Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end apartheid in South Africa, was released on February 11, 1990. Five months later, he spoke to the students of Madison Park High School in Boston: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” A few days after that, he spoke at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. I was in the crowd that day. My high school government teacher had taken a group of students by bus. We waited three hours to hear Mandela speak; it was the highlight of my years in public school.
I want for the children of South Orange Maplewood an educational experience as motivating as mine. I want all our children to receive a great education in South Orange Maplewood public schools. Two of my daughters currently attend Columbia High School, and one graduated in June. My husband Ricardo, our three girls, and I have lived in Maplewood for sixteen years. We all love to eat pizza on Maplewood Avenue, enjoy summer concerts and food trucks at Flood’s Hill, and check out books from the library. When our girls were little, Ricardo and I loved that on our street, all the kids would ring each other’s bells to see who was free to play Four Square or sled down our steep driveway. Their friendships and ours are the best part of living in the South Orange Maplewood community.
I am running for the South Orange Maplewood Board of Education because I am for all children.
I believe that with love, care, and opportunity, all children can aim high and win. I am inspired by the bravery of students and support them in changing the very nature of the United States. Because of their advocacy for social justice, I am certain that in my lifetime, the American Dream will come to include everyone.
I believe in integrating our schools and promoting a culture of inclusion, love, and kindness. Separate is not equal, so in June, I voted “yes” on the Intentional Integration Initiative. Integration is not only about moving students of one background or socioeconomic status into a school that has historically served students of a different background or socioeconomic status. It is about realizing a common vision across all our schools and for all children. Integration will put community ideals to the test, but I know as a community, we can do this.
It is time for our school district to become a leader in civil rights for districts across the state of New Jersey. It is our duty and moral obligation to comply with Access and Equity Policy 5755.1, adopted in October 2015, and other important supporting policies like Equal Educational Opportunity, Equity in Education Programs, Comprehensive Equity Plan, and Creating Positions.
All children love learning, especially when their education is interesting, challenging, and relevant. They must all receive equal importance, irrespective of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sex, gender identity, English proficiency, socio-economic status, disability, or other factors.
We must prepare all of our children for our most challenging courses, while paying close attention to class composition. Though our district has moved away from a system of hyper-leveling the STEM curriculum, a simple peek into classroom reveals that students of color are greatly underrepresented in high-level classes.
And it goes beyond STEM. Take Journalism at Columbia High School. Only students who have taken Journalism by the end of junior year can apply to be on the editorial board of the school paper, The Columbian, during senior year. So it is important for Journalism to have a diverse class composition in order to form a representative editorial board. But last school year, there were no Black editors.
A representative editorial board results in diverse pitches, stories, interview subjects, and opinion pieces. And being an editor is great way to develop logical reasoning, writing, and leadership skills. The trickle-down effect of a single course cannot be underestimated. It is time for us to create inclusive classes, hire a diverse body of teachers and administrators, prioritize social and emotional support over discipline, and provide an education of the highest standard for all children.
An important aspect of access and equity is that general education students and special education students have equally rich educational opportunities that are appropriate for them and that spark joy. Every parent or guardian of a special education student must have a consistent experience with Special Services, one that includes a basic understanding of the process, key stakeholders, the steps necessary for classification and placement, appeals, and communication of a clear timeline.
I appreciate that given the special services we have today, some students can be served well in-district. Others must be placed out-of-district until the services they need can be provided competently in-district. And due to the nature of their disabilities, some students must always be educated out-of-district. For me, special education is not just a line item in the budget; it is an essential service.
During my time on the board, I have fought for children in need and will continue to do so. The pandemic has taken both a personal and economic toll on so many families. In June, I voted “yes” on Resolution 4020S, which authorized the district to transfer monies from the general fund to the food service fund to resolve outstanding food service meal charges. I also supported providing meals not only for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, but also for any student experiencing food insecurity. Similarly, I supported waiving enrollment fees for summer bridge, advancement, and enrichment classes for any student in need.
I stand for all children. It would be my honor to continue serving on the Board of Education. To learn more about my candidacy, please visit www.zubieta2020boe.com.