I begin with expressing my gratitude…
Thank you to the Student Representatives: You don’t have a vote, but you’ve set an example for us as a board. I’ve seen you present, perform, protest, and represent your generation as emerging leaders.
Mr. Mills You have made your own meaningful contribution to this school district. There are thousands of students today and there will be more in September, whose quality of education is improving because of accountability and initiatives you’ve put in place.
To Mrs. Blackshear, President of the Board - some will judge you because of where you live or who you work for, but I will remember that you were always a great listener, politically savvy, respectful, forgiving, sweet, and most important a good person. And thanks for rarely asking me to stop talking.
Mayor Redd, I am grateful and honored that you appointed me.
Keshia and Ethan Amadi – I appreciate your love, support, and willingness to let me do something that has not been easy for our family. I love you.
Now, There is a Chienese proverb, “Talk does not cook rice.” I’m aware that whatever my actions have been will speak louder than anything I say this evening.
As we see tonight, the times we are in right now are filled with extensive uncertainty, but also bountiful possibilities. Camden has become the epicenter for a limited philosophy about education reform. There is a now a Regional Achievement Center, nine new Turnaround schools, two state monitors. There will be a new Superintendent here in the summer. And all these things have been presented with the promise that it will make our schools better. There will be skeptics. They will wonder if the promises made will be fulfilled or crumble as so many promises have before.
In my last days here, it is my hope that those that know our students matter more than our politics, will convert their appropriate skepticism into targeted advocacy.
Three years ago, the mayor appointed me to this school board. With 15 days left to the term, I publicly say farewell to my fellow board members and the school district. In my time, I’ve questioned recommendations, challenged what I thought to be bad ideas, and influenced the way this school board views data. I’ve lobbied my ideas to anyone of influence that would listen from City Hall to Trenton.
Specifically, with a relentless spirit, I’ve attempted to encourage meaningful action about reviewing curricula before passing it, tracking student achievement data, and assessing the evaluation of programs.
Sometimes my aggressive style or the self-interests of other board members became stumbling blocks to what should have led to better delivery of instruction in classrooms.
I’ve developed a reputation for being outspoken. Somehow, the expectations that we have for our leaders have become so low, that by merely asking questions or being honest about the current condition of education, I can be labeled a rebel and made an outcast by some and be branded a modern activist by others. For any leader, elected or appointed, to merely expose failures and ask questions for clarity should not be controversial or provocative, it should be expected.
The Influence of Politics
In this current political environment, loyalty seems to be the only virtue now valued. The people that are elected or appointed to serve, should demonstrate other virtues that matter too, such as: accountability, compassion, flexibility, honesty, integrity, self sacrifice, and wisdom.
Let me be clear, Mayor Dana Redd, you will soon fill two vacancies on this board. Remember those virtues. Please consider looking at what this board could use right now:
people that understand curriculum;
people that live in and know this community,
and parents of public school children.
And finally mayor, remember that age is no indicator of effectiveness and longevity is no substitute for success.
Despite the public controversy and the personal consequences, I supported the proposal for a Renaissance school in Camden. There were deals made, legislation passed, regulations written and systems put in place to create this version of education. Now imagine how our state would be if the governor put that same energy into expanding affordable housing or increasing the minimum wage. Imagine how Camden would be if our leaders encouraged our community to embrace the idea that learning matters, and work with partners to decrease our drop out rate and increase funding for school facilities.
If mayors and governors want to make decisions and judgments on what happens in schools, then they should at some point be in those schools, not just for press conferences to announce a takeover or “partnership”, but to take tours to see the inadequacy of our facilities, the excellence of our teachers, and the thirst for learning of our students.
The conditions of our schools are interwoven with the condition of our leaders. If politics is inevitably infused with public education, then let it be a driving force of supporting students’ needs. If officials want to participate, then raise money for scholarships for students going to college, so that valedictorians like Jakia Hill from MetEast don’t have to say “no” to good schools because they can’t afford to go. If leaders want to be involved in the business of this board, then please help make it better, don’t forsake people that don’t agree with a theory of education reform that may even not work.
So with this impending advisory board status, let us all renew our passion for learning and supporting our students. We must all now be their advocates. And let us do this because we know that they are our children, our students, our neighbors, and our future. Let us remember that students deserve more than pleasant platitudes at meetings; they deserve our commitment to them above anything else, because in the end, we’re all student representatives.
Thank you, may God pour his blessings on this district and our world.