WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Board of Education saw some big changes at its first meeting of 2016. Not only was new board member Irving Schwarzbaum sworn in at the Jan. 4 meeting, but Laura Lab was unanimously chosen to become the board’s new president.
Lab, who has been on the board since 2008 and served as president from April 2011 to December 2012, took over the position from Ron Charles, who was re-elected to the board in November 2015.
“It is gratifying to know I have the unanimous support of my colleagues to fill the role of president for the upcoming year,” Lab told the West Orange Chronicle in a recent email. “I look forward to working with the administration and the board members to continue to successfully achieve the district and board goals set for the year.”
Mark Robertson, who has been on the board since 2014, was elected vice president — also a unanimous vote.
“I am honored and grateful to my colleagues for recognizing my contributions and entrusting me with the role of vice president of the board,” Robertson told the Chronicle via email. “I look forward to supporting the work of President Laura Lab and to working with my colleagues in the trenches on the annual budget, policy formulation, strategic plan development and the ongoing work of the Board of Education.”
Robertson continued to say that he looks forward to continuing work on initiatives to bring technology into the classroom, increase outreach and find new funding sources.
When asked what he thinks the district’s greatest challenge in 2016 will be, Robertson pointed to successfully balancing academic achievement with a responsible budget. Robertson singled out the need to improve languages arts curricula, addressing growing student enrollment, expanding ESL courses, improving standardized test scores, building partnerships with top universities, and creating internship and research programs for students.
“We have much to do and the talent and know-how on the board to get it done,” Robertson said.
Lab agreed that the biggest challenge is maintaining a high level of academics while keeping costs down. Lab believes it is vital for the board to look ahead at upcoming redevelopment projects and figure out what impact that will have on West Orange’s public schools.
“One of the goals which I believe is paramount for all stakeholders will be for the Board of Education to successfully complete a fiscally responsible negotiation process for three bargaining units,” Lab said. “An area of concern for the Board of Education is to prepare for the impact of multiple housing areas that are continuing to be built and the ramifications on our schools and the ability to house the incoming students.”
Despite these challenges, Lab feels the district has many strengths in the coming year that will assist the board and administration in effecting positive change.
“I believe our greatest strengths are the district’s stakeholders,” Lab said, specifically recognizing “the passion of the teachers to present their curriculum to their students; the leadership of the superintendent and administration to guide the staff toward achieving the best possible outcomes; the PTAs and parents support for their children and individual schools; the support of the community and its various civic groups who continually offer their resources to ours students; and the Board of Education, which on a daily basis is presented with all that goes with helping to oversee an institution inclusive of 1,100 employees and 7,000 students.”