2019 School Board Election

Two topics to start: Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad’s appeal of her six-month suspension and the SOMA Justice/PARES scorecard.

Will voters know before Nov. 5 the status of Lawson-Muhammad’s appeal with the state education commissioner? It’s relevant because if her appeal fails, she’ll be prevented from serving one-sixth of her term. The commissioner’s website has been updated with rulings through early October, but there’s been no sign of this case yet. Hopefully, Lawson-Muhammad will update voters on where, as far as she knows, things stand.

The Village Green reported today that at least three candidates — Sharon Tanenbaum Kraus, Carey Smith and Narda Chisholm-Greene — won’t be completing the SOMA Justice/PARES questionnaire.

We believe that the process to “grade” each candidate is not a true and honest reflection of any candidates’ beliefs and stances. According to the instructions shared, the grading is done by individuals who are not a part of our community. We want to be scored by our neighbors and our students—not strangers. As every year has proven, independent candidates not backed by SOMA Justice and/or PARES or those groups’ leaders have not fared well in the scorecard.

Last year’s release from SOMA Justice and PARES (Parents in Partnership with Respect and Equity in SOMA Schools) described the methodology, in part, this way: ”Dr Bleasdale, a scholar, academic researcher and practitioner, outlined the ideal key words and phrases that align with the values of equity and justice in all of the five answers. The team of researchers then coded each narrative and gave it a score based on the frequency of the terms.” The release also stated that the researchers, who were graduate students at the University of San Francisco, “are completely independent and do not know the names, history or context of the SOMSD school district.”

So, a coding of keywords and phrases, with an unbiased blindness to local concerns. Which makes me scratch my head when I see what the grades mean:

  • A “Demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the multiple ways SOMSD perpetuates injustice.”
  • B “Demonstrates understanding of the multiple ways SOMSD perpetuates injustice.”
  • C “Demonstrates a limited or superficial understanding of the multiple ways SOMSD perpetuates injustice.”
  • “Failed to demonstrate an understanding of the way(s) SOMSD perpetuates injustice.”

Maybe someone can explain further.

(Disclosure: I’m a casual acquaintance of Narda Chisholm-Greene.)


DaveSchmidt said:

Two topics to start: Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad’s appeal of her six-month suspension and the SOMA Justice/PARES scorecard.

Will voters know before Nov. 5 the status of Lawson-Muhammad’s appeal with the state education commissioner? It’s relevant because if her appeal fails, she’ll be prevented from serving one-sixth of her term. The commissioner’s website has been updated with rulings through early October, but there’s been no sign of this case yet. Hopefully, Lawson-Muhammad will update voters on where, as far as she knows, things stand.

The Village Green reported today that at least three candidates — Sharon Tanenbaum Kraus, Carey Smith and Narda Chisholm-Greene — won’t be completing the SOMA Justice/PARES questionnaire.

We believe that the process to “grade” each candidate is not a true and honest reflection of any candidates’ beliefs and stances. According to the instructions shared, the grading is done by individuals who are not a part of our community. We want to be scored by our neighbors and our students—not strangers. As every year has proven, independent candidates not backed by SOMA Justice and/or PARES or those groups’ leaders have not fared well in the scorecard.

Last year’s release from SOMA Justice and PARES (Parents in Partnership with Respect and Equity in SOMA Schools) described the methodology, in part, this way: ”Dr Bleasdale, a scholar, academic researcher and practitioner, outlined the ideal key words and phrases that align with the values of equity and justice in all of the five answers. The team of researchers then coded each narrative and gave it a score based on the frequency of the terms.” The release also stated that the researchers, who were graduate students at the University of San Francisco, “are completely independent and do not know the names, history or context of the SOMSD school district.”

So, a coding of keywords and phrases, with an unbiased blindness to local concerns. Which makes me scratch my head when I see what the grades mean:

  • A “Demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the multiple ways SOMSD perpetuates injustice.”
  • B “Demonstrates understanding of the multiple ways SOMSD perpetuates injustice.”
  • C “Demonstrates a limited or superficial understanding of the multiple ways SOMSD perpetuates injustice.”
  • “Failed to demonstrate an understanding of the way(s) SOMSD perpetuates injustice.”

Maybe someone can explain further.

(Disclosure: I’m a casual acquaintance of Narda Chisholm-Greene.)

PARES would be a lot more succinct about how they grade if they just said they give the highest scores to answers that align with their own ideology.  PARES doesn't grade a response in a neutral way based on actual knowledge and articulateness, like a debate contest judge would grade; PARES grades based on agreement with PARES.  There's nothing wrong with a group making an endorsement based on its ideology, but PARES purports that its grading is objective when it isn't.

Note, PARES' approach is also different from the Black Parents Workshop approach, which asks questions and expects detailed answers, but then releases the answers so readers to evaluate on their own.

Running for the BOE is an extremely time-consuming endeavor.  There are five debates this year, plus the usual multiple rounds of questionnaires, surveys, interviews, coffees, and door-to-door canvassing.  

If candidates are sure they aren't going to be getting PARES' endorsement anyway, and would be given asinine grades, I don't think there's anything wrong with skipping that questionnaire. 


DaveSchmidt said:

The team of researchers then coded each narrative and gave it a score based on the frequency of the terms.” The release also stated that the researchers, who were graduate students at the University of San Francisco, “are completely independent and do not know the names, history or context of the SOMSD school district.”

When I was a graduate student, my peers and I were cheap research resources, but not expert resources. I expect it is the same for USF grad students.


The methodology sounds like a bunch of bullsh#t.  I don't blame the candidates for not answering the questionnaires.  There is no requirement to do so.

I'd rather focus on what the candidates do and say rather than someone else's graduate student project.

As for SLM, I won't be voting for her.  She should be open and honest about the status of her suspension.  But I have seen nothing to indicate she will be.


Leading questions (Why do you agree with us?) plus a highly questionable scoring system makes it extremely difficult for non-affiliated voters to make any sense of whether PARES endorsement (or lack of endorsement) is of any value in determining which candidate(s) one should vote for for School Board.

As relates to Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad’s appeal of her six-month suspension, the major concern should be whether her behavior during the traffic stop indicates a lack of judgment and/or possible values inconsistent with school board membership.  The lack of confidence expressed by some in the community as a result of this incident could lead to their not voting for her on character concerns even if they agree with her position on school issues.


yahooyahoo said:

The methodology sounds like a bunch of bullsh#t.  I don't blame the candidates for not answering the questionnaires.  There is no requirement to do so.

I'd rather focus on what the candidates do and say rather than someone else's graduate student project.

As for SLM, I won't be voting for her.  She should be open and honest about the status of her suspension.  But I have seen nothing to indicate she will be.

 I don't care whether the suspension is upheld, reversed, or selectively allowed to just fade away.  The behavior she displayed is enough for me to make a decision on whether or not I will be voting for her. 


joan_crystal said:

As relates to Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad’s appeal of her six-month suspension, the major concern should be whether her behavior during the traffic stop indicates a lack of judgment and/or possible values inconsistent with school board membership.

That wasn’t a major concern for me. The status of her case, however, remains a practical issue. The timing of a ruling may be entirely outside her control, and she may be as much in the dark about it as the rest of us. As a voter, I’d still like to know, one way or another.


Beyond what Ms. Lawson-Muhammad did on that day, I think this paragraph of the decision is more relevant to how the Board operates:


"The Commission also feels compelled to note that it is disheartened by the Board’s

failure to address the incident on April 27, 2018, with the public, especially since the Board

President received a “Confidential Communication” from the Village Trustees expressing their

“concerns” with Respondent’s actions. Even if the Board determined, in consultation with

counsel, that Respondent’s actions were not in her capacity as a Board member – a conclusion

which the Commission finds was incorrect – it could have still taken an opportunity to

emphasize to the public that Respondent’s actions were inappropriate, were not condoned by the

Board, and were not representative of the Board or its individual members. The Board’s failure

to take any public action contributed to Complainant’s stated need to file a Complaint with the

Commission."


chalmers said:

Beyond what Ms. Lawson-Muhammad did on that day, I think this paragraph of the decision is more relevant to how the Board operates:


"The Commission also feels compelled to note that it is disheartened by the Board’s

failure to address the incident on April 27, 2018, with the public, especially since the Board

President received a “Confidential Communication” from the Village Trustees expressing their

“concerns” with Respondent’s actions. Even if the Board determined, in consultation with

counsel, that Respondent’s actions were not in her capacity as a Board member – a conclusion

which the Commission finds was incorrect – it could have still taken an opportunity to

emphasize to the public that Respondent’s actions were inappropriate, were not condoned by the

Board, and were not representative of the Board or its individual members. The Board’s failure

to take any public action contributed to Complainant’s stated need to file a Complaint with the

Commission."

Elizabeth Baker......


What issues are important besides Ms. L-M?


Another question. Does anyone have any reasons to vote for Ms. L-M?

I've seen lawn signs promoting her. If you have such a sign, what is the basis of your support?


Formerlyjerseyjack said:

Another question. Does anyone have any reasons to vote for Ms. L-M?

I've seen lawn signs promoting her. If you have such a sign, what is the basis of your support?

Putting the traffic incident aside, I have been to several BOE meetings and have not found SLM to be a very effective member of the board.  Unfortunately, we are not privy to everything that goes on behind closed doors so I can't speak for her efforts there. 


The equity grades are out, and the Village Green has an informative follow-up about the debate over them.

Here’s Question 4:

Do you believe the district’s access and equity policy introduced in 2016 goes far enough in addressing the issues of inequity in our district (particularly in regards to vulnerable populations, i.e., POC, queer, special needs, immigrant, second-language learners, etc)? What are the benefits of the plan? What are the highest priority areas still needing improvement? Yes or No. Please explain your answer.

Three questions in one. Two of them ”What ...?” questions. Yes or No.

Still scratching my head.


Runner_Guy said:

PARES would be a lot more succinct about how they grade if they just said they give the highest scores to answers that align with their own ideology.  PARES doesn't grade a response in a neutral way based on actual knowledge and articulateness, like a debate contest judge would grade; PARES grades based on agreement with PARES.  There's nothing wrong with a group making an endorsement based on its ideology, but PARES purports that its grading is objective when it isn't.

Note, PARES' approach is also different from the Black Parents Workshop approach, which asks questions and expects detailed answers, but then releases the answers so readers to evaluate on their own.

Running for the BOE is an extremely time-consuming endeavor.  There are five debates this year, plus the usual multiple rounds of questionnaires, surveys, interviews, coffees, and door-to-door canvassing.  

If candidates are sure they aren't going to be getting PARES' endorsement anyway, and would be given asinine grades, I don't think there's anything wrong with skipping that questionnaire. 

 Pares is run by the same crew of SOMA Justice. Same thing different group. 


This is a recently statement from Narda, Shannon and Carey - of why they don’t didn’t complete the scorecard questionnaire by SOMA Justice and PARES.

“We believe that the process to “grade” each candidate is not a true and honest reflection of any candidates’ beliefs and stances. According to the instructions shared, the grading is done by individuals who are not a part of our community. We want to be scored by our neighbors and our students—not strangers. As every year has proven, independent candidates not backed by SOMA Justice and/or PARES or those groups’ leaders have not fared well in the scorecard.”


https://www.nardaforboe.com/report-card-response.html




Formerlyjerseyjack said:

What issues are important besides Ms. L-M?

Integration of our elementary schools is a big one. Yesterday I heard Erin Siders and Thair Joshua describe their idea of themed schools modeled, in part, on Montclair’s magnet system. Three themes would be chosen — Montessori, for example, or art — and adopted by two schools each. (The curriculum would be the same across the schools, but the themes would inform it or, in the case of the Montessori method, teach it in different ways.) One advantage is that this makes redistricting moot; the schools can maintain their balance, as Siders and Joshua said they had in Montclair, no matter how neigborhoods change.

Another parent in the discussion pointed out that an approach like this depends on a commitment and funding to train teachers to apply their school’s theme. The candidates agreed.

Their website: https://www.sidersjoshuaboe.com/


Another issue is whether open access to AP courses at Columbia High is working. When a parent said the makeup of the classes the same as it did four years ago, and that some students appear to be enrolling without the necessary preparation, Siders replied that this will take time. The preparation has to begin much earlier, and will take more years to show up in the AP classrooms.

I like that Siders added that students ought to be encouraged to stretch themselves in challenging courses without feeling like they have to get top grades. (Not that personal experience is the most reliable guide for judging educational policy, but I’ve always looked back on my four quarterly C’s in calculus as one of my formative high school experiences.)

The Village Green’s wrapup of the Hilton forum says Joshua called for more data on the Access and Equity plan. The VG article includes a video of the forum.


Interested Narda Chisholm-Greene's answers to the SOMA Justice/ PARAS questionnaire? She did answer and publish the questions and answers. You can access them here. https://www.nardaforboe.com/report-card-answers.html


Thanks for posting the link, Lisa. My saying “not completing the questionnaire” wasn’t really accurate.


She was never against answering questions by a community group.   Lat year when she couldn't get them in by their deadline, they published that she refused to answer the questions, which was not true and she had told them they would be late.  Having deadlines and grades,( this year candidates who did not turn in questions got an F) take away from the helpfulness of a questionnaire that allows the community to get to know the candidates' views better.  


DaveSchmidt said:

Formerlyjerseyjack said:

What issues are important besides Ms. L-M?

Integration of our elementary schools is a big one. Yesterday I heard Erin Siders and Thair Joshua describe their idea of themed schools modeled, in part, on Montclair’s magnet system. Three themes would be chosen — Montessori, for example, or art — and adopted by two schools each. (The curriculum would be the same across the schools, but the themes would inform it or, in the case of the Montessori method, teach it in different ways.) One advantage is that this makes redistricting moot; the schools can maintain their balance, as Siders and Joshua said they had in Montclair, no matter how neigborhoods change.

Another parent in the discussion pointed out that an approach like this depends on a commitment and funding to train teachers to apply their school’s theme. The candidates agreed.

Their website: https://www.sidersjoshuaboe.com/

Very nice but the devil is in the implementation details.
We couldn't even implement IB in the middle schools.  How do they propose we implement themed schools?


With the exception of the last question, the questionnaire is very poorly constructed and meant only to trap candidates in an us vs them game with PARES.

Frankly, it would have been great if all the candidates agreed not to answer the questionnaire.


An interesting rule change that might come up in tonight’s BOE meeting is the prevailing majority’s rule change that prohibits public speakers from talking about subjects of their choosing until the very end of the meeting, which often takes three or four hours.

The initial public speaks segment will be limited to topics that the Board determines to be on that night’s agenda, which also creates some other problems because frequently the agenda doesn’t come out until shortly before the meeting.

Johanna Wright has been vocally against this change.


My sample ballot leaves me uninspired.  Sigh.  I think I have my school board choices down, but the county and state choices just sadden me.


You are not the only uninspired potential voter.  In the previous school board election there were so many good choices that I had a difficult time narrowing down who I would vote for.  Now I don't even have one choice that I'm enthusiastic about. And I'm feeling pressured to make up my mind because we have the mail in ballots. LOL


The latest on Lawson-Muhammad’s appeal, from The Village Green:

https://villagegreennj.com/election/18-months-after-viral-video-boe-candidate-still-awaiting-ethics-appeal/

Those are some slow-moving gears in the state commissioner of education’s office.


Who are some good choices and why?


DaveSchmidt said:

The latest on Lawson-Muhammad’s appeal, from The Village Green:

https://villagegreennj.com/election/18-months-after-viral-video-boe-candidate-still-awaiting-ethics-appeal/

Those are some slow-moving gears in the state commissioner of education’s office.

It was released today that the Commission of Education has ruled on the appeal in this case. The ruling was the suspension stands and will be reduced to a 30 day suspension.


Turning to the appropriate penalty, and while in no way minimizing the appellant’s conduct, the Commissioner finds that the SEC’s recommended penalty of a six-month suspension is not supported by the evidence in the record and is inconsistent with penalties recommended by the SEC in other cases. In recommending the extreme penalty of a six-month suspension, the SEC assessed the appellant’s conduct during the traffic stop and her testimony before the Commission in an unduly harsh manner. Moreover, the weight afforded to the aggravating factors by the SEC was disproportionate to that afforded to the mitigating circumstances in light of the nature of the offense.

Specifically, the Commissioner disagrees with the SEC’s conclusion that “seemingly without any reasonable basis” the appellant stated “[a]nd I am scared of cops because you guys hurt black people.” The SEC did not give due consideration to the fact that the appellant testified that she was afraid and, more importantly, the SEC appeared to minimize the anxiety of the appellant experienced during the traffic stop. Whether the SEC believes the appellant should or should not feel a certain say is immaterial here; rather, in evaluating the appropriate penalty, the motivation behind appellant’s behavior must be fully considered.

The full decision is available in The Village Green: https://villagegreennj.com/election/18-months-after-viral-video-boe-candidate-still-awaiting-ethics-appeal/

ETA: A fuller MOL discussion of the case, and presumably more comments to come about this decision in the appeal, is here: https://maplewood.worldwebs.com/forums/discussion/panel-votes-to-suspend-ms-lawson-muhammad?page=next&limit=


Youtube of BOE Hilton debate:


I plan to vote for Thair Joshua. I appreciate his focus on data and his statement at around 48 minutes. I have the same desire to see the data, and would like someone on the board who presses the district about ongoing data analysis and transparency (for the access and equity policy, as well as other policies' impacts). 

I'm also leaning towards Erin Siders, who is on the same slate. Her ongoing volunteering in the district and focus on SPED seems aligned with important issues and the impacts on students and families.



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