Editor's note: This continues the Meet The Leaders profile series on the Summit Alternative Press. The objective is to provide our readers the opportunity to hear from Summit's leaders in government, public safety, commerce and other areas, regarding Summit's present and future outlook, their background and what they enjoy doing in their private life. In order to keep the format consistent, The Alternative Press presents each individual with the same five questions. We publish their answers unedited.
Today - Summit Board of Education President Gloria Ron-Fornes
Background / Biography
Born in Habana, Cuba. Immigrated to the US in 1964 as part of the Freedom Flights coming in as a resident. Traveled from Cuba to Mexico (4 months there) to Miami to NJ. Lived in Union City, Weehawken, and back to Union City. Graduate of Stevens Institute of Technology, class of 1981. Majored in Applied Math/Comp Sci within the Systems Planning & Management discipline. Started working for IBM in 1981 as a Systems Engineer in the NY Sales Branch office. Have had several careers within IBM – mostly sales, sales management, and consulting. Currently lead the Sales Enablement organization for IBM North America. I have 2 children (boys) who attend the Summit Public Schools. My husband is also an IBMer. He was born and raised in Portugal. At home we speak Spanish and Portuguese.
What inspired you to pursue involvement in education?
I believe in children. I am an advocate for children. I actually did not aggressively pursue the Board appointment, I was “courted". I had been active in my children’s elementary school (Brayton), and in their extra-curricula (music and soccer). I had also been active in support of improving our World Language program, reaching out the Hispanic community and mentoring students. I received a substitute teacher certificate so that I could support the teachers and principals in mentoring students as needed. I mentored one student each year that we were a part of the Brayton family.
When I was asked to consider a position on the Board by both the then outgoing President and incoming President, I considered the opportunity to influence a broader set of students by giving of my time. That same year, I had moved to my current role at IBM a role that supports sellers in their professional growth, skills and competency. It occurred to me that the universe was affirming my belief in my mission which I believe is to “help people grow”. I was now being given this opportunity not only in my professional life but also in my volunteer life. As with any important decision in our lives, we had a family meeting to discuss the impact it could have on our family. Though we were not completely clear about the level of time commitment, we knew it would require time to do it right.
What are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing Summit today?
Our opportunities are: the richness of our diversity and the breadth of talent available here in our small city. The challenges are the same – the diversity and the talent. In order to capitalize on diversity it requires understanding, compassion, tolerance, acceptance, and seeing the world from a different perspective. It also requires collaboration and time. This causes challenges for many in today’s society as there is no patience – everything must be done immediately – individuals want satisfaction now. I believe if we capitalize on diversity the end product is richer. We have a great opportunity to teach our students how to thrive and live in a diverse world right here in our microcosm of the universe – yet I don’t think we leverage it.
These two opportunities/challenges weigh into many of our decisions as a district.
What are the top priorities on your "to do list" as Board President?
That’s easy. First, reestablishing respect in all our interactions – this means between Board and Administration, between the public and the Board, respect for educational leaders, teachers, coaches and all staff, respect for process and due diligence, respect for constraints such as time and money, and above all respect for ALL students. Seems easy but its something you build day in and day out and can be destroyed in just one interaction. We lost this focus in the last year so this is my #1 priority – as without this, nothing else of importance can get done in a sustainable way.
Second, dedication to excellence in all we do. Again, this is in the day to day, in small tasks as simple as the agenda for a meeting, to as complex as our goal to be one of the best STEAM districts by 2018. This is about springboarding from our current level of success to a higher order. This means EVERYONE on this team must embrace this desire for excellence and we must clearly see it and feel it. Each one of us from custodian to Board President must own this dedication to excellence. It helps us anticipate the future and deliver with a sense of urgency but not with a sense of emergency. This will take time – it is a cultural change that is not accomplished over night but we must start.
Third, Transformation/Innovative change that matters. This is about paying attention and having intention. We want to make changes that support our thrive for excellence not because it is mandated nor because a group has come forward demanding their wishes. It is about our responsibilities as educational leaders to the future of all Summit students and staff. Yes we are responsible for innovation for staff too as they are the single most important investment we can make that directly impacts the future of our students.
What do you do in your spare time?
I don’ t have much spare time with my very demanding full time responsibilities at IBM, my role as Board President and my most important role of all, mother to two active boys in their teen and pre-teen years. However, I enjoy gardening, reading, cooking, the arts – theater, movies, and museums. I love to travel and explore. I love family time above all, and that is the one thing I cherish through these busy times and which I have not given up. On the rest, once my time on the Board comes to an end, I can get back to those other things I love to do.
Five words that describe Summit are...
3) Richness (in a variety of ways)
5) Entitled ( something we must all be cautious of)