I am a parent of a child at South Orange Middle School, an advocate and attorney for children with special needs, and a long-time proponent of the adoption of the International Baccalaureate program in our district. This year’s school board election comes at an historic moment in our district, and for me, the choice is clear: I am voting for Jennifer Payne-Parrish, Tia (Karen) Swanson, and Amy Higer.
The most important thing for me is that the Payne-Parrish – Swanson – Higer team supports Superintendent Brian Osborne’s courageous stance on reforming our district’s system of tracking students at an early age, while their opponents absolutely do not. Payne-Parrish, Swanson and Higer share an overarching goal for our district: No matter where children start out, by the time they are ready to graduate high school, they will be prepared for a four-year college. After many years of wrong-headed policies that denied too many children equal opportunity, we have finally turned a corner. Payne-Parrish, Swanson and Higer are the right people to implement the voted-upon reforms because they are the ones who really believe that the reforms can and must work.
But Payne-Parrish, Swanson and Higer are not mere cheerleaders for the superintendent, nor are they, as their opponents would have the community believe, simply interested in the struggling student. They are every bit as much the advocates for the highest achieving student, and they recognize what is clear in the social science literature – that all students benefit from a diverse, non-leveled environment.
All the board candidates want an excellent school district, and all of them have a deep commitment to the welfare and success of our students. But it is important for voters to understand the difference between the two sides, and I respectfully disagree with the positions taken by Wayne Eastman, Jeffrey Bennett, and Madhu Pai.
The other side sees a district headed down the wrong path, and reasons to be fearful about where we are going. They are heavily focused on the “enormous” skill differences amongst our children and the “alarming” racial achievement gap. They describe a district in which very little has been done in the elementary schools to close this achievement gap; a district that offers too few opportunities for children to excel in the middle schools and too few electives in the high school; a district in which boys are falling behind girls; and a district that has “a problem with social promotion.” Most critically, they conclude that these problems will make it virtually impossible for diverse children to be taught in the same classroom.
Payne-Parrish, Swanson and Higer, on the other hand, see a very different picture and draw very different conclusions. In my view, the facts and data support the Payne-Parrish - Swanson – Higer team.
When Payne-Parrish, Swanson and Higer look at our district, they see a district which has instituted full-day kindergarten, when many said it could not be done; a district which has adopted an inclusion model for children with special needs, again, when many said it could not be done; a district which developed a more rigorous language arts curriculum in the elementary schools; and a district which initiated targeted interventions to improve the skills of struggling students. And, most contentiously -- but in my view, thoughtfully, reasonably, and successfully -- a district that has leveled up three out of four core subjects in the seventh grade. And this, of course, after a similar battle many years ago and now long forgotten, that saw our district successfully level up three out of four core subjects in the sixth grade -- a reform that led to higher test scores and a more cohesive middle school community.
No child in our district at the age of 11 or 12 will ever again be told, in a public and demoralizing way, that his or her school did not believe he or she was capable of learning together with the “smart kids.”
Ultimately, Payne-Parrish, Swanson, and Higer have a much different vision of education from the other team -- a broad and expansive one. Payne-Parrish, Swanson and Higer want our schools to motivate all children, to have our children learn together so that they can learn from each other, and to hold all our children to the highest standards. Payne-Parrish, Swanson and Higer have the depth of knowledge of our children, our schools and our community, the values I respect, and most critically, the ability to make our very good schools even better.
I urge you to vote for Payne-Parrish, Swanson and Higer on April 17th.