Some Trustees on Fair Lawn BOE Not Thrilled With 5-Year Strategic Plan

Matt Lee of the New Jersey School Boards Association presented the report of a five-year strategic for Fair Lawn to three dozen residents on May 17. Credits: Lianna Albrizio

FAIR LAWN, N.J. – A couple of members of the Board of Education expressed their displeasure with the recently released five-year strategic plan, saying they expected a more "action"-oriented document.

The plan, released on May 17, featured Health, Wellness and Social Purpose as the Fair Lawn School District’s top goals outlined in the plan presented by Matt Lee of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

While board member Jeff Klein said he appreciated Lee’s time and effort that went into preparing the report, he said it read more like “an elongated mission statement or a vision as opposed to an actual action plan.”

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“If I just looked at this, I wouldn’t know what Fair Lawn would really be looking like in five years,” he said. “So rhetorically… if we’re going to continue to be the best… I think we need a road map that’s more congruent with that.”

Klein added he didn’t think that technology, one of the identified strengths, is in fact, a strength, and that there’s more the district can do with respect to comprehensive offerings.

Board member Emily Cohen said the objectives needed more articulation.

“I really think the work should be on the administration now to take what came from that session and formulate that into smart objectives,” she said. “As a board, part of our responsibility is to support the district in progressing. And the only way as a board, in my perspective, that can assure that we’re making progress is that we set up goals that we all agree upon and that we can actually have pure indicators of what progress would look like in five years… And I think Fair Lawn can do better than that.”

The five-year plan was formulated with input from community members, parents, staff and members of the administration during three meetings held late last year at Fair Lawn High School during nightly “breakout sessions” to discuss the challenges, strengths, goals and visions of the district in 2023.

Objectives under the health and wellness goal were creating a sense of belonging within each of the district’s nine schools with an emphasis on social media and providing programs that support the emotional and mental health of students, as well as opportunities for students to develop empathy for diversity.

Another goal is to create a culture and climate of inclusion fostering tolerance of diversity among students. Objectives include creating cultural opportunities for students to share their heritage, exploring best practices that enable diverse families to participate in the school community and updating the curriculum with an emphasis on culture. According to a 2010 census, roughly 85 percent of Fair Lawn’s population is white, with about 10 percent Asian and another 10 percent Hispanic or Latino.

Technology was another with a better understanding of digital learning environments for 21st Century success with increased access to virtual learning experiences.

Five-year visions included state-of-the-art STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) labs, a better school/social life balance, outdoor classroom experiences and moving students to address social issues.

While parents, staff, community members and administrators identified the soft borders policy and class size as challenges late last year, the $25 million referendum to expand the district’s two middle schools to accommodate burgeoning enrollment which taxpayers passed by a landslide vote in March, will free-up much needed classroom space in the elementary schools when the fifth-graders are moved to the new middle schools in 2020, solving the class size issue. District officials also said they plan to scrap the soft borders policy, which they put in place last April mandating new homeowners relocate their child to a different elementary school not corresponding to the one in the vicinity of their home address.    

Cohen recommended the board look at components of the budget and committees. Interim Superintendent Ernest Palestis agreed. 

“The real key with the strategic plan is the action plan,” added Palestis. “When we look at the action plan then we’ll be better able, I believe, to take a look at the entire process. So what we have here is really a description of how we got started and what the community feedback resulted in. What does occur next is that the administrative team moves forward with the action plan component. When we have that component in place, then I think we’ll be able to have a better assessment of the strategic plan… and part of the action plan, I would anticipate, would include the involvement of the board committees in some role… So I think we’re seeing a part of the strategic plan. There’s more to come. And the action plan part is going to be huge.”

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