Wittleder Nears End of Her Term as BOE President with ‘Heartfelt Thanks'

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“Being Board President is not a one-person job, and it definitely doesn’t come with a playbook, so the support of the Executive Members and my other six Board colleagues this year has meant more to me than you know.”

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The following remarks were made by South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education President Kaitlin Wittleder at her final meeting as President on December 21, 2023. Wittleder served one term as President and has been on the BOE since 2022.

This is officially my last Board President Update, as it will be the final time I will preside over a Board of Education meeting as the Board President of the South Orange - Maplewood School District. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to my fellow Board colleagues, especially to First VP Board Member Elissa Malespina and Second VP Nubia DuVall Wilson. Being Board President is not a one-person job, and it definitely doesn’t come with a playbook, so the support of the Executive Members and my other six Board colleagues this year has meant more to me than you know.

BOE President Kaitlin Wittleder

I would also like to thank the District and the community at large, your honest feedback, encouragement, and support have been a guiding force on setting our Board priorities and have supported our governance work. Nothing can really prepare you for the Board President experience, so I want to thank everyone for the patience and grace shown to me as I learned and grew in this role. I put my whole heart and soul into this leadership position and the work that comes with it. While I’ll be sitting in a different seat next year, I can promise you all that, my unwavering commitment to representing the needs of our students and community will stand strong. Thank you for the privilege of serving you.

And it’s with that sentiment that I’d like to transition to the meat of tonight’s Board President Update. A lot can happen in a year, and as Board Members, we often don't take the time to reflect on or acknowledge our hard work. I’d like to take a minute to provide a year in review for the Board to highlight several of our Board accomplishments in 2023. As we close out the year, I hope that we can all be proud of the work that we’ve accomplished together.

  1. The Board passed a dating violence policy earlier this year, a credit to the 2022 Board for their hard work on revising this policy, and the 2023 Board worked hard to hold the District to accountable for implementation of the policy and the required District-wide changes, each school will have a designated school based advocate to support our students and policy changes include education for our District staff, students and families. We will have a presentation from Ms. Kerry Weibel, our Director of Access & Equity, to share all of the hard work that has been done by our Access & Equity Department and District Administration to implement policy 5519 this year.

  2. Increased transportation beyond the state mandate of 2 miles so that every SOMSD child in preK through 5 grade gets a bus to school if they live 1.25 miles or over. Increasing this vital resource to our students and their families was vital to the ongoing successful implementation of the intentional integration initiative district-wide.

  3. Required the District to review and improve athletic coach training practices which resulted in a district-wide Sexual Misconduct and Harassment Training Plan for all SOMSD Coaches and Activities Leaders.

  4. Conducted a hazardous route audit, which was promised to the community in 2021, the audit was conducted earlier this year and resulted in a new hazardous route policy which identified a total of 11 hazardous routes from the previous policy which had 4 hazardous routes listed. The District implemented the policy this year, which had instituted a new hazardous route evaluation process. Tonight the Board will be approving an updated hazardous route policy that includes the addition of a 12th hazardous route after the evaluation was conducted this past fall.

  5. Held District accountable to spending outstanding COVID funds before expiration date

  6. Advocated for changes to the ELA curriculum resulting in the District launching a piloted phonics program in preparation of a Districtwide shift away from the Teacher’s College ELA curriculum to a new ELA curriculum by 2024

  7. Advocated for the journalism class to be reinstated as a full year credited course

  8. Focused on compliance with the BPW Settlement and created a Fergus Implementation Committee to provide oversight around the implementation of the required recommendations

  9. Advocated for Long Range Facility Plan fundraising to be a 23-24 SY District Goal to support the completion of our pending construction projects, especially at South Orange Middle School. We kept the Board of School Estimate leaders up-to-date on background information and financials, which informed a productive preliminary BOSE meeting in November.

  10. Advocated for Maplewoodshop to be added to the curriculum for CHS students which was adopted by the Board

  11. Developed annual staff renewal process that includes timelines and roles and responsibilities for both the Board and District

  12. Improved communications between the Board and the community through information shared in Board meetings and

  13. Added a Business Administration Update to our Board meetings

  14. Committee report outs were extremely detailed

  15. Advocated for a parent survey, meetings with PTA and communications to Marshall/Bolden families around the Marshall & Bolden unpairing process which supported a seamless unpairing of the schools for the 2023-2024 school year.

  16. Ensured that two experience surveys were sent to District families who are part of the intentional integration initiative. Advocated for changes to the survey to capture important information like student demographic and whether a family feels that their student is receiving the necessary academic supports at their school, among other additional items

  17. Continually improved upon communication between the Board, District and our municipal leaders with monthly municipality meetings during which topics of importance were covered like transportation, integration, student safety

  18. Tonight the Board will take action on potentially adopting an outstanding recommendation from the Alves Group, our consultant for the Intentional Integration Initiative, of instituting a  student waitlist/transfer policy as part of the ongoing evolution of the intentional integration initiative

  19. The Board committed to having quarterly retreats in an effort to bring the board closer together and to support more collegiality, collaboration and communication amongst board members. We held our first retreat in November and we were able to include our newly elected Board Members in the retreat as well.

Watch BOE President Wittleder's remarks at around the 2:53 mark below:

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