SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — After just two years, Superintendent of Schools John Ramos Sr. is retiring from the South Orange-Maplewood School District, effective Aug. 24.
The retirement, which was announced in a May 22 letter to the SOMSD community, comes as a surprise since Ramos only joined the district about two years ago. His contract ends June 30, 2020, though he may terminate the agreement upon giving 90 days written notice to the Board of Education.
According to Ramos, the decision to end his agreement early came out of a desire to spend more time with his family.
“As a family man, it has been particularly difficult to be out of my home for what is now nearly five years,” Ramos said in the letter, referring to the fact that he lives in a South Orange apartment while his family resides in Connecticut. Prior to coming to the district, he served as chairman of the Middle East International School in Qatar. “That reality can take its toll — and has. It is time to get back home.”
Though his stint ended up being shorter than expected, Ramos’ term certainly cannot be described as uneventful. Almost immediately upon starting with the district, the superintendent became involved with a longstanding dispute between the Columbia High School baseball coaches and two families who claimed they were bullying players. Since then, he has had to address racially insensitive incidents that have occurred in schools as well as a slew of departures by administrators.
Despite these controversies, Ramos did make progress in a number of areas. The superintendent put an emphasis on cultural competency through such measures as employee bias training and holding town hall meetings on equity. During his tenure, the district also started the redesign of its website and commissioned a building utilization report. He also oversaw the transition to zero-based budgeting and the pursuit of new revenue sources.
Of everything he has done though, Ramos told the News-Record that his happiest memory is seeing 1,500 community members gather for the first Education Summit in November 2015. He said that meeting not only led to the development of a strategic plan the district can use to meet the needs of its students, but also demonstrated exactly what the SOMSD is about.
“This speaks volumes to the commitment and the talent that exist here,” Ramos said in a May 22 email. “It also speaks to the tremendous potential this community has to get this work right and be a model to others.”
As for what he would have attempted to do in the coming years had he chosen to stay on as superintendent, Ramos said he wanted to directly tackle desegregating and de-leveling the schools. But he said the strategic plan should come in handy as the district moves toward ending what he called the “primary impediments to the district’s ability to achieve equity while embracing its diversity.”
“I believe the strategic plan offers a new model which changes the conversation as well as provides the architecture necessary to do this challenging but essential work,” Ramos said. “It will be important to hold one another accountable as the district moves forward to realize its mission.”
On behalf of the BOE, President Elizabeth Baker thanked Ramos for his efforts in a May 22 statement sent to the News-Record. And while the board wishes the superintendent a wonderful retirement, Baker indicated that Ramos’ work will not be forgotten.
“We greatly appreciate Dr. Ramos’ leadership in the adoption of the access and equity policy, his commitment to dialogue and restorative practices, and the zero-based budgeting process that has already helped align spending with student needs,” Baker said.
Looking ahead, Baker said the BOE is “moving expeditiously” to appoint an interim superintendent by early June so that a seamless transition can take place ahead of a productive summer. Once that happens, she said the board can conduct a “robust and transparent” search for a permanent replacement. She said that process will involve garnering community feedback and stakeholder input, but she did not detail specifically what the next steps will entail.
Baker said the board will share further information on the search for the interim and permanent superintendent as soon as it is able.
“We look forward to working with district staff, families and the community during this time of transition,” Baker said, adding that the BOE will “remain focused on our shared commitment to our students.”
Ramos sent a message of his own to the SOMSD community in his letter, thanking residents for allowing him to serve the two towns. He also said that he is optimistic the district has a bright future ahead of it.
“While there will always be much to do, we have established a critical foundation and collaboratively built architecture for the work to build upon,” Ramos said. “I am confident that you will continue to pursue this district’s mission to educate all children so that they are prepared for a world we have yet to imagine.
“You are on the verge of realizing a model worthy of replication,” he continued. “I wish you every good fortune in that journey.”
The board will have to pay a maximum of $15,000 for any unused sick days upon his departure, according to the superintendent’s contract.