Ridgewood School Board Debates Strategic Goals Amid Changing College Landscape

In a recent meeting, the Ridgewood School Board extensively discussed the district’s goals for the upcoming academic year, amidst broader conversations about the evolving landscape of college admissions and the increasing significance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Members are looking to adopt a comprehensive and systematic approach for goal setting, ensuring flexibility to adapt to new information and challenges.

Michael Lembo, a member of the school board, introduced the “question formulation technique”, a method aimed at aligning diverse perspectives. He proposed a schedule culminating in the potential approval of the district’s goals by September 18th. A significant proposal during the meeting was the consideration of multi-year goals in place of annual ones. Mr. Lembo articulated the distinction between multi-year goals and a strategic plan, emphasizing the alignment of the two. “It gave time for people to learn the goals,” he said.

Sheila Brogan and other members voiced concerns about rigid adherence to goals. Brogan highlighted the importance of ongoing evaluation of the goals, commenting, “Things crop up.” In a world that has seen tremendous shifts since the introduction of a five-year plan in January 2020, a dynamic approach was deemed necessary. The differentiation between broad, timeless vision statements and specific, tangible goals was brought to the fore.

Addressing the college admissions scenario, board member Donnie referenced changing patterns, pondering whether the district’s educational strategies needed reassessment. He cited Madison’s SMART targets, which include standards for subgroup enrollment in AP courses and a minimum proficiency rate.

An emerging topic of significance was the role of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the district’s goals. While members recognized the importance of DEI, integrating it effectively within the strategic plan posed challenges. Feedback from the community indicated a strong interest in DEI goals.

The Blue Ribbon Schools program became a focal point of discussion. Board members agreed that while aiming for such recognition was commendable, the primary focus should be on the improvements it brings for the students.

A notable portion of the discourse revolved around the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) within the district. The board emphasized a balanced approach, neither fully embracing nor strictly policing AI, understanding its potential value for students, but also acknowledging concerns about misuse, such as cheating.

During the public comment segment, Laura McKenna discussed the transformed college admissions landscape. She highlighted the increased competition, not due to reduced student efforts, but because of a surge in applications nationally and internationally. McKenna urged the board to bring in experts to shed light on this and to consider opportunities for lower-income students and the special needs community.

In response to the public comments, Lembo acknowledged the importance of understanding the shifting college admissions scenario and endorsed the idea of ensuring that Ridgewood schools offer the best opportunities for students, without stigmatizing alternative career paths.

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