We residents, neighbors and friends in South Orange and Maplewood have a rare opportunity to dialogue about our different viewpoints on the current Board of Election campaign. "You're either with me or against me" can't be the plane on which productive dialogue takes place. Not for a model community like ours.
I am disappointed by the tenor of the criticism of Wayne Eastman's campaign, which is misunderstood by people who haven't taken the time to get to know him or his beliefs. I know him to be an intellectual and an activist. He has initiated, voiced and stood by his thoughts on racial dialogue in our towns, the achievement gap in our schools, and the deleveling issue. He is moved by the courage of his convictions and isn't afraid to pursue a larger, long-term vision to benefit all residents of our towns, even though it involves going through a rough period of being judged for his refusal to conform or say what critics want him to say.
It's disingenuous to suggest that Madhu is the one person on Wayne's ticket with a true stake in this election. Everyone's voice counts in the BOE elections -- even those of residents without kids or who choose for various reasons, including frustration, to send their kids elsewhere. Wayne's kids went through the town's public schools. They attended Seth Boyden; and graduated from Columbia. When I was concerned about my child's experience in his prior school, I went to Wayne and asked for help. He personally took me to the homes of two neighbors with kids at Seth Boyden so I could get their opinion. Those folks, like me, are Wayne's friends and neighbors; I feel he cares about our kids, not just his role on the BOE. Additionally, Jeff's a newlywed who may, one day, opt to raise kids in this district. My husband and I moved here with the same objective and cared about the school district long before our child was in school.
As for Wayne's thoughts on race, I can tell you he's one of the few neighbors with whom I can have completely open, honest conversations about race. Wayne is able to disagree respectfully, without denigrating another's point of view. So it is particularly disappointing to have people suggest -- as was said to me -- that he is racist merely because he concluded that leveling provided better options to meet the needs of our kids. However, I would never ask the candidates to disavow that extreme view, because they didn't express it.
Wayne understands that as a representative of his district, his job is not to engage in the theater of politics -- be it to extol or demonize opponents or followers -- his job is to determine the most effective and efficient ways to educate our kids, engage residents and fellow board members respectfully about their views, try to craft proposals from all those differing views, and to carry them through. From personal experience I know that Wayne is a hard worker who focuses on results.
It's no different with deleveling. He knows it's the towns' mandate, and he is a "can do" guy. I am confident that, if elected, Wayne would apply his intelligence and pragmatism to maximizing its chances of success in our district.
The current debate can go off the track into red-herring kid-counting or race-baiting, but that would be a terrible loss for all of us. This debate can teach us all much if it makes us more thoughtful about what deleveling should look like, how classes should be equipped, how teachers should be trained, how curricula should value different strengths, and how we ensure that all of our kids get the education they deserve.