MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - When Dr. Ronald Taylor began his tenure as Superintendent of the South Orange-Maplewood School District in July 2019 our two towns had no idea of the adjustments we would all have to make in the coming year.
Dr. Taylor maintains that though circumstances have changed, his goals haven’t. He came into this position wanting to make sure the community had confidence in the office of the superintendent. He says that by being responsive to parents and local leaders who brought their concerns to him and by showing up to events he was able to form relationships in the community.
“People have been really welcoming,” said Dr. Taylor about his first year in South Orange and Maplewood. “I think that the school district and the community is embracing the fact that they have a permanent superintendent.”
Prior to Dr. Taylor’s hiring the district was dealing with several issues including, a construction project, an unfulfilled integration plan and an unresolved court case with the Black Parents Workshop (BPW). Now a year later, despite the delays caused by the pandemic, the district has settled the case with the BPW, promised to begin implementing the integration plan and finalized the construction plans for submission to the state for approval.
Dr. Taylor has a history of using data to inform the solutions he pursues. He says that he has already begun doing that in SOMSD. He pointed to the surveys the district conducted in the early days of the pandemic to find out how many students needed Chromebooks and/or WiFi hotspots to keep up with schoolwork. Dr. Taylor also pointed out that data based solutions don't always look the way many people expect.
“We’re looking at data like the number of students who were suspended for a certain category and how does that backwards map to where we should put our investments.”
Dr. Taylor began his career as a kindergarten teacher and says that his experience working with young kids taught him the importance of investing in early childhood education.
“Many times the struggles that young adults and adolescents may have are rooted in issues that were not addressed early on.” “I never saw a 5-year-old who couldn’t learn more, who couldn’t be great, who didn’t have dreams, who didn’t love school.”
Dr. Taylor pointed to the newly revised student code of conduct with restorative practices as one way the district is trying to change how students are disciplined. He said that the district is putting resources toward training teachers on restorative justice practices too.
“I think that the key to reducing suspensions is going to the core of the suspensions,” said Dr. Taylor, emphasizing that students may make mistakes but that is no reason to give up on them. “We’re building an environment where you can learn from your mistakes and is a safe place for us to all be.”
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