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VOTE411 Voter Guide

Lawrence Township Board of Education {_getChooseLabel(this.selections.length)}

The Lawrence Township Board of Education ensures that the district is well run through the creation and updating of policies. These policies serve as a guide to the Superintendent and provide direction, a basis for decision-making, and an imperative for action. In addition, the Board oversees the budget; approves the curriculum; hires and evaluates the Superintendent; represents the public during contract negotiations; and serves as a communications link between the community and the school system.Nine members serve on the BOE and are elected to 3-year terms.In 2020, three incumbents and 6 other candidates are running for three open seats.

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    Michele Bowes

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    Heather Camp

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    Dana Drake

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    Patricia Hendricks Farmer

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    Gregory G. Johnson

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    Olufunmilola Ladigbolu

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    Cathy LeCompte

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    Tabitha Bellamy McKinley

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    Jasmine Surti

Biographical Information

In your opinion, are the current school board policies succeeding in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic?

In your opinion, has the Superintendent been following the direction of the policies approved by the Board?

What budget challenges do you identify as a BOE member or candidate?

Do you feel the curriculum that has been put out by Lawrence Township adequately covers the district’s educational needs?

Provide any additional comments/reflections/visions here

Education MSW, Columbia University BA, New York University
Yrs. of Residence 13
The current school policies are designed to keep students and staff safe while providing the best possible learning experience. It has been a very challenging time for everyone and it is premature to evaluate success. However, we are moving forward with a well-planned strategy and, I believe, the best possible option given current circumstances. The board and superintendent are continually evaluating the environment and the logistics involved in returning to school. We are working with the administration, staff and community to get as many students back into school as soon as possible. Remote learning has improved immensely since the start of the pandemic in the spring and the district will continue to make modifications as time progresses.
The board has an incredibly positive relationship with the superintendent. He has been responsive to all of the challenges that we are currently facing and he collaborates with the board on a regular basis. Together, we have developed a strong return-to-school plan, an Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism program, and improved the social and emotional learning strategy for Lawrence Township Public Schools.
It is going to be a challenging year for many reasons including the reduction in state funding. We have already faced funding cuts in the spring and fall 2020 and there are many unknowns in the future. There will be increased need for mental health services for all students and other needs for special education students. We will continue to have a high need for personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, as well as staffing challenges. We could never have imagined this current situation. Being able to do more with less is going to be the biggest challenge. Possibly bringing students who are placed out of the district back into the district, when possible, lowering transportation costs and reducing health benefit expenses are some ways we can look to meet our financial challenges. Looking for new partnerships and grant opportunities will also be more important than it has been in the past.
We have made significant progress in recent months to better reflect an accurate representation of racial and LGBTQ perspectives. We have improved the literature and educational materials to increase the representation of the diversity and will continue to examine all aspects of the academic experience. As a community, we are at a pivotal moment and must examine every aspect of education from a new lens, to ensure that we are infusing enough cultural learning to reach our equity goals. We have a strong restorative justice program that needs to be expanded and refined. We will always be looking to grow and improve on what we do. My work on the curriculum and instruction committee has allowed me to examine diversity in learning and instruction and make the necessary changes. I have supported having Equity Warriors, who are committed to leading the training of our staff to advance equity and inclusion in LTPS. While we have made many gains, there is still more to be done.
I have worked hard for the students of Lawrenceville since joining the board in 2016. My two children have been through the LTPS since kindergarten and are now in Lawrence High School. I am dedicated to working with all the members of the board, administration, staff and am committed to all of our students. There will be many challenges in the future and my experiences will be invaluable to find the best way to move ahead. My flexibility and responsiveness has been evident in the positive changes we have seen in the district from improvements in staffing, curriculum, training, security, equity and mental health services. There is much more to be done and I feel that my skills, vision and passion will allow LTPS to continue to grow and provide the best educational experience for our students.
Education 1. Master of Science in Social Work, Columbia University Concentration in Social Enterprise Administration, Minor in International Development 2. Bachelor of Science in Social Work, Calvin College, Minor in Third World Development
Yrs. of Residence Nearly 8
Campaign Email
The LTPS Board of Education Governance and Policy Manual is over 1600 pages, which is overwhelming for most people to ascertain. While the size of the LTPS Governance and Policy Manual is comparable to other school districts (i.e. Princeton), there could be a condensed version created to help the community at large engage and understand the board policies. In terms of Covid, many school districts have struggled as no district was fully prepared for this pandemic. Unfortunately, Covid is beginning to highlight inequities in school systems, which I believe is also the case in Lawrence. It is the Board’s role to ensure the schools are well run. At present, students within LTPS that have disabilities are struggling. Children with IEPs are not getting much needed assessments and support services needed to augment their learning. Additionally, there is a backlog of Child Study Team meetings that need to take place. In the end, we want to help children thrive in LTPS, and should have policies that support this. Some of the policies may need to be amended for situations such as Covid, in which children are learning remotely.
One of the Superintendent's primary roles is to act as the chief advisor to the Board of Education, which I believe he has done while following their guidance. During the summer the community consistently raised concerns to policy 1530, Equal Employment Opportunities, citing examples of teachers of color not being hired for other positions, and a lack of diversity amongst our teaching staff and administration in the district. In response, Superintendent Kasun formed a separate Zoom meeting and consulted with concerned community members on hiring practices and avenues to diversify the teaching staff and administration of LTPS. This was a step in the right direction. It is my hope that the LTPS board will continue to enhance its transparency and build bridges with the community to ensure they are meeting the needs of the kids and the greater LTPS community. This can be continued by forming community committees, hosting town hall meetings, or having community liaisons on certain board committees.
At present, the district has outdated chromebooks that do not support the technology required to run Zoom or Google Classroom, which are the platforms being used by LTPS. This creates issues for students, families and teachers. Ideally, every child should receive a laptop that supports the platforms being used to create an equitable playing field for all children. Beyond this, our district spends a tremendous amount of money settling lawsuits and sending children out of district who have special learning needs. Instead of sending children out, we could enhance our special education programming and keep children in the district, which would improve our district’s education, keep children local and in the end reduce our budget.
In the era of Covid, our educational needs have shifted. Teachers are working tirelessly to make it work, but in the end we are implementing a curriculum designed for in-person teaching, in a remote setting. Beyond this, most parents are unaware of our curriculum and requirements, due to a lack of transparency and outdated information online. Caretakers could be utilized as co-educators if information and training were provided, which could also enhance academic performance. For example, schools could provide training on common core math so that caretakers could reinforce this at home, instead of teaching the way they learned math and confusing students. Additionally, we should incorporate curriculum written from diverse backgrounds so that students can learn about subjects from varied perspectives. Finally, languages could be taught at a younger age for fluency. While I am encouraged by the steps taken this summer and beyond, we must continue to push forward by building bridges and partnering. We have several local colleges that can be utilized to provide research, training and education to propel Lawrence forward to a curriculum that truly meets the needs of our district.
Being a board member for a school district is a significant voluntary role. It takes a great deal of time and dedication. I am appreciative of the dedication our current board members have devoted, and inspired to take on this role if given the opportunity to serve our community. If elected I would work to ensure we provide an enriching, diverse education for our students and transparent platforms that keep our parents, caretakers and community members engaged in our education system. Given that I have two small children in district, I am dedicated to LTPS and ensuring we provide quality education for all of our children.
Education BS Business Management with HR concentration, Fairleigh Dickenson University; AS Accounting, Johnson & Wales University
Yrs. of Residence 32
Campaign Email
The Board is responsible for making decisions about how best to educate our students. That begins with protecting the health, safety, and wellbeing of not only our students, but teachers, families, and the community as a whole. Current board policies prioritize safety while providing the flexibility needed to educate students during the COVID-19 pandemic. By creating our Restart and Reopening Plan and returning to the classroom in phases, we hope to be successful in reducing the risk of our students and staff getting COVID-19. The current education landscape is not ideal. While remote learning has improved from last spring, it does not compare to traditional in-person learning. In a virtual setting, it is tough to connect with others and provide the academic and mental health support that benefits our students. The Board and Administrators are monitoring the health situation and look forward to the time when we can safely be back in the classroom.
Yes. The Board adopts policies for the district, and the superintendent is tasked with implementing them. Over the past two years, the Board has had a collaborative partnership with Dr. Kasun. He has developed processes and procedures to implement the Board’s policies. When needed, Dr. Kasun advises the Board if revisions or additional policy development is required.
As a former Finance committee member and chair, I, along with our business administrator, Tom Eldridge, and the Board, struggle with the budget each year. Traditional budget challenges include controlling rising expenses under a 2% cap while maintaining and improving our high standard of excellence in academics and personal development. Recent years have seen an increase in costs related to special education, bussing, and healthcare. And now, in 2020 and beyond, there is a new set of budget challenges. COVID-19 creates additional expenses the district must now deal with, including the purchase of PPE, ventilation upgrades, social distancing guidelines that mean fewer children per bus and classroom, upgrades to technology and subscriptions, compliance with changing state mandates, additional mental health services, and increased cleaning costs. In recent years, to help with increasing expenses and a decrease in aid, we have consolidated bus routes, developed in house special education programs to reduce out of district placements, expanded our solar energy program to generate revenue, and received grants to provide mental health services.
Candidate has not yet responded.
Candidate has not yet responded.
Education Lawrence High School Temple University , BA
Yrs. of Residence 38 years
With only two weeks into the year, in all fairness to the board, it is too early to tell.  However, parents of children with special needs, have expressed concerns that the district is falling short of providing services. There are concerns that their children will be left behind and suffer both academically and emotionally. 
On the first day of school there was an incident in the Middle School virtual classroom that involved a racial slur. There was some hesitation by the superintendent to address the issue. However parents brought pressure and at the end of the day he did the right thing. Dr. Kasun sent a letter to the larger community communicating what had occurred and that he was addressing the issue. I applaud the superintendent for listening and following through on this critical issue. This is in line with the report from the consultants the district hired to address current issues about race in the Lawrence school system. The development of "Equity Warriors ," is a step in the right direction. These teachers in the district have committed to work on professional development and address social and emotional issues that the students encounter.
The budget is the largest tax expense for tax payers. One of the most important roles of the board is to responsibly and fiscally manage these tax dollars. As a board of education member I would have questions as to what savings have occurred over the last six months, when schools were closed and how these savings are being reallocated. 
According to parents that I’ve spoken with, they have concerns about the consistency of teachers and more diversity in the class curriculum. There are some concerns from parents about Common Core and teaching to the test. Although this year will be like no other and there remains a lot to be seen as far as testing and what will be a fair assessment considering COVID- 19. 
I am committed to providing support to parents as we together navigate the emotional and social health of our children in this changing educational environment.

Education H.S. Trenton Central HS, 1979 B.A. Florida State University, 1983 J.D. Rutgers Camden Law School, 1986
Yrs. of Residence 32 years
Clearly the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event, after reviewing Executive Order 175 signed by Governor Murphy which sets forth the guidelines for re-opening public schools, I believe the school board has taken a prudent approach to reopening schools. We must continue to protect the health and safety of students and staff from this deadly disease.
As an observer, I believe Superintendent Kasun is following Board Policies, at issue is whether the Board's policies are accurately addressing the needs of the community. I was very disturbed to read articles and narratives of past and present students, families and educators regarding the experiences of being Black in Lawrence Township Schools. I think we can do a better job enhancing and improving educational services for Black students and special needs students. One area, of concern is the fact that Black students have faced exclusion from consideration in honors and Advanced Placement classes. I have personal experience of this with my own child. Additionally, as a parent of a student with a learning disability, who although has progressed to successful career path, I also have first hand experience that some students are not receiving the appropriate educational programs and services that they are entitled. It is also concerning to learn that that Black students are suspended and disciplined on a higher proportional basis when compared to white students.
The district's budget is currently $76 million. As a resident taxpayer, it is clear that we must be mindful of the tax rate and its impact on local property taxes. However, our focus and priority should be on meeting the educational needs of all our students, with that in mind, increasing the diversity of staff, offering enrichment programs, and improving educational services for special needs students.
No, I think we need to include educational materials and experiences that teach more diversity and the richness of Black American history. The Superintendent has announced that the district has hired a consultant to review board policies, and has implemented district wide professional development for staff addressing equity and inclusion. While, this is a good first step, I would like to know what tangible steps are being taken this school year to reduce out of school suspensions of Black students, and to increase participation rates of Black students in gifted and talented programs and Advanced Placement courses.
Candidate has not yet responded.
Education BA- Pscychology minor- Justice Studies MA- Clinical Psychology MPA- Public Administration
Yrs. of Residence 3
Campaign Email
I do believe that the current school board policies are succeeding in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that evaluation and re-evaluation is taking place every 30 days, shows that they are keeping inline and are up to date with recommendations while watching the trends of other schools that have reopened. However, I do believe that greater attention should be given to those students with an IEP and/or disabilities. Some districts offer in person instruction for students in need of accommodations which cannot be facilitated remotely. As a township, we should consider this for our students with special needs or who require additional services that are being negatively impacted by learning in a virtual only environment.
The superintendent has been following the direction of the policies approved by the Board. He is receptive to suggestions and implements initiatives based on feedback that he has received. The superintendent is fairly new to the district. However, he has demonstrated poise, personability, honesty that translates to transparency to the teachers, parents, and students within the district.
The decrease in state aid is an area of concern. In addition to special needs education funding, the state aid consists of security aid and transportation aid. With a reduction of state aid, we must protect the curricular needs of the student body. Special education is an area is susceptible because it comprises half of the state aid. We must be focused to ensure that the quality of the special education program does not diminish as a result. The operations of the school should be priority over other expenses that do not directly relate to the curriculum or safety. Also, we must consider the possibility of retrofitting of classes once instructions are held in person. This may affect teacher-to-student ratios and space utilization. Also purchasing of PPE may create a strain on the operating budget. Therefore, re-examination of every aspect of the school budget, justifying expenses, and keeping spending as slim as possible is necessary. Being cost conscious in funding immediate needs is a challenge that our Board currently faces.
The curriculum does not adequately cover the district’s educational needs. We are in the hub of pharma. We need to create a collaborative relationship with our partners in the community so our students can receive hands-on experience with large organizations like Bristol Myers and local physician offices. Independent study should include STEM opportunities as an option and should not be limited to retail and food services.
The equity group is off to an amazing start!!! The group has provided metrics for the inequities found in the suspension rates of minority students. The next step should be to provide metrics on how many minority students are offered advanced placement courses. It would be important to see metrics and to access where the gaps are in terms of racial disparities. I am excited for the opportunity to serve and work alongside my community in this capacity. I look forward to providing more educational opportunities for our students. Also, to improve the overall quality education our children receive, and to continue to make Lawrence Township a place where administrators, teachers and families have a wonderfully balanced relationship and experience with our school system.
Education Syracuse University, BFA in Graphic Design
Yrs. of Residence 22 years
Campaign Email
Our existing school board policies have clearly been challenged by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many policies assumed our student body would be engaged with educators on campus, and have had to evolve to handle a largely virtual learning environment. There has been no roadmap for such an evolution. We must revise our policies to ensure all students receive the same quality education, despite these unpredictable and unprecedented times. We need to do what is best and safe for both our students and teachers. We must be willing to continuously adapt. The board recognizes that our children’s mental, social, and physical health is directly impacted by school policy, and is at the heart of the board’s decisions.
Yes, I do feel the superintendent has been following the direction of the Board’s policies. The Board continuously reviews school policies to make sure they are current and fit the needs of the district. The district policies also reflect state mandated policies. Despite the unprecedented, and unanticipated pandemic, the communication between the Superintendent and the Board has been clear and frequent, allowing us to adapt to the needs of the students, teachers, and community.
As a member of the finance committee, we work closely with the district’s business administrator and superintendent to identify potential budget issues and to find ways to cut expenses and spend wisely. In my mind the greatest budget challenges we face is the loss of state aid, the rising tuition for out-of-district placement, and the ability to support education through local taxes. With rising unemployment, it will become more difficult for the community to support education. COVID will certainly have an impact on our long term budget.
I feel the curriculum will adequately cover the district’s education needs. Our curriculum must reflect our diverse student population and make sure they see themselves in the curriculum. The district has infused its curriculum with diversity and inclusion education. The curriculum has been updated to include a social justice unit to all K-6 social studies curriculum guides. At the Lawrence Middle School we will continue to challenge our students’ thinking through our Diverse Perspectives Unit in Language Arts and various social justice themes throughout our social studies curriculum. African American History and Social Justice will be added to the curriculum in the 2021-2022 school year at the high school level. Equity warriors are in place at each school with restorative practices being a focus in staff professional development. This will help to strengthen our curriculum. More needs to be done and the board will continue to strive for excellence in education.
We are in unprecedented times. In order to adapt, we need a cohesive board, where members can voice their opinions and concerns. Where everyone works collaboratively for the good of all students. A board that works closely and efficiently with our superintendent and administrators, with open lines of communication. A board that listens to the concerns of parents and the community, and takes action in response. I feel we have that with our current board. However, we cannot be complacent, there is always room for improvement. We must keep evaluating our programs to make sure they are effectively and positively benefiting and filling the needs of all of our students. We must be willing to make difficult changes where necessary. Being a volunteer board member is not easy and can be a challenge. It requires long hours, a passion for education, and the ability to make tough and timely decisions. I am up for the challenge and will continue to work tirelessly to ensure our children are provided the highest quality learning opportunities they deserve.
Education Bachelor of Science of Education: Biology (Howard University) Master of Education: Science (The George Washington University) Master of Arts: Educational Psychology (University of Georgia) Doctor of Philosophy: Educational Psychology (University of Georgia)
Yrs. of Residence 10
Campaign Email
It is impossible to determine the extent to which the current school board policies are succeeding, because I cannot observe the depth and breadth of the work with which the current board members are engaged. However, I have observed the following: o 1120 Management Team: There been a number of issues that have arisen in the township due to the pandemic, as well as racial unrest. I do know that the superintendent’s management team has worked with the community in various capacities to attempt to mitigate the fear, panic and concern parents, students and teachers have had throughout the summer, to provide a smooth start to the 2020-21 school year. o 2361 Acceptable Use of Computer Networks/ Computers and Resources: During the pandemic, the Anti-Big Brother clause within the policy has allowed many students and families to feel comfortable in their homes.
From my purview, the following policies have been remarkably adhered to by the superintendent (especially during COVID) o 1130 Staff Liaison Committees: The superintendent’s committees worked with various community groups throughout this pandemic to ensure that students had technology and nutritional needs met in the home environments. In addition, the committee members were able to work together to create an “Equity Team” and establish “Equity Warriors” at each of the 7 schools in the district, to assist teachers with being able to provide a fair education to all LTPS students. o 1230 Superintendent’s Duties: The superintendent came to Lawrence Township Public Schools just one year prior to a spring of global pandemic, and a summer of racial unrest. Despite these two major challenges, has done seemingly done a thorough of summarizing the implementation of various policies in his reporting to the community during the public portion of the school board meetings. In addition, he has spent a great deal of time this summer to work with special interest/parent and other community groups to ensure that students, parents and teachers felt supported and safe within the schools.
o 2110 Philosophy of Education/District Mission Statement: One thing that concerns me greatly here in Lawrence Township is the fact that every year without fail, there are parents winning lawsuits against the district-most often for special education services. Even during this pandemic, some parents have been reporting dissatisfaction with the level of instruction their children are receiving in district and have been taking them to private schools. Since this statement is a part of the Philosophy and Mission Statement: Respects different learning styles and adapts instruction accordingly It would seem imperative that the district commits greater time and resources to providing its employees with the tools needed to adapt instruction and instructional services for ALL students. The district should be be determined not to lose students to private school and lawsuits, to keep more funds in LTPS. A more fiscally conservative approach to educating students whose sending district is Lawrence Township Public Schools is certainly needed.
This is a multi-layered question, as no one curriculum is completely all inclusive. The curriculum used by the district does adequately align with the standards as set forth by the state of New Jersey, Department of Education. In addition, the district has done additional work to emphasize character development as emphasized through Social Emotional Learning. I have not been impressed with the programs offered for the Gifted and Talented students at grades K-6. It seems that there is simply a blanket “pull-out” or inclusion model for these students. Instead of a dedicated instructor at within each school and for each grade level. Gifted and Talented students are a designated sub population, like Special Ed and English Language Learners, who require the same attention and fidelity to instruction as we provide the other demographics. It seems that exceptional learners are often ignored by LTPS.

At the high school level, the district has done a very good job with incorporating the Career Readiness and Financial Literacy portions of the standards adapted by the state board of education into the curriculum.
There is no governing body that is without its challenges and accompanied success. I believe that the current School Board is comprised of residents who care a great deal about the students, teachers, administrators and parents of Lawrence Township Public Schools. I do not posit myself as an individual who has infinite answers to the problems that face this district, or all of the solutions on how to continue the achievements that we so proudly boast. I do however, possess an extensive background in the field of education, multiple advanced degrees to accompany my experience and am living the day in a life of an LTPS mother every single day. I am simply requesting voters to provide me with the opportunity to lend of my time and talent to serving a School Board that has overseen a high quality education for my children.

Education BA, Liberal Arts, Eugene Lang College, New York, NY and MBA, Project Management, Lehigh University, Bethlehem PA
Yrs. of Residence 4
Campaign Email
The current board policy documentation totals over 1600 pages, and would be a challenge for most people to truly understand. I feel it is important for the purpose and content of the policies to be transparent and accessible, in order to enable the community to participate in the decisions the Board makes. A suggestion to improve this would be to create a primer geared towards simplifying the content of the policy documentation, which could be easily understood by someone with an average reading level. No one was expecting the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is hard to judge how any district's policies could have been successful in the face of it. We have many dedicated teachers and administrators working hard to keep the schools on track while keeping everyone safe. However, some parents have reported that students in the same grade at different schools are receiving a different experience, such as different schedules with varying amounts of teacher interaction. This is concerning because it has the potential to exacerbate already existing inequities in our district. To improve this, the Board could consider creating policies to increase consistency while still allowing flexibility.
I believe the Supt has been following the policies approved by the board. As it is the expectation of the Board, operational decisions rest with the Supt and the Supt can make recommendations to the board. But unfortunately this arrangement doesn't necessarily equate to a transparent relationship between the Board and the community. And it also has the potential to leave gaps - bureaucracy is neither nimble nor known for solving long-standing systemic issues. A suggestion to improve this would be to create more opportunities for meaningful dialogue between the Board of Education and the community, and especially to seek insights from communities which have been historically under-represented and disenfranchised.
The number of lawsuits the district has paid out for special education is concerning. The district is spending so much money sending kids out of district for special education needs, rather than figuring out a way to give these families what they need in district. That is money that could be spent on school supplies and programs for the kids with special needs in our district, as well as others. In addition, school budgets across the state (and nation) are at risk due to the economic crisis related to COVID-19. There has never been a time when it is more critical for school districts to spend budgets wisely on the supplies, programs, and staffing that are proven to have a positive impact on educational outcomes.
The COVID-19 crisis has demanded adjustments to curriculum that no one was prepared for. Some things that are effective strategies in person do not work when delivered via remote instruction, and vice versa. I also do not think that most parents are aware of the curriculum documentation that is available to them. Parents and community members need to understand how frequently the curriculum is required to be updated, and how this is orchestrated. The district should also communicate more effectively about their progress in incorporating diverse perspectives and updating source materials in alignment with the district's diversity, equity and inclusion goals.
My family's experience with LTPS has been positive. I believe in quality public education and feel grateful for the many passionate and dedicated staff members who do their best to help children thrive, learn and grow every day. I also have been saddened to hear the many stories of incidents of overt racism as well as microaggressions experienced by students and teachers of color in our schools. My motivation to join the school board is to volunteer my time and effort towards the goals of making our schools inclusive and welcoming for all students, and increasing diversity amongst our teachers and administrators.