The End of the Day: Why We are Voting for Eastman-Pai-Bennett
Marina Budhos & Marc Aronson
Maplewood South Orange is the community in which we have made our home. It is the community where we have forged bonds with some of our dearest friends and colleagues, and it is the community where we have chosen to raise our children in an atmosphere of plurality, respect, and diversity.
This has not been an easy or simple decision for us.
We treasure our original IB group, which spanned a wide range of perspectives, and that we were able to come together because we believed fervently in that program’s potential to transform our district. We treasure and respect the energy they have put into the candidates they believe in.
We were—and are—supporters of the Middle School Transformation proposal, not just because of IB. We believe that our middle school needs to join the forward-looking middle schools of our country, and to end its stratifications in what was a grossly unfair, Byzantine structure of restrictive opportunities. We need our middle school to become a vibrant center where student passion comes first and our curriculum is truly 21st century.
We also believe that one of the hidden voices in this community is that of black parents who do not trust this district to serve their children—particularly their boys. We do not feel that perspective is taken seriously, nor gets the nuance in the discussion of the achievement gap. We are a community of extraordinary accomplishment—no matter what race or hue. And we cannot tolerate any view that seems to divide us into an ‘us’ and ‘them’ set of camps. We cannot tolerate any language that seems to imply achievement is linked to a particular culture (a sore note for Marina, as a daughter of a man who grew up in a cruelly hierarchical colonial world).
We have watched with dismay a tenor of racial polarization set in on both sides that demeans this election cycle. We have heard truly egregious views voiced by those who opposed the level up plan at Board meetings, received e-mails that equated the direction of our school district with a drop in real estate values. The repugnance with which we view such views -- and indeed any hint of racialized classification -- made us think extra long and hard about whom to support in this election. At the same time, we have also seen rigidity and intolerance for different views and nuance by those who have seized on the views of supporters to mischaracterize the character and commitment of candidates.
The future of our school system depends on all of us working together -- and we have weighed speaking out or keeping our views to ourselves with our eyes on this prize -- thinking about how what will give us the best chance of success after the heat from this campaign has subsided.
We weighed each candidate individually—not as slates. We believe all the candidates are wonderful people, who have dedicated long hours to community service. We thank Ms. Higer for her fierce and tireless efforts on exposing the glaring inequities in our system, for articulating a more holistic view of every student‘s capabilities—something we, as educators and authors for young people, wholeheartedly and earnestly support. We also agree with Ms. Payne-Parrish that education is about exposure and we cannot abide by any system that will not give all students to the same rigorous curriculum. We appreciate Ms. Swanson for the sense of community she has helped create within the Seth Boyden community.
But in the end, a Board election is ultimately a job interview: who has the right skills, the right ideas, for this moment in our district. We are deeply concerned about governance, about how to make this Middle School proposal truly work. We simply cannot afford complacency and vagueness. We need full-stop energy and commitment and rigor; we need sharp, thoughtful voices who are not afraid to hold the Administration’s feet to the fire; and who are not afraid to demand true and deep curricular revision. This is the best form of support we can offer our talented and forward-thinking Superintendent. This is how the best Board of Educations work across the country.
Being a Board member is not about celebrating what we do—it is about scrutinizing what we do. To simply ‘trust’ that the revision process for our Social Studies curriculum will work its way out, as, for instance, Ms. Swanson often states, or Common Core, or IB will magically transform our schools is not only wishful thinking, it is irresponsible.
As those who brought IB to this community, we are looking for individuals who now ensure we do it well, that we ask the right questions, that we follow through on what implementation looks like in the classroom; that we develop mechanisms that codify our scrutiny. Having carefully examined our Social Studies and Language Arts curriculum, we see glaring weaknesses such as mini posters, speech bubbles, color-in activities for middle schoolers, with nary a research report or inquiry-based assignment in sight. This is not simply the result of NJASK testing. It’s because we have a Board that has shied away from pressing hard on curriculum, and that is the clear mandate they must meet going forward.
Board members are elected to be the watchful custodians of our policy and vision. We deserve a higher level of engagement from all who care about quality in our schools. At the end of the day, this election is not about the battles of the past but about the opportunity and challenges of the future.
Thus, having remained independent for much of this campaign, we have decided to come out in favor of the Eastman-Pai-Bennett ticket. For all our personal appreciation of Ms. Payne-Parrish, Ms. Swanson, and Ms. Higer, they have simply have not offered the vigorous level of specificity and ideas that is needed in true Board governance and creating a real culture of accountability at such a crucial time.
We do not agree with everything the Eastman-Pai-Bennett platform purports and we have criticized them openly, as they well know. However, we believe they ultimately have a broader, sophisticated vision that builds on the Superintendent’s plan and takes it further and deeper; that they grasp the arm’s length role that a Board member must have; that they bring energy, fresh ideas, and true focus on curriculum and high expectations—for all students. And they will actually ensure that this ambitious plan will come to be. We simply can’t afford anything less.
We urge you in joining us in voting this Tuesday for Mr. Eastman, Ms. Pai, and Mr. Bennett.
And however you vote, we look forward to collaborating and working with everyone to make our district the best it can be.