The candidates are: Regina Eckert, Nubia Wilson, Bill Gifford, Ritu Pancholy and William Meyer.
Eckert, Wilson and Gifford run on the ““Students First” ticket. Pancholy and Meyer race on the “Do better, together” ticket.
As candidate forums take place late in the election cycle (especially given early voting and mail-in voting), Village Green has prepared four questions for candidates on different topics of interest in the South Orange School District- Maplewood. We know there can often be many questionnaires during the election cycle, but we hope these questions will provide voters with additional information about the candidates well before Election Day.
We asked each of the five candidates to answer each question individually. We asked them to limit each response to 500 words or less. We publish each response in its entirety and without modification.
Read the candidates’ answers to the question on bus and transport here has access and equity here and the superintendent of schools performance here.
The fourth and final question relates to the the governance and functionality of the Board of Education itself.
Read all of Village Green’s election coverage here.
GOVERNANCE AND FUNCTION/PERFORMANCE OF THE EDUCATIONAL COUNCIL.
In its last retirement, the BOE called its own performance “less than adequate” on measures such as how it communicates with each other and with the community. What do you think is the biggest problem with the functioning of the current board and how do you think this problem could be solved? See Village Green’s coverage of the retreat here.
A dysfunctional board equals a dysfunctional school district. Looking at the meetings of the BOE, it is obvious that there is a lack of respect. There is no camaraderie between everything members, so how can they cultivate trust? Without trust, there is no foundation on which to build a strong team. Relationship building is necessary inside and outside the district meeting room. If I were a member of the board of directors, I would do my best to have regular time with my fellow members and get to know them better to understand their values, their ideas and their motivation to sacrifice hours of their lives for this volunteer position. . BOE members are more than just a group of people who vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They are concerned neighbors and relatives who want to make a positive change, but that alone cannot cultivate trust or create a functioning council. We need BOE members who will make collaboration a priority, no matter what list they ran on when they campaigned. We also need members who are open to hearing the opinions of others. When you bring your own biases to the table and don’t really listen to (and consider) the views of your colleagues, you’re doing the whole community a disservice.
Our school board is currently crippled by the twin issues of culture and perception, and we need to work on both for the health of our community.
At times, we felt like we couldn’t get past a single BOE meeting without a member conflagration igniting and dominating headlines and social media the next day. This absolutely must stop. As board members, we must model the teamwork and conflict resolution skills that we would like to instill in our students, which requires that each person show respect for their colleagues and for the rules. baseline established for our meetings. We will not always agree on all decisions, but we must accept the decision-making process.
These headlines are also unfortunate because they overshadow the legitimate and important work of the board and the fruitful collaboration that the nine members engage in most of the time, at public meetings and in committee. We must always remember that the board is made up of volunteer members of the community who have dedicated countless hours to the often thankless task of keeping our school system running and addressing issues as they arise. as they occur.
As three new members join the Board of Directors, addressing these dual concerns of culture and perception must be a priority this year. And both come down to trust. Board members need to be confident that everyone is willing to engage in good faith discussions. We should also create opportunities to build camaraderie off the slides, just as our city governments have been able to do. We must also commit to improving communication and disclosure, becoming more intentional as a council, working with district administration and legal counsel, to “show our work” to the greatest extent possible. This is necessary to inspire greater public confidence in the actions of the council.
In my legal career, I face the same small group of naysayers every day in hundreds of cases, and it’s crucial that I advocate strong while maintaining productive relationships going forward. I am proud to have built lasting collegial relationships and even friendships across the aisle. Ritu is also steeped in the practice of fostering constructive engagement among colleagues, even in tense environments. Our skill sets will pay dividends to the board by facilitating productive speech.
Ritu and I are also similar in that we are dedicated to consensus building but not easily led. We run together for the BOE because we have complementary skills to bring to the board, and many years of insight and professional experience in education. We are each committed to independently voting our conscience and collaborating with all of our colleagues to make the right decisions.
The current Council is defined by dysfunction. It has been reported that the chairman of the board has publicly bullied other board members, using intimidation to govern rather than collaboration. Equally troubling is the lack of transparency, as information appears to be withheld from Council members who do not correspond to the majority. We have seen these issues come to a head with the resignation of a board member and others bringing ethics charges against each other for harassment.
The biggest problem we see is speech degradation. Our main job as board members is to make informed decisions that best serve our students. We cannot do this if information is siloed and Council members are afraid to speak honestly.
Like all organizations and institutions, from time to time people struggle with conflict and express themselves productively. As school board members and community members, we have the added responsibility of showing our children how to resolve conflict and work toward our common goals.
My company, Culturupt, is actually frequently hired to train on this very topic; we run trainings on workplace conflict and building a culture of respectful inclusion. Typically, when I coach organizations and businesses on this topic, I remind people that effective communication is 80% listening and 20% talking or talking. Our communication styles are derived from our parents and community, our mentors and teachers, the negative and positive reinforcement we have received in work relationships, and the intrinsic personalities we have as individuals. It is important for us to be aware of our own style, but also to respect and make room for the communication styles of others. For example, I am a very direct person, but others are not, and I have to be aware of this.
As a lawyer, I know how helpful it is to be presented with the other side, to look at an issue from multiple angles, to open your eyes to new ideas, to promote growth and problem learning. “Listen to learn, not to listen so I can speak again.” I pledge to continue to be an independent thinker, to listen to others, to learn from our history, to seek out and listen to experts, and to work with my colleagues to ensure that we develop consensus on the issues we ask administration to respond.
To honor this commitment, I would work with my colleagues to review the board’s committee policies and set expectations for communication between committee chairs and the rest of the board. I would also work on revising the annual agenda planning policy to include a clear process for board members to recommend additions to the annual agenda, which guides the monthly agendas. I would also like to work with my colleagues to ensure that we take the time to review the governance best practice code, document the Board of Directors adopted on the recommendation of the NJSBA, and develop a common understanding of examples of these best practices. With this work, I would feel very comfortable and I think Board colleagues would agree that these executives would encourage lively discussion of issues to drive positive change and iteration for the benefit of our students.
The biggest issues I see with our current board are lack of transparency, lack of respect and lack of consensus building. As a member of the community, it’s been extremely disappointing that there doesn’t seem to be a willingness for open discussion and different perspectives, that members of our governing body have filed a number of ethics charges against each other over the past few years that a board member resigned because she felt her voice was being marginalized by other members. While I find it encouraging that board members were honest in their self-assessments, actions speak louder than words and I have yet to see anything change since then. There may have been an improvement in camera in committee meetings, in fact, I hope there is. However, the last board meeting held on September 29, 2022 resulted in a caustic shouting match and it is obvious to me that there is still a lot of work to be done. As a member of the community, a parent in the district, that’s not what I want to see, that’s not who I am.
Collaboration and a greater degree of transparency are key to fostering consensus and trust. We need board members to come to meetings prepared to ensure productive conversations. And while I appreciate some Board members asking the right questions during introductions, many of those questions can be asked before the meeting, assuming reports are shared with Board members beforehand. If we expect the board’s communication with our community to improve, it must first start from within.