‘I Am Most Proud of Our District’s Students’—Thair Joshua Reflects on Historic Board of Ed Presidency

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The following remarks were made by South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education President Thair Joshua at his final meeting as President and member of the BOE on December 15, 2022. Joshua served one three-year term as a member and two years as President, making history as the first Black man elected to lead the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. Joshua’s remarks followed a tribute to Joshua by BOE member Courtney Winkfield and the presentation of a plaque by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ronald G. Taylor.

Thank you for those warm remarks, Board Member Winkfield. When thinking about what I wanted to say, a few people suggested to me that I focus on what I’m most proud of during my three years on the BOE.

Well, I’m most proud of our district’s students. We heard from some a few minutes ago. We celebrate their amazing accomplishments at every meeting during our Board Recognitions. Every year we hear folks say students come first. They’re right and we should never forget that. In fact, students are listed at the top of the district’s organization chart to keep us grounded in our mission, which is to improve student outcomes.

Three years ago, I didn’t know what Coronavirus was, and I suspect I’m not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything about what I thought serving on the Board would be. But I am proud of how the district pivoted to a world which was unfamiliar to all of us. No one knew how to teach virtually. No one knew how to run a district virtually. None of us knew how to serve on a board virtually. No one knew how to do any of those things in a hybrid manner either, but we figured it out.

I am proud of the district’s Intentional Integration Initiative, an integral part of improving the outcomes of Black students, has been successful in the initial goal of having those grades look like the district overall, and removing the large socio-economic disparities we saw at our elementary schools, and while less drastic, our middle schools as well. There is more work to be done in this area, particularly with in-classroom segregation, not just building specific segregation and I trust the future Board(s) of Education to remain focused on this important long-term district goal. It is not just a legal obligation, but a moral one.

Left to right: Dr. Ronald Taylor, Arun Vadlamani, Dr. Qawi Telesford, Erin Siders, Thair Joshua, Susan Bergin, Courtney Winkfield and Vanessa Previlon. Shown on screen: Kaitlin Wittleder, Elissa Malespina and Johanna Wright.

I am proud to have been a part of the Long Range Facilities Plan, which is up and running at our elementary schools, with the high school and middle school set to be approved by this Spring. This work has added over 10 classrooms so far with over 30 more forthcoming. The first school to be completed was Delia Bolden Elementary. Of course, that school name did not exist when I joined the Board, and I’m proud to have been part of a Board that removed the former name and brought this new one to fruition. As our community does its part to work through the racist history of our towns, state and country, and its embrace of the Juneteenth holiday, removing the former name was a necessary step in our journey.

I am proud to have worked on negotiating a deal with SOMEA that fairly compensates our teachers, ensuring the base salary for new teachers will be over $58,000 in September 2023. While much less fanfare surrounded it, it was equally important to get a deal with our building leaders and administrators. Their work is equally important in ensuring our overall goal of better student outcomes for students.

I’m proud to be the first Black male elected President of this Board. We talk frequently about how representation matters, and in a district that has long subjected black boys to disparate educational outcomes, I know this representation mattered.

Ok, the list of Thank Yous and I’m done.

Thank you to our student reps, Noah (Morros) and Vanessa (Previlon), as well as their predecessors Lily (Forman) and Jakhi (Lodgson-McCray). Your student perspective is an integral part of what we do here at the Board and your voices are indeed heard.

Thank you to the district administrators and all the folks here at 525 Academy Street who help the district operate successfully. The Board is not supposed to run the district, and these folks are the ones who make everything come together. I know I shouldn’t name names, but I do want to acknowledge Keith (Bonds) and Ben (Myers) in the back who help make the hybrid meeting process functional as well as Marisol (Rios) who always greets me with a warm smile when I get here before a meeting.

Thank you to my colleagues past and present. I have learned something from each and every one of you. I won’t name them all in the interest of time but I’ve served with 15 others during my three years. Actually, I’ll name one, Erin Siders. When we hit the campaign trail three years ago, it was to do something I’d never done before, win an election. Three years later I have something I never had before, a big sister.

Lastly, Thank you to my family, who are here this evening. My parents are here, I hope I’ve made you proud. To my kids I am proud to be your Dad, you both make me proud every day. And to my wife, the sacrifices you’ve made to allow me to serve the community have not gone unnoticed. So I have one small token of appreciation for you. Thank you again.

South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education President Thair Joshua and his parents, December 15, 2022.

Listen to Joshua’s remarks at 1:38:24 in the video:

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