South Orange-Maplewood School Board Address Superintendent Search, Swearing-In of New Members, and Student Walkout Support

In a recent South Orange-Maplewood School Board meeting, notable topics included the election of new board officers with Dr. Qawi Telesford as president, the debate over the superintendent search firm selection, and the strong community support for a student walkout in solidarity with Palestine. The meeting was a platform for community engagement, with numerous public comments addressing the board’s approach to student activism and ethical leadership.

The board’s decision to change the superintendent search firm from the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) to Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA) was one of the focal points of the meeting. Dr. Qawi Telesford supported this move, citing HYA’s ability to conduct a national search and target currently successful superintendents. However, board members Nubia DuVall Wilson and Kaitlin Wittleder expressed concerns regarding the termination of the NJSBA contract, emphasizing the potential negative professional impact and the value of the 5-year strategic plan offered by NJSBA. William Meyer, on the other hand, backed HYA for their broader national reach and specialized focus.

The discussion on the superintendent search continued as board members debated the formation of a new committee to handle the search process. Arun Vadlamani proposed a committee of three members to streamline the process, but faced strong opposition. Kaitlin Wittleder and Bill Gifford insisted that all board members should be involved in such a notable decision-making process. Vadlamani eventually withdrew his motion due to the unanimous opposition.

Another key topic was the public’s reaction to a planned student walkout at Columbia High School in support of Palestine. Multiple individuals, including Joseph Gabriel, Brett Robertson, Faria Chugal, Michelle Bashier, Karen Sanderson, and Scarlet Strogov, spoke in favor of the students’ right to free speech and the importance of recognizing and addressing the situation in Gaza. The community’s support for the walkout was evident, with speakers urging the board not to silence students’ voices and to stand up against hatred.

During the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Ronald G. Taylor acknowledged Dr. Telesford’s election and discussed recent developments regarding the high school principal, requesting patience from the community. Various speakers, including former board member Elizabeth Baker and SOA President Rosio Lopez, addressed the board, advocating for unity, ethical conduct, and addressing equity and integration issues within the district.

The swearing-in of new board members Elizabeth Callahan, William Meyer, and Shayna Sackett-Gable marked the commitment of the new board to faithfully perform their duties, with Dr. Telesford emphasizing the importance of collaboration and unity.

Additionally, the board approved resolution 4562 for committee liaison appointments, with Arun Vadlamani and Elizabeth Callahan noting the careful consideration given to leverage each member’s expertise and promote effective collaboration across committees.

Public comments also included concerns raised by community members, like Adam Shapiro, who called for a focus on education and safety in response to an email about Principal Sanchez and the language and actions in the school and district.

Did we get something wrong? Let us know.
Dr. Ronald G. Taylor
School Board Officials:
Qawi Telesford, Arun Vadlamani, Nubia DuVall Wilson, Elizabeth Callahan, Regina Eckert, Bill Gifford, William Meyer, Shayna Sackett-Gable, Kaitlin Wittleder, Dr. Kevin Gilbert (Asst. Supt., Access & Equity District Title IX Coordinator)

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