100 in the area of Instruction and Programing; passing is 80. Moving forward, only these three candidates will work with me to uncover and correct the inadequacies apparent in our district. We need assessments of our district administration to hold them accountable to the highest educational quality. We have to be involved with the details in order to insure appropriate corrections. We have to fix the current perception of only agreeing with the administration. We need the courage to do this and the time is now.
We, on the Board of Education, have made mistakes, but these mistakes are not irreconcilable. It is the non-disclosure of full or key facts surrounding those mistakes, which hampered their necessary corrections from being swiftly and efficiently enacted. For example:
- Montrose school, set for 150 seats for early childhood education, is sitting empty with significantly less students enrolled. Why is the building still not open?
- A new addition to Maplewood Middle School was built without air conditioning. The air conditioning was installed after completion of the new wing.
- Access and Equality issues were ignored, and the administration failed to tell the board that they signed an agreement with the federal government.
- Teacher contract…not yet completed. (66 positions have left the school district over the past year, when the high average was 15.)
- Consultants…we have already spent $203,777 this school year. (These fees do not include Special Education consultants costs.)
Since the 2012-13 school year, 27 Administrators have left or moved to other positions in the district including; the Superintendent; both Assistant Superintendents; the High School Principal; ALL the High School Assistant Principals; both Middle School Principals; and four out of the six Elementary School Principals. There have been 177 staff members who left the district including tenured staff in the last three years. These numbers are of great concern.
Bullying…the district has delayed reporting to the community.
(The Village Green has recently printed an article on the bullying. It’s hard to find on the Village Green, but well worth looking for.)
Rabb, Roberts and Malespina have the valor needed to solve these and other problems. In addition, they are always conscious of the costs to taxpayers and we should all take comfort in knowing that our welfare is being recognized.
The BOE voted two years ago to have enacted legislation removing from the towns’ Board of School Estimate (BOSE) their ability to monitor the school district’s operating budget. In 2015, the operating budget was $123+M. That’s the figure residents know as the “…57% of our property taxes.” One of the first visible budget issues, which caught the community’s notice after the BOE had their new powers, was the BOE’s effort to try to install an indoor pool for $8.1M.
Currently we have budgets for which the BOE voted without having actuals, or sufficient information.
What about making children sit in a testing environment that the State of NJ and now even the Federal Department of Education has said is wrong, and needs more analysis. Had they done their homework, and acted to protect the children?
Others running for a board seat, say they know what’s happening in the district. However, to allow SOMS to remain a Focus school for the past four years while writing op-eds, and speaking at BOE meetings in praise of the Principal who was leading the failing school, does not speak well of them doing what is best for our students or our district. They also allowed such things as the failing International Baccalaureate program to stay in our schools, eating up tax dollars while plummeting our district academically into failing status as reported in 2015 by Essex County and the State of NJ, while not speaking the truth to the community. These are not the kind of traits needed to turn our school district around.
Some call it appeasing when one won’t speak out against injustices and wrong actions, especially when one is in a position to do so. An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile, hoping it will eat her/him last. QSAC says with a score of 52 out of a possible 100 in instruction and programs, we are past the point of appeasing those who are damaging our school district. And QSAC is not alone in telling the district this. The ACLU told us too.
Some say dissenting voices are too loud when speaking out. But all voices in our two towns have to be respected. We must stop this cycle of obstruction and apprehension by voting for candidates who stand up for our children and our school community. We need candidates that advocate successful growth. It’s our duty to work together and make our schools excellent again.
I am asking for your vote for Raab, Roberts and Malespina – Team SOMA 2015. They have already demonstrated an obligation to do the right thing for our children and our school district. They are a team with the audaciousness to honor all voices and change the direction of our district.
Coach Johanna Wright
South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education ~ second vice president
Chair, SOMSD BOE Community Outreach and Engagement Committee
The opinions expressed in this endorsement represent my own views and not those of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.