WEST ORANGE, NJ — Meet West Orange Board of Education candidate Mark Robertson.
Mark Robertson, an 11-year West Orange resident and current vice president of the West Orange Board of Education, is also a Marketing & Strategic Planning Consultant for Corporations and Education Non-Profit Organizations; the owner of: i-MAPP Marketing Consultants and Optics Segment Marketing; and is launching Competitive Education Corp. Robertson studied at Yale University, earning a BA in History with course work and research in the Sciences and Psychology. He also attended The Heights Preparatory School in Washington, DC for middle school and high school.
Robertson lives in West Orange with his wife, Donna Jackson Robertson, Director of the Career Development for Fairleigh Dickinson University, and their two children, who are currently enrolled in West Orange Public Schools. Jared, 15, is in the Institute for Humanities Program and in Honors courses for in science, math and Spanish and participates in AFROTC and on the boys JV soccer team. Joelle, 9, is happily getting straight As.
Q: Why are you running for board of education?
A: First, this is personal and professional for me. I want a competitive, world-class education for my children, who attend West Orange Public Schools, and for the children of my neighbors, friends and community, most of whom attend our schools. As a property owner and taxpayer, I want high quality schools that enhance my property’s value, and as an active participant in our community (PTAs, Scouting, and MTL), I have experienced, first-hand, how our schools enhance the quality of life for our community. As a professional, who has been an educator and serves education organizations, I know what is possible, and understand the value of our educational product and greatness of our potential. We are on the right trajectory, and can be an education leader in NJ and nationally.
Second, I am running again because as a Board Member, and now, VP, I have delivered results in advocacy for: Curriculum reform; Guidance Counseling improvements (now a District Goal); and in securing budget approval for “Fund Development” to pursue grants, donations, sponsorships and corporate partnerships to reduce the Tax Payers’ burden and grow program innovation.
Finally, I am the only independent voice on the BOE or among the candidates. I alone advocate for students, parents and teachers, yet, I am not sponsored by or associated with a political cohort or appointment, special interest faction, or with an agenda not focused on student achievement.
Q: Why do you feel you deserve the job? What qualifies you for it?
A: My qualifications for the Board of Education are unsurpassed by any other candidate: I am the only Board Member or candidate who has been both an educator and had diverse education industry experience (partnerships, scholarships, fund development, academic support, counseling, tutoring, etc.); Tax Payer with Kids in WOPS; community leader for 10 years, involved with multiple organizations; business executive/entrepreneur with relationships and experiences that can benefit our schools; fully trained in Board Governance, a BOE Delegate and a Legislative Representative to the NJSBA; and finally, results - my BOE advocacy leadership has resulted in over 20 improvements in curriculum reform, Guidance and education funding. Following are some of the details:
- Yale Graduate: With a BA in History, credits and research experience in the sciences and psychology
· WOBOE: Vice President of the Board, NJSBA Delegate led advocacy for multiple pathways too graduation, Legislative Alternate and PR Committee Member. Led advocacy for over 20 improvements and new initiatives in Curriculum and Instruction (C&I), Guidance model modernization, and Fund Development
- Only BOE Member with Education Industry Experience: Education Non-Profits, Social Work, and Tutoring Urban Youth
o For UNCF and INROADS: Strategic planning, research, scholarships, career development (internships, leadership training), academic support, fund development, alumni relations, marketing and PR, corporate partnerships, and diversity (recruitment and training)
- Former psychiatric social worker for Anchor Mental Health and Crossing Place/Woodley House: Case management, crisis counseling, taught living skills, director of a socialization program for schizophrenic, bipolar schizoaffective and dually diagnosed clients (mental retardation, substance abuse, et al.)
- Taught, coached and/or tutored (English and Math) for many years in DC for The Heights Study Camp and Program Advance, and The Greater Washington Urban League
- 1 of 2 BOE Members with kids in WOPS (daughter in 5th, son in 10th)
- Community Leadership:
- Member on 4 WOPS PTAs in 10 Years: Mt. Pleasant, Edison Middle School PTA Board VP, Liberty, and WOHS
- In 2013, at EMS, started the District’s first PTA Curriculum Committee, then, led a Parents Coalition and “TOGETHER WE CAN” Campaign driving improved performance at Edison. On the BOE, I continued the momentum at EMS, and I kept my promises!!
- 10-Year Scout Leader: Pack 10 Chair for 3 years - Doubled membership to 51, and nearly tripled parent leadership to 22, winning Award for Leadership Merit/Council’s Pack Chair of the Year. Current Troop 2 Committee; former Northern NJ Council Board of Directors
- 8-Years MTL Coach: In-House Soccer and Basketball; former Trustee
- West Orange African Heritage Organization: Member and Sponsor
- Member on 4 WOPS PTAs in 10 Years: Mt. Pleasant, Edison Middle School PTA Board VP, Liberty, and WOHS
- 30-Years of Corporate Management and Nonprofit Education Experience: Strategy, marketing, business development, digital publishing, strategic partnerships and sponsorships. Served over 40 Fortune 500 Companies in over a dozen categories including Pfizer, Ford, Jaguar, AT&T, McDonald’s, and others; former Publisher and Editor for the Latinos Media Group - LatinosPost.com, LatinoPost.com and LatinPost.com.
Q: What do you believe is the most important issue in this local election? How would you change it?
A: Driving student achievement is always the number one purpose for a member of any Board of Education. To accomplish improvements in student achievements while being responsible to tax payers in controlling costs, I will focus on the following areas, over the next 3 years:
1. Finance/Budget: Fund Development growth (grants, donations, sponsorships and corporate partnerships) to expand programs (Currently, we only get $60,000 in annual renewal corporate grants for the Cisco IT Program while other Districts bring in $500,000 to $75 Million); Freeze the Budget/Provide Tax Relief; improve efficiency and get rid of wasteful spending in Special Services Department and plan a path to expanding as a receiving district to bring in revenue; and provide greater transparency with detailed budget review during Open Public Meetings.
2. Student Academic Performance: Increase focus on "kids in the middle” and the economically challenged 44% on "Free and Reduced Lunch"; advance Code and STEAM in elementary and middle schools; raise support and performance of ESL students, provide year-round tutoring and online language labs; improve support to/ partnerships with parents focused on their roles in student achievement; make Washington and Hazel a focus for STEAM and performance improvements; enhance rigor in non-honors K-8 courses; steward pull-through on Enrichment for all; and reform Guidance, Honors Criteria and Middle School HAP/G&T.
3. Enhance College/Career Prep - Increase Conversion Rates/Outcomes and Career Readiness: Address college acceptance rates, early college and career planning (K-12), internships, career mentoring, alumni partnerships, improving standardized test prep for PSAT/SAT/ACT with 6 to 8 week programs integrated into the curricula and with supplementary afterschool groups; modernize the Guidance Counseling model K-12, which is now a District Goal; and improve support for/communication with parents.
4. Create a 21st Century Learning Environment: Follow through on demographics study/Board Goal – The impact of apartment and housing developments could overwhelm already overcrowded elementary schools regardless of redistricting. Eliminate elementary school classroom reducing class sizes to 18-20 range (which correlates with student performance); create learning labs and STEAM programs.
5. Improve Stakeholder Relations: Finalize Teacher Contracts. Conduct annual Teacher/Parent/Student "Climate Surveys"/focus groups. Follow through on improvements to the Guidance model and Special Services that impact Parents as well as Students.
Q: How do you feel about the quality of teachers in West Orange? Please explain.
A: In my view as an education professional and in my experience as a parent whose children have attended 4 of our schools, most of our teachers are high quality teachers/educators, who motivate, challenge, support, and nurture our children’s growth and achievement. Additionally, we have many innovative and award winning teachers and administrators whose ideas deserve to be expanded and fully implemented in STEAM, literacy and other areas. We must ensure that we respect and listen to our teachers, and engage them in development and execution of all programs and initiatives, while also allowing them the freedom to exercise some creativity within their lesson plans. Last, we need to improve in “change management” which impacts our teachers daily. Our teachers have coped with 4 superintendents in 7 years, multiple changes in supervisors and curricula, and adapted to numerous changes in software, processes and systems. Our teachers deserve the professional development to succeed, and a voice in change management that will be heard.
Q: What should people know about you that they might not know already?
A: Not everyone may know of my achievements while on the BOE, and I am running for reelection on the merits of my achievements.
- 2014, Continued Advocacy for EMS Improvements: I continued the work on my 2013 Parents Coalition at EMS - Called for Supervisors’ accountability; generated ongoing dialogue between Supervisors and Parents; demanded greater rigor and standardized test prep for ALL.; identified curriculum pacing problem. Result: 1st time in District history, 6th Graders achieved higher NJASK scores than they had in the 5th grade!
- Created the Fund Development Initiative, Securing 2016 Budget: 2014 – 2016, submitted numerous proposals and cases studies supporting pursuit of corporate and foundation grants, partnerships, donations and sponsorships to grow STEAM , CODE and other academic programs and reduce reliance on tax dollars through revenue diversification
- Drove Awareness/Advocacy Resulting in 2016 District Goal to Enhance WOHS Guidance Counseling Department and Modernize K-12 Guidance Model: 2014-16, identified lack of support for Guidance - No Alumni Database or professional development, no PR/Social Media support for events; presented multiple memoranda with recommendations, in Open Public Meetings, on service gaps and missing best practices that hurt outcomes, supported by parent letters, student stories and college admissions feedback; recruited same parents participation in the Strategic Plan Groups
- Launch of 2015 Engineering Projects in Grade 5 Enrichment, and Computer Code and Engineering Curricula in EMS 2016 – 2017, Expanding to LMS and RMS in 2017: Since 2012 as a parent (noted by Principal Fitzgerald), and 2014 – 2016 on BOE, advocated vigorously - Presented competitive private school information; noted award winning curricula developed by our own Teachers; and provided presentation decks of information on Computer Science Teachers Association and nonprofit efforts to teach Code in Public Schools, and other curricula and resources
- World Language’s Adoption of Online Language Labs 2016-17: Advocated 2014 -16 against initial WL Dept. opposition
- ELA Curriculum & Instruction Improvements: Advocated since 2012 as a parent, and 2014-16 on BOE in Closed and Open Sessions, providing detailed documentation of issues, best practices and opportunities. Results:
o Formal teaching of grammar and syntax K-8, 2016-17 (This had stopped 7 years ago)
o Return of Guided Reading/Directed Reading K-5
o Middle School instruction in Latin and Greek Roots, 2016 – 2017 (60% of English Language and 90% of law, science and technology based on these root) (Study of Latin and Ancient Greek, helped me achieve)
o Return of vocabulary building (grades 6-12) (formerly known as SAT vocabulary)
o Full implementation of in-class, “Book Clubs” with a guided component (grades 3-8)
o Return of novels and creative writing (Often eradicated under the Common Core)
o Book lists, finally, accessible to Parents in November of 2014, Parents could work with Teachers and Students
- Launch of Enrichment Curricula for ALL K-8, Integrating HAP Curricula Content: Began 2015-16 in English (grades 3-8), plus rotating projects in Engineering and Social Studies for Grade-5…Expanding in 2016-17
- Expanded/Improved Summer Assignments K-11: Helps avoid Students losing 1-month of knowledge/performance by Fall
- Achieving 1:1 Computer Device to Child Ratio, Grades 3-12, Fall of 2016: I was the leading, often sole advocate to accelerate technology expansion, at a time when Students take tests and do 90% of assignments on a computer
- Enacting “Departmentalization” (specialization) for Grades 3-5 in September: Example: Teachers Math degrees teach Math. Since 2014, I advocated for this as a best practice used in top public and private schools
- Improved Performance Tracking by Class Cohort: Advocated for this since 2014 and it revealed performance strengths/weaknesses by course and grade level
- Started airing BOE meetings on YouTube in 2016: Since 2014, I advocated for this step for greater transparency and access, and provided technical solutions for implementation
- My Advocacy on C&I Helped Drive Catalyze Action for: Expansion of Honors in 2015 (Still Working to Improve Criteria/Process); improved rigor for Middle School Math; more funding for technology integration in the curricula
- In Partnership with some or all Board Members, Advocated for or Implemented the Following:
- Advocacy In partnership with 1 Board Member: Began Diversity Recruitment of Elementary School Teachers: In partnership with another BOE Member, addressed the dearth of Black/African American, Hispanic and South Asian American Teachers in Elementary
- Teacher Support: Advocated for greater Teacher voice, and improved change management and communications methods; and more funding for Teacher Professional Development (PD) to empower/support Teachers
- Hired the new Superintendent with requisite skills, experience, and track record
- Sports: Maintained coaching staffs at competitive levels on par with top teams, and helped save Hockey Team
- Adoption of the Energy Savings Plan (ESIP)
- Adopted “Zero-Based Budgeting” for greater efficiency
- Actively involved in the community: Served on 4 PTAs (Mt. Pleasant - current, Edison Board, Liberty, and WOHS - current); and Scout Leader here for 10 years for Pack 10 as Chair, and now Troop 2 Committee; MTL Coach for 8 years (In-House Soccer and Basketball); Member/sponsor of the West Orange African Heritage Organization.