Telesford is voted board president

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The School District of South Orange and Maplewood held their annual reorganization meeting, electing Qawi Telesford president and swearing in three new board members.

“As a board, recent years have brought challenges with some suggesting that internal divisions and dysfunction hinder our ability to serve our children,” Telesford said in remarks after being selected. “Having spoken to each board member, I can confidently say that this perception is inaccurate.I see a board eager to collaborate, find common ground and work together for our students.”

Telesford, who attended schools in the district and graduated from Columbia High School, recalled being in school and working on a group project but receiving a full letter grade lower than the other students he worked with because the teacher believed he copied their work.

“I did what any kid would do,” Telesford said. “I shut down completely and disengaged from the class entirely. This is a fate I would never wish upon any student in our school district.”

He also talked about another teacher, however, who took the time to encourage and challenge him. That teacher helped set him on the path that brought him to his current position.

“It wasn’t about the grade, but the challenge and inspiration that fueled my growth,” he said.

Telesford, who has an undergraduate degree from Rutgers, a master’s from Columbia University and a PhD in biomedical engineering, is a research scientist for the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, N.Y.

The board also voted Arun Vadlamani as first vice president and Nubia DuVall Wilson as second vice president.

Eric Burnside, district business administrator, swore in the three new members of the board – Elizabeth Callahan,William Meyer and Shayna Sackett-Gable – who were elected in November.

Acting Superintendent Kevin Gilbert spoke briefly about the recent announcement that Columbia High School Principal Frank Sanchez had been placed on leave. No reason was given for the action but Gilbert said what is done going forward will be done in the best interests of the students.

“Give us patience as we work through the process,” Gilbert said. “Rumors and innuendo have no part in the process.”

Six students, three holding signs supporting Sanchez, were at the meeting and a recent alumni, Maxwell Kravitz, now attending Middle Tennessee State University, spoke out in support of the principal.

“I for one say that Mr. Sanchez had a positive impact on my experience,” Kravitz said.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, the first person to speak was Elizabeth Baker, a board member for six years who served as president for three.
She urged the board members to work together, to be deliberate and get advice.

“Our students suffered more than any other district in New Jersey because the adults couldn’t work together,” she said. “Listen to the professionals, work together, trust that they have the students’ best interest at heart.”

South Orange Maplewood Education Association President Rocio Lopez, a Spanish teacher as well as president of the teacher’s union, said she hopes the board will work
together going forward.

“If anyone likes to look at astrology, the planets are all aligned in our favor,” she said.

In addition to the Columbia principal being on leave, the district also has an acting superintendent of school, having effectively fired Superintendent Ronald G. Taylor by placing him on administrative leave until the end of his contract in June.

The board on Thursday debated how to proceed with the superintendent search. The board has been working with the New Jersey School Boards Association, which does superintendent searches, although a contract has not been finalized. A private firm, HYA, which specializes in superintendent searches, was discussed as an alternative.

“In my opinion, going with a professional, this is all they do, that’s what I would do,” said Vadlamani, who also suggested forming a committee to focus on the search and bring back suggestions to the committee as a whole.

Every member of the board wanted to be part of the search for a superintendent so the idea of a committee was withdrawn. No decision was made on who would be doing the search although it was noted that NJSBA costs about $15,000 while HYA charges about $20,000.