Zelda Spence Wallace
Educator, Plainfield School District
Family: Darron R Wallace, a business analyst. Children: Anita, 34; Ashley, 28; Darron, 23; Chilly, 18; and Magnus, 14
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?
The three most important challenges facing the Montgomery Township School District are:
The reopening of schools due to the COVID-19 closure
Addressing racial inequities
Maintaining fiscal sustainability
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted how we do business but it doesn’t have to stop us from taking care of business. It has disrupted how we educate our children but we do not have to stop educating our children. Being fully transparent, we still don’t know what we don’t know. We are not equipped to determine exactly how and when we will reopen our schools. The one word answer to this question is “SLOWLY”. We will open the schools slowly and cautiously. Unfortunately, the appropriate reopening response will continue to hinge on a degree of remote learning. The most effective planning efforts involve establishing grade configuration multi-disciplinary working groups (consisting of representation of key stakeholders), charge each group with researching and creating reopening plans with adherence to State mandates, conduct at least two community listening sessions to provide updates and elicit feedback, survey staff to determine availability (COVID-19 leave, in-person work, virtual work, both), and consolidate and communicate plans to the community.
Racial inequalities in and out of the classroom have stymied the learning experience for all students in the Montgomery School District. Nelson Mandela famously said, “The oppressor and the oppressed must both be liberated.” I love Montgomery!! As a community, we require honest and open conversation if these inequalities are ever to be addressed with fidelity and meaningful action. I want to be an agent of that change. Proven ways to remedy this injustice is to require district personnel to collaboratively modify the curriculum so that it is culturally plural, provide professional development for teachers to integrate social and emotional learning within their lessons, hiring personnel at all levels that is representative of diverse ethnicities, and design a school-wide effort to purport the Montgomery School District is one where all types of learners, all types of staff, are valued and treated with dignity.
Fiscal sustainability is a challenge facing many types of districts in NJ. With the reduction of state aid and decrease in the district’s revenue, creative budgeting strategies with key stakeholders is critically necessary to ensure COVD-19 related expenses are affordable, such as cleaning supplies and PPE, staff are compensated, and facilities are appropriately maintained. The district may find it fitting to search for and apply for grant funding to offset growing and related essential costs as well as examine contractual expenses that may be either be delayed or renegotiated."
Q: What professional and personal experiences have prepared you for serving on the board?
Becoming a new board member is like jumping on a moving train. After 18 years as a public school educator, I am prepared to make that leap. I know I can help create a vision for the district and set measurable goals to achieve our vision. I have more than 10 years of experience in managing millions of dollars of state and federal funding. I understand finances and budgets and I know how important it is to regularly monitor the fiscal health of our district. I have classroom teaching experience as well, with the general student body, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners too. My experience with curriculum writing and delivery of workshops to teachers will help me advocate for the value of a strong public education at every turn. I’m inspired by this challenge and I am more prepared than most having served in almost every capacity in public education from teacher to social worker to school counselor to vice principal to covering principal to director."
Q: Why are you running for the board?
It’s time for a change and I want to be a part of it.
My family and I moved to Montgomery Township 12 years ago because Montgomery was a family community with a top school district. I sought to be a part of that. The Montgomery Township School District's gifted teachers and caring administrators were critical in helping to prepare our children to be successful in college and in life. Both performed well and both were admitted to accredited universities. I give the Montgomery Township School District a lot of credit for their standards of excellence. Overall, the Montgomery Township School District experience has been positive but it was also painful. The racial discrimination my children faced in school was hurtful beyond words. Montgomery is not immune to the racial divisiveness that plagues our nation and our schools. There were undeniably race-based injustices that our family had to endure I feel could have been avoided with empathetic leadership and fore thought. I have a young son still in district and I hope things will be better for him and his classmates. We have all the tools and all the raw materials to be successful. We are a diverse community and I believe in recognizing and celebrating that diversity. Montgomery can be a shining example. My school board candidacy is less about filling a school board seat and more about being a highly qualified parent eager to contribute new perspectives, new ideas, and a new voice. My vision is that Montgomery Township is open to being a school district with an effective school board where transparency, communication, and responsibility are prioritized.
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?
Involving the community when developing policy and monitoring the district is an essential characteristic of a highly effective school board. The current climate informs us that the school board’s operations require improvement. Improving the school board’s communicative efforts is difficult without a culture of transparency and accountability. Trust is an essential prerequisite for effective communication. There can be no trust without a feeling of involvement, authenticity, and cooperation. Effective school boards have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community to establish strong communications to inform stakeholders and achieve district goals. Hopefully, the new school board will be open to posting bi-monthly newsletters on the Montgomery Township School District website summarizing outcomes of monthly meetings to the staff and community members. Additionally, school board members are open to email addresses, individually or as a group, that are regularly monitored, so that staff and community members have a platform to express their ideas on district matters."
Q: Should Montgomery offer in-person classes during the pandemic? What about sports? What parameters would you implement?
No. The matter is nuanced. Montgomery should not offer in-person classes at this point of the pandemic but in-person learning is ideal and what we will strive toward. We simply do not have the human capital and necessary supplies to allow us to confidently open at this time. Yes, the goal is to get the scholars back in the brick and mortar buildings but at this very moment can we unequivocally say that COVID-19 exposure will not have subsequent adverse consequences? Do we wish to expose our children to these unknown risks especially when other districts have already announced that they will err on the side of caution and continue virtual learning for the immediate future? We will systematically revisit this position as we learn more facts, acquire appropriate safety materials, and assure proper staffing is in place. The same is applicable to athletics. Disappointingly, we must push the pause button. We can take our cue from the big-time college sports programs that are nearly unanimously suspending fall and winter sports. We just don’t know what we don’t know. I am fully aware that children and adults alike lust for these athletic outlets and the social interaction in-person learning yields, I do too, for a variety of reasons, but none of those reasons supersede health concerns. The role of a Board of Education member is to serve in an advisory role to the superintendent and district staff on reopening details, vigilantly prioritizing the safety and health of all students and staff while also considering the fiscal allotments, parental viewpoints, and students' best interests for a safe reopening.