Senior Director, NIIT Technologies
Current School Board Vice President (incumbent)
Family: Raghu Rao, a banker; Kids: Rohan Rao ’17; Antara Rao an MHS freshman
In Her Words:
Q: What do you consider to be the three most important challenges facing the Montgomery School District at this time? Briefly, how would you address these issues?
I feel following three are most urgent and important challenges facing our district:
1. Safely reopening the schools in a hybrid model for our students and staff and strengthening our virtual education.
Engaging with all the stakeholders including parents, students, teachers, medical professionals and State regulators to understand the challenges and opportunities to plan for a path for reopening using science and data to inform decision making. As a parent I completely understand the need for returning to some normalcy but we have to be careful to understand challenges posed due to a lack of baseline testing/delay in test results and the lack of data on how COVID-19 affects children. After a lot of deliberation and collaborative effort we decided on a Hybrid model that ensures social distancing and cleaning protocols needed to keep everyone safe. It's an unprecedented situation we have been put into where we have been tasked to make decisions that have direct consequences on someone's health. It’s important for me to lead with empathy and kindness. As I write this an update was presented to me that due to supply chain issues cleaning/PPE is back ordered and also staffing concerns has led to us reopening fully virtual. The situation will be re-evaluated on Sep 30 with the goal of reopening on October 12.
It’s imperative for our district to develop and teach via virtual learning in the most effective way possible, as a board member I have been involved in supporting and developing strategies for using various teaching and communication platforms by our teachers to ensure a good learning experience in fall. Professional development specifically targeted to using these new technologies has been a priority and our teachers have stepped up working through the summer developing lesson plans for all models of learning to be a success.
2. Creating meaningful anti-racist education among students and staff and the wider community.
One of the motivating reasons for me to run for the board three years ago was an experience my son faced that was discriminatory and racially biased. It shocked me. How could something like this happen in such an educated and privileged township? This made me determined to not just react to the incident, but lead with ideas and try cultivate an environment of authentic allyship amongst my BOE colleagues. I was among the first to suggest the formation of a multi stakeholder committee called the ARRC, Anti Racism and Reform Committee, that not only has BOE and district educators, but also includes students and parents. For example, some of the work we have done is to conduct a review of the HIB reporting system and found how it puts an unfair burden of proof on victims of racially motivated incidents. However the HIB system is state regulated and is above our immediate control as BOE to remedy, but we can develop new systems and processes to mitigate this . We need to build trust among students and parents so that they feel safe reporting incidents, but that does not solve the greater issue. We heard many voices from the community and there is a clear demand for systemic change. I believe a bold commitment to stamping out racism in our school hallways, group chats and classrooms is absolutely possible. What the BOE can do is create an anti-racist education proposal that looks to implement at first grade and goes all the way until graduation which will be undersigned by the community. The reality is, what it looks like and how it is implemented will be for the administrators and educators to decide as they are the experts in their field. It is important to recognize that this is not about cancelling or othering differing opinions, but about creating an empathetic environment that will give our children the necessary cultural competencies in a changing world. This objective is surely something we can all agree on and strive to achieve.
3. To maintain our Financial Health of the district amidst a pandemic and funding cuts.
From day one I have had the privilege to be part of the Operations and Finance committee, We have diligently worked on making our public reporting of a complex budget process more user friendly as you evidenced it in the 2019-2020. With constant shifting priority in a pandemic we need to be very careful and prudent with our spending. With the extra demands on safety equipment/PPE which will be a top priority we will need to be laser focused on balancing our budget. The drop in revenues and state funding will impact us and we are preparing our following year budget keeping in mind these challenges."
Q: What professional and personal experiences have prepared you for serving on the board?
I bring to the table over 20 years of experience in corporate strategy and program management spanning finance, HR, IT, Go-to-Market strategies, and sales. I have consulted with some of the largest financial, tech, healthcare and insurance companies globally delivering their strategies and operational efficiencies. I have independently managed budgets for high value engagements and fully understand fiscal responsibility as the cornerstone for any organization's success.
My education in both management and public policy gives me a unique understanding of the complex challenges of the public sector machinery which, operates in a multi stakeholder environment involving interaction with government agencies, communities, and donors who may have competing interests.
On a personal front: Education and gender equality is close to my heart and I am the co-chapter leader for “Room To Read," an International NGO in New Jersey, for the last eight years. I am actively involved in the community to raise awareness about literacy programs and girls education that run across Asia, Middle East, and Africa. I strongly believe in "think global and act local."
Q: Why are you running for the board?
I am running for the school board because I am passionate about education and children. I believe all the opportunities I have had in life was due to access to good education. As a board member I have had the honor of serving our community and helping shape progressive policies to make a positive impact on our children. I would like to continue to contribute and move our agenda forward."
Q: The success of Montgomery Schools impacts everyone in Montgomery and Rocky Hill, whether they have a student enrolled in the district, have a home whose value is impacted, or both. What role should the community play in forming policy and monitoring the school district? Is the current structure adequate? If not, what do you propose to improve transparency and community involvement?
It's always a positive outcome when a community is involved with the school district whether as a parent of a student in the district or as a homeowner or both. We are one Montgomery standing together for all residents. It's critical we hold our elected representatives accountable. Having said that the school board is a policy making body and has oversight responsibility but does not run the school on a everyday basis.
A collaborative community effort has always helped us solve problems.
I feel the current structure could be more flexible in terms of community feedback. A BOE meeting is a formal setting for getting things done like passing a resolution, reading a new policy, budget discussions or approving a field trip. I hope to push for more town hall style community engagement virtually on various issues once every two months so that progress can be tracked in a transparent way and gives our community opportunity to share great ideas. We saw a lot of success in this model that we have recently tried out. As they say it takes a village to bring up a child."
Q: Should Montgomery offer in-person classes during the pandemic? What about sports? What parameters would you implement?
I do believe that there is a pathway for reopening both educational and extracurricular activities in a safe way keeping the CDC, State and county health guidelines. It’s a personal choice families will have to make based on individual situations.
Most important parameters to consider reopening would be:
The rate of COVID infection in our state and county.
Availability of PPE/cleaning supplies and equipment for a safe return for both our students and teachers.
Last but not the least staffing availability for in person classes.