To my friends and neighbors in Maplewood-South Orange,
I am writing to urge you to vote in Tuesday’s election for Board of Education. There is a lot at stake for our district and it looks to be a very tight race. Polls are open from 2-9pm on Tuesday, April 17.
I support Amy Higer, Jennifer Payne-Parrish, and Tia (Karen) Swanson. The key issue for me is the district’s plan to raise expectations and provide a high-quality education to ALL students by delevelling the middle school and substantially restructuring the high school’s placement system. Combined with curricular reform that is already underway, I think these changes will have a positive, much-needed impact on our district.
Higer, Payne-Parrish and Swanson support these reforms and Payne-Parrish, an incumbent, voted for them. The other slate (Pai-Eastman-Bennet) opposes these changes and Eastman, the incumbent on that slate, voted against them. Instead, they support a “choice-based” system which, though rhetorically appealing, is clearly not a realistic option for our district of limited resources. We need unity and a firm commitment to all students –– not more division.
Another important factor which I don’t think has received much discussion is that Madhu Pai works as a “marketing executive for an educational consulting firm” (according to her campaign website). According to LinkedIn, Pai works for Education Dynamics, a company which colleges and universities hire to market their schools to prospective students. Their services allow expensive, for-profit colleges and online-diploma programs to pay to have their programs promoted on seemingly informative websites. While I do not doubt that Pai is committed to our district, I cannot help but see her employment in the for-profit education industry as a conflict of interest. Already, Mark Gleason, a current school board member, is the Executive Director of the Philadelphia School Partnership –- an organization which raises funds from billionaire philanthropists to advocate charter schools and other “choice” style programs. I believe we must be vigilant in keeping our school board independent from an industry that is steadily and stealthily working to undermine our public education system.
On a more positive note, I recently visited my high school history teacher. The AP US History program at the school has nearly doubled in size since when I was a student. What began as a class of 15 now includes over 90 students — nearly 20% of the grade. Test scores have not fallen; nearly all students still receive 4s or 5s on the exam. As my teacher explained, “many of these students never thought of themselves as AP students — until they found themselves an AP class. Then they quickly rose to the challenge.” Expectations matter. We have a great district filled with incredible, dedicated teachers and competent, driven administrators. Already significant improvements have been made, but there is still much to be done. Let’s vote for the board members who will support our district in doing best by ALL students.
Also, when considering Pai-Eastman-Bennet’s promise to “make our decisions based on data and evidence about what works and what does not”, I suggest keeping the findings of this essay in mind: