Covid-19 has obviously had an unexpected impact on many levels, from changing the landscape of learning to further strain on an already precarious budget along with additional family pressures. As a BOE liaison ten years ago and since my many roles as TJS PTO President, MJSAO VP the budget has consistently been tight, building infrastructure an issue, and concern that all students are supported properly to optimally perform while preparing them for future careers.
Foremost in this environment is ensuring we are satisfying the needs of all students within a range of various learning styles, which is not an easy task. My focus would be a constant line of communication and collaboration among all stakeholders, and as we evolve to learn from breakdowns, incorporate ingenuity, and build on successes. Budget will continually be a concern, revenue generation is necessary, let's think outside the box and utilize our biggest assets, staff and buildings. As we return to more consistent routines, a building infrastructure strategy laid out over a period of time needs to be defined and focused. Transparency in this process needs consistent messaging.
Collaboration has been a key attribute I learned as a Division I athlete that I adapted into a successful professional career at The Vanguard Group and as a National Accounts Manager for Winstar Communications and Richmond Events. Budget, operations and my ability to generate revenue have translated easily into heading Tricky Trays, Socials, TJS PTO President, MJS Fundraisers and MJSAO. In my current role as a realtor I see firsthand the importance of how a strong school district impacts purchasing decisions and home values. I am a Madisonian of 15 years, a parent and coach with two children, one at MJS and another at MHS, and I am heavily invested in ensuring we are providing the best education for all our students.
The district has taken tremendous steps thus far in the best interest of our students and it would be naive of me to point to any single tact that I'd take, I think it's safe to acknowledge we will continue to operate in an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous in relation to Covid-19. My initial steps will be to continually build on the successful initiatives through strong communication, ensure collaboration with teachers, students, parents, and administration as well as look for opportunities for innovation. The longer term impacts to the quality and effect on students' progress, as well as the health of the budget while unclear will call for the district to continually evaluate, collaborate on best practices, resources, technology platforms within district and outside. As we progress through this, we need to continue establishing consensus and make fact based decisions focused on our students well being.
We are living in the most challenging time for public education ever with no signs of returning to normal any time soon, if ever. Students have and will continue to be isolated in some capacity from live interactions with teachers and friends, teachers are being forced to adopt to a completely new way of teaching with little to no training, special education students are suffering tremendously with the systems and structures they have relied on in the past not being available now, sports, arts and enrichment programs have and will continue to be disrupted, and very soon school budgets will have major disruptions. However, this pandemic has uncovered structures in education and have opened the dialogue to "what is school?" We need to support our students, teachers and administrators as they develop new and innovative ways of preparing students for college, career and life that do not always need to take place within the four walls of a classroom.
For more than 15 years I have been the trusted advisor to school district leaders (superintendents, cabinet members, school board members) across the United States. I am the former Executive Director of District Administration, a membership organization that provides on demand coaching and advice to more than 1,000 school district superintendents large and small, urban and rural, across the United States. I have and continue to support district leaders with key initiatives including district-wide strategic planning, new curriculum adoption, selecting and implementing new technologies to support teaching and learning, developing district leadership culture, district-wide organization design, to name a few. As I have done during my past three years on the board, I will continue to seek out and bring opportunities, resources and practices that benefit the students, teachers, parents, administrators and tax payers of Madison.
As a current board member, the immediate steps I have been supporting are helping to ensure that we have the right health and safety equipment, supplies and processes in place to ensure student and teacher safety. Since there is no precedence for anything like this before, as schools begin to open in some capacity it is critical that our district leaders are able to quickly identify, react and put in place measures to ensure continued health and safety, which will allow our schools to continue to open, and stay open. At the same time, we need to pivot from the "emergency remote learning" that happened in the Spring and support our teachers with continuous coaching, support and professional development and continue to provide remote/virtual/blended learning to students. As emerging long-term economic impact information becomes available it will be critical to plan early (not be reactionary) and adjust for impacts to our school budget in the best interests of our students.
Long term, MPS most important challenge are its financial limitations. District expenses- including fixed costs such as healthcare and salaries- have grown at a pace that outstrips the ability of the tax levy to cover them and also allow for appropriate expansion of academic and support offerings. For many years, MPS has invested in education, putting money into the classroom and direct support for children. Expanding academic programs while keeping within a district budget that does not grow in pace with expenses is a delicate dance, and sadly Madison’s facilities show this story all too clearly. Facilities upgrades have been done piecemeal, and major projects have been put aside or delayed. Unfortunately, that funding has still not been found within our tax levy, and our buildings are approaching a point where we must do more to maintain them, or they will cease to be appropriate for our district. In the future, we will need to consider the idea of a referendum for our district.
I have had the privilege of serving on the Madison Board of Education for the past 3 years. During this time, I have been a member of the negotiations, education, operations and human resources committees. I have also served as the President of the Board for the past year, and as Vice President in the previous year. I have an excellent understanding of the District, its staff and its processes, and I feel that I am well poised to contribute positively to our children’s educational experience for another term. Prior to joining the Board of Education, I was an IT professional at a major investment bank for over a decade. My focus was on project delivery, program management and customer support. I have found that all of these areas are extremely relevant to the work that we do on the Board. Finally, I have 3 young children who attend MPS, and I have first hand knowledge of navigating the district as a parent.
The district must continue working to facilitate a stable flexible learning platform for our children. There is no one perfect answer for all children, so offering multiple models that create a stable, encouraging and engaging educational model for different types of families and children is critical. We must focus on the mental health of our children, with teachers, guidance counselors and mental health support throughout our district having check ins with our students (and families, where appropriate) as often as possible. Long term, MPS must focus on academic quality. This health crisis will not end soon, and we must work towards maintaining the quality of education that our children deserve. We must focus on keeping all children in our district on their learning trajectory, and not deviating from what they would experience in a “normal” year. Our children should be working at grade level (and beyond) regardless of their geographic learning location.
Aside from the current, pressing issue of COVID, the biggest challenging facing our district is financial. The money coming in from property taxes and the state cannot keep pace with skyrocketing costs of healthcare. The Board has challenged the administration to reduce costs where possible while at the same time having no impact to the quality of instruction to our children. This includes investing in our special services to retain children in district rather than pay costly private school tuition, when feasible. Restructuring of the administration, reducing headcount and compensation by over 200K annually. We continue to look for opportunities for shared services both with the Boro and other school districts to reduce costs. The administration has also looked for opportunities for other revenue streams. Looking forward, we need to look to a referendum to support many of the needed infrastructure updates. We also need to continue to lobby the state for needed changes to school funding
Personally, I have had three children in the district, including a class of 2020 grad, so I am uniquely the only current board member who has experienced the district K through 12.
Professionally, I have been on the board over the last three years, serving on the HR, Education, Shared Services and Negotiations committees. This past year, Heather Reddy and I successfully negotiated three labor contracts with the three bargaining units in our district. We are the only current board members who have this negotiation experience.
I am a human resources professional with over 20 years experience, specializing in Talent Management, Diversity & Inclusion and Organizational Development. While we are all focused on making decisions that are in the best interest of the children we serve, I also believe that those decisions must be about ensuring we have a healthy organization of respected and supported staff to deliver on our promise to our kids.
We are faced with an unprecedented situation. It’s unfortunate that these critical decisions have been forced down to the school district level when the reality is that this is about public health and should be managed by public health officials.
The District needs to balance the wants and needs of the community with the wants and needs of the staff. They are not mutually exclusive. The state of New Jersey requires districts to have an opening plan. The administration needs to work closely with our department of health to ensure that we are making the best decisions possible for our children and staff. At the same time, they have taken steps to ensure than any virtual instruction is of high quality and continues to improve. Educational quality is a priority, and we must have constant focus on physical and emotional health. Longer term, we need to work on resources and tools to ascertain what learning has been lost and develop plans to provide necessary remediation where needed.