In a recently held virtual town hall style meeting dubbed “Coffee with the Superintendent,” Mark Schwartz, the newly appointed Superintendent of Ridgewood Public Schools, unveiled a plethora of initiatives aimed at tackling some of the district’s most pressing concerns. Addressing an array of topics from curriculum rewrites to school bus timings, Schwartz emphasized his commitment to transparency and open dialogue with the community.
Eleven days into his tenure, Schwartz introduced key members of his administrative team, praised their contributions, and outlined his ambitious plan for the upcoming school year. His approach hinges on evidence-based practices, community engagement, collaboration, and cooperation. His optimism was palpable as he acknowledged the current challenges but quickly focused on his excitement about the school year, stating, “So great conversations, great things going, obviously lots of transition, but we have some exciting things going on for the school year.”
Revisiting his tenure at Madison, Schwartz shed light on his experience in managing the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath in schools. He emphasized the need for regular monitoring of metrics of importance, highlighting the contrasting outcomes in students’ performance amidst the pandemic. “One of the important things that I did in Madison and I want to do in Ridgewood too, is put systems in place to collect and regularly monitor the metrics that we care about,” he affirmed.
In addressing a slew of community concerns, Schwartz demonstrated a refreshing openness to dialogues around diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Acknowledging potential issues in the school bus route timings and concerns over the presence of PFOA and PFOA-S in the school’s drinking water, he assured the community of a second look and an internal evaluation, respectively. In response to worries over students’ social and behavioral losses due to the pandemic, Schwartz agreed that this needs to be considered when creating surveys and analyzing data.
Moreover, Schwartz was keen to embrace the benefits of technology, as he revealed plans to release a student information update via the Skyworks student information system and the development of a survey tool to gather student-level data. However, he also acknowledged concerns regarding the role of AI in curriculum and privacy issues, committing to an informed approach to navigate potential pitfalls.
Another feature of Schwartz’s roadmap was his intention to prioritize hiring Spanish teachers and ensuring adequate representation. Although he admitted that hiring three teachers at this late stage was challenging, he reassured attendees, “I can assure you that we will absolutely have our candidates for next year because we’re going to start our process nice and early.”
Schwartz’s recognized the necessity for open communication lines and respectful engagement, even when delivering a negative response. This encouraging dialogue was welcomed by the community, with one parent, Ping Yang, recommending resources to support the new state mandate requiring inclusion of Asian American and Pacific Islander history in K-12 curricula.