Candidate Statements

South Orange - Maplewood Board of Education Election: Donna Smith Candidate Statement


I first ran for Board of Education in 2014 with a desire to have a strategic, long-term plan for our K-12 program; to provide a robust educational curriculum so more students have the foundational knowledge to access honors and AP classes at the high school; to ensure strong fiscal oversight and prudent allocation of District resources; and to ensure all students requiring interventions, from properly implemented 504 accommodations to real Gifted & Talented programming, have what they need to succeed.  While we have made some progress on these goals during my tenure on the Board, a lot more work remains to be done.  For this reason, I hope to continue serving on the Board, to work with the Administration to make further progress on these efforts, while at the same time understanding and acting on new and pressing concerns that have arisen in the past three years.

Despite our challenges, I am proud of the work that has been accomplished during my tenure on the Board.  The Board adopted the Access & Equity Policy, empowering students to choose the courses they wish to take.  The initial implementation has been difficult, but we already have seen increased participation in Honors and AP courses by those who may have been overlooked for consideration in the past.  Our last budget process started with a zero base and increased transparency. This process allowed the Administration to build a budget based on surveying district needs (versus carrying over line items year over year), and allowed the Board and members of the public the ability to provide meaningful input and to see their concerns addressed.  The Strategic Direction was adopted after an incredible amount of community input.  I look forward to the next steps of implementing the plan, which focuses on individualized learning, a much needed break from the ‘traditional’ model of education that is no longer meeting the needs of our diverse student body.  The Board also implemented Gifted & Talented strategies, a positive start which needs further development to be truly meaningful. 

There is additional work that needs to be undertaken.  Students, teachers, and parents have all expressed deep concerns with the climate and culture in our schools. We must work together to establish meaningful dialogue that allows all parties involved to feel trust and build understanding of all points of view.  I believe that everyone wants to do what is right, but it involves hard work and open minds. 

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The Board also must work on facilities planning to finally take care of a tremendous amount of deferred maintenance and to address the matter of increased student populations, particularly in the elementary schools.  This work must be done in a manner that is fiscally responsible and allows stakeholders to have a voice in the process. 

Finally, we are faced with another Superintendent search, one of the most important jobs a Board of Education must undertake.  The next Superintendent will need to address the challenges of implementing the Strategic Direction, the Access & Equity Policy, the Gifted & Talented program, and the 504 Policy and Regulations.  Moreover, we need someone who has a good understanding of budget management and who can find alternative methods of funding, given the dire fiscal situation faced by this District as well as many others in the state of New Jersey.  Finally, the Superintendent will need to have good managerial and administrative skills, to provide support for a number of new administrators throughout the district.  Fortunately, the Board has hired an Interim Superintendent who will guide the District through the search period and ensure that the new Superintendent can hit the ground running.

Despite the challenges we have faced and those that are ahead of us, serving on the Board has been rewarding and has involved some of the most important work I have done.  I look forward to being able to serve our community for another term if elected.  

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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