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The Solutions Are In The Hands Of Management

By A. Lang. Elected officials do not run a school district. They are relatively minor players compared to the power of the superintendent and her cabinet. These professionals have the knowledge of educational trends and technology, the public stature to influence opinion, the standing over their organization to change its culture, and the responsibility and authority to initiate policies necessary for Board of Education approval. Board members are powerless without an inspirational leader commanding the confidence of rank and file.
 
As long as our hired school executives and their organization have no connection to the social, economic, and political vitality of this town, the district is doomed for failure. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to save its schools.
 
The official vision of the Lakewood School District is, “Commitment to Excellence.” That is non-sense. That vision is for Toms River, Newark, Mount Laurel, or any other district in NJ, but not for Lakewood. We are different. The vision for Lakewood has to be, “Commitment to Education for All.”
 
When our children, our young people and adults, our youngeleit and their wives, are reasonably accommodated, so that they too, have educational opportunity as any other resident of this town, then there will be equity. Then we will be committed to excellence because we will be committed to our most excellent.
 
As long as any one of our children wants an education but cannot access it, as long as a whole class of citizens is denied opportunity, as long as the district organization remains disconnected from the majority of taxpayers, the people will not be stakeholders in its success.
 
The scores of outsiders, professors and turn-around specialists, brought in over the last ten years as consultants or superintendents, are oblivious to the dynamics of the Lakewood community. We are unique. They cannot succeed because they do not recognize the needs and burdens of our people.
 
The solutions to the tuition, state funding and educational opportunity problems are on record and documented inside the district organization. Scores of proposals, backed by constitutional, statutory and regulatory sources have been submitted over the last several years. If one approach is proved impracticable, others have to be considered. As justice is our cause, we will find the answers.
 
A 39-page report was submitted to the superintendent in May 2011, elaborating the constitutional right of Lakewood mesivta boys to have “no English,” while showing how Lakewood High School may legally bring free English education to girls, and to boys in non-mainstream yeshivas and outside the tachum or whose parents so request, all in the place of their own choice.
 
A 74-page comprehensive report on NJ school funding and reform was submitted to the superintendent in May 2012 reporting reductions in state aid this year for at-risk children, comprising 74% of Lakewood students. State funds will be further reduced in 2013 because the enrollment count will be modified by average daily attendance, which is low in our district. Alternately, 2013 will be only the third year this century state funding will be adjusted to reflect an increase or decrease in students. If our school leaders do not act to find ways to bring education to more children of our town who want an education, we will be locked-in to even lower state funding for years to come.
 
The citizens of Lakewood pay about $9 million more in property taxes than their local fair share. When we hire our new superintendent and assistant, we have to find people who are creative and smart enough to make the state funding formula work to the advantage of Lakewood. We need a leader who is compassionate and innovative, so that every child and young adult who wants a free education and vocational training will finally be able to access it. Then, perhaps if he or she finds a way to make our kids count, millions of dollars, nay, tens of millions in equalization aid will flow in from Trenton, more than enough money for transportation or anything else.
 
Charters are appropriate to provide free English for our elementary children, but they are capped in the number of students they may serve. Vouchers are even more limited in scope through restrictions on eligibility. Neither is currently available. We will have to keep on “Waiting for Superman.”
 
The broader and permanent solution to the tuition problem is for the district to accommodate our people, so that we too may enjoy our privilege as American citizens. This will ultimately lower property taxes with increased state funding, provide youth at-risk with direction, make diplomas accessible for our young adult men, save teacher jobs and provide for new ones, establish the people as stakeholders, and make peace with the outside world. The vision is here and now, within our grasp, and already in the state administrative code.
 
Recent Supreme Court rulings and the current political climate encourage the kind of experimentation that will eventually solve our tuition and state funding issues. There has been no more propitious time to bring opportunity to our people, promoting the general welfare of the future of New Jersey. We must seize the moment. We cannot quit until we see justice.
 
Disclaimer—My articles on TLS, and my insider advocacy to bridge the gap between the school and our community over my ten years at LHS, represent my own views and are not those of the district.

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There are 2 Comments to "The Solutions Are In The Hands Of Management"

  • Think about it... says:

    Lang you advocate bridging the secular educational gap but at the same time you want the public school mechanism to do all the bridging. As long as there is by choice a secular division between the parallel educational efforts your pleadings are insincere. After working in the District for 10 years you should have a better understanding of the State educational funding formulas. The funding programs are based on enrollment first and other criteria depending on the program. If the enrollment isn’t there neither are the funds. If you are enrolled in a public school you are obligated to follow the public school curriculum and be held accountable for progressing according to State standards. Causing change to the public school curriculum is relatively easy; create a need in the public school system. Stop complaining about not being able to see the sunrise after you built walls in front of your windows. Yes, Lakewood is unique but it could be a worldwide educational showcase IF the self-imposed restrictions are reevaluated with a mindset to make positive change for the children that are being restricted by secular rigidity.

  • A. Lang says:

    The right reserved to the people to run their schools is the last bastion of diverse and local control in our homogenized contemporary society. The public schools belong to the people.

    There is no reason why a child cannot access a fully standardized education by taking our complete curriculum in the place of his choosing. The Supreme Court has made this clearly possible and the state administrative code permits this under Option Two. This was allowed last year at LHS and such students were fully registered making us eligible for state funding for their attendance—at home.