Sunday, August 28, 2016

Why Am I Running for Re-Election to the School Board?

There is a stock answer to this question available to any one of the four incumbent members of the school board seeking re-election this year. I have the knowledge and experience to address the challenges facing our school district in the next four years, and to follow through on district-wide initiatives—such as the master facilities plan and the new strategic plan—already in progress. I have four years of experience as a school board member; Fritz Bogott has six months, Ellen Iverson has eight years, Noel Stratmoen has more than thirty years. There's a good case to be made for sticking with experience.

On the other hand, there’s a benefit to be gained from a fresh perspective—the perspective of someone who’s been an outsider to the process. When I joined the school board in January 2013, the board was preparing to make a decision on the implementation the one-to-one iPad initiative (otherwise known as Transformational Technology). I was the only new member of the board, and the only board member to vote against implementation of the program. Although my lone dissenting vote couldn’t stop the iPad implementation, it allowed me to be a voice for those—teachers, parents, and students—who continued to have questions and reservations about the program.


The fact is that the overwhelming majority of school board decisions are unanimous in support of the superintendent’s recommendation. The district’s administrative team, under both Chris Richardson and Matt Hillmann, is professional, thorough, and thoroughly committed to serving Northfield’s students. I don’t believe that the the outcome of this election—whether all four incumbents are returned to their seats, or new members are elected—will change the administration’s fundamentally thoughtful and disciplined approach to running the Northfield schools.

If the school board overwhelmingly supports the administration, what is the point of having a school board? I believe that among the board’s most important functions are listening, questioning, and communicating.

Non-Unanimous Decisions by the Northfield School Board, January 2013-August 2016
Issue
Vote
Member(s) Opposed
iPad implementation
6-1
Hardy
music FTE reallocation
6-1
Hardy
clay target team approval
5-2
Maple, Nelson
reject expulsion of student
3-2
Pritchard, Quinnell
appoint Bogott
4-2
Iverson, Quinnell
internal search
6-1
Colangelo

All of my votes are based on extensive research and extensive communication with both the administration and with the parents, teachers, and students most affected by the ultimate decision. In both of the cases where I was the lone dissenter, I was able to raise important questions and to have an impact on how the administration approached the issue. I’ve worked hard to be responsive to the community—I’ve been told on numerous occasions that I was the only board member to respond to an email—and to make the decision-making process more open and inclusive.*

For example, I was a strong advocate for the creation of the District Youth Council (DYC), and have served as one of its advisors since its inception. For two years I’ve attended bi-weekly meeting of the DYC and listened to the concerns of Northfield High School students, and worked with them to make their voices heard. Working with the DYC has been one of the high points of my time on the school board.

I have to admit that I went well outside of my own comfort zone to support the recommendation to approve clay target as a varsity sport. I never imagined, when I first ran for school board, that it would result in a visit to the Morristown gun club. But I think my support of the youth on the clay target team was consistent with my work (not connected with the school board) as an advisor to the Northfield Skateboard Coalition. I’m not a skateboarder or a clay target shooter. I can serve my community well by representing my own interests (poetry and music and walking, for example) but I can serve it better by also becoming an advocate for the interests of others—especially those who might be marginalized, misunderstood, or underrepresented.

It’s important for a school board member to be led, not by prejudice, but by analysis of the facts. Every issue that the school board faces is an educational opportunity— an opportunity to listen and to grow in knowledge and empathy. As a school board member, I do know more about the issues than most people. But I also have a responsibility to communicate what I know, and to learn from what other people know. I think I’ve done that well over the past four years. I hope I will have the opportunity to do even better over the next four years.


*Note: In the interests of transparency, in my first month on the board I requested—and received—an opinion on the monthly one-on-one meetings between the superintendent and individual board members. I continue to find these meetings useful as a means of learning about issues facing the board, and of bringing the concerns of the public to the administration.

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