An Explanation of What a Board of Education is, and One Candidate’s Plan to Make Changes
On the ballot for the November 3rd Presidential elections are many important local positions that many are unaware of. Local politicians have a direct effect on the municipalities that they are elected to serve, and as such, are important figures in the everyday lives of their constituents. Among these elections are open seats in the Morris School District Board of Education. This Board is composed of ten members, five which represent Morris Township, four which represent Morristown, and one which represents Morris Plains.
What Does a Board of Education Do?
Each school district has their own Board of Education (BOE) that works with the Superintendent to govern public schools in the area. BOE members are elected every three years, and one of the main facets of their position is the hiring, evaluating, and (if necessary) removal of the Superintendent. The Superintendent and the BOE work together to act as the governing body of the school district.
Within this district’s BOE are four committees: Finance, Human Resources, Curriculum, and Policy. While each committee is a subset that can meet in private (meetings of more than four officials must, by law, be open to the public) the entire BOE works together to make any changes to their district, along with their Superintendent. The BOE has many responsibilities, but the most important ones include approving the school’s budget, deciding on the school’s curriculum, and setting policies for the schools in the district, and their influence over their Superintendent.
The BOE’s power to alter the curriculum is what has particularly intrigued Oliver Starnes, a lifelong resident of the Morris County area, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Morristown (an entity that is independent from other BLM organizations), to run for the open Morristown seat within the Morris School District BOE.
Oliver Starnes’ Curriculum
Starnes is eager to make changes in his local school district. “One of the main reasons I’m running is to make sure that the curriculum is reflective of an inclusive telling of history,” Starnes said during an interview. “Everybody knows the mosaic of the country is not being reflected in our current curriculum.” This reflects particularly in our history classes, where Black influences on American history are largely silenced. For example, the first Black Senator and Black Representatives served the nation in the late 1800’s as Republicans in the South, but many schools do not teach that.
When asked why the history seems to be skewed, Starnes said “[Because] it’s convenient.” Teaching children that the history of civil rights is not a straight line of progressive movement, but rather an issue that tends to take five steps forward and two steps back, does not reflect well on the United States. To teach that Black men were allowed to vote (if they were landowners) and then had that right taken from them through Jim Crow laws (among other rights), only to fight for it again during the Civil Rights movement; to share the atrocity of a White-supremacist mob burning down businesses and houses in Tulsa, Oklahoma (known at the time as Black Wall Street) with no acknowledgement from the national government; and every other terrible part of our history, is all very uncomfortable.
It is not ideal for a teacher to shed light on our darkest moments, nor is it ideal for our children to learn such darkness exists in our history. Starnes argues that it is necessary to know the full truth of our country’s history, not just the convenient truths. “It isn’t just Black history or White history, it is American history,” a history that requires the stories of all of its contributors.
Another curriculum-centered goal of the Oliver Starnes campaign is to create a more cohesive curriculum between surrounding school districts, whose K-8 students often end up going to middle or high school in the Morris School District. For example, in Morris Plains, whose K-8 school has their own BOE, the curriculum asks “not to get into racism when talking about Martin Luther King Jr.” meanwhile, the neighboring district of Boonton, “… is asking you to defend slavery from a Southern [Confederate] point of view,” says Starnes. Students from those districts will eventually go to Morristown High School, where the curriculum has become more progressive in recent years by asking to explore the history and effects of racism. It will be difficult for the students from other districts to keep up in history classes if they have different perspectives on the history of race in the United States.
Morris County has a 3-3.5% Black population (a total of about 20,000 Black people). Starnes wants to push for a more inclusive curriculum for people of minority populations who influenced American history to have their stories heard too, and cohesion amongst the different districts is necessary to tell the truth of our history.
Oliver Starnes’ Policy
While Starnes was touring Morris County this summer with BLM Morristown’s Summer Series, one of the main objectives was providing a stage and opportunity for people in the local community to speak about race relations. Many of the speakers at these actions were students who attend schools in Morris County. A repeated problem that he heard from these speakers was a difference in the way minority students were treated by other students as well as by some school staff and administrators. After hearing these stories, Starnes has a goal to implement policy changes that would include diversity training for the staff and anti-racism curriculum for the students. One of his plans includes building a network of the parents of minority students in order to build a stronger coalition that can assist in closing the evident success gap between White students, Black students, Hispanic students, and students of immigrants. While average rates of success for students has steadily gone up over the years, there is still a wide gap in the Morris County area between White-American students and minority students. Starnes believes that, while changes can be made in school to fix this, much of it is also dependent on home life. By building a relationship with the families of the community, he hopes to increase the success of all of the students. “We can’t control what happens at home,” Starnes said. “We can’t go into the house and teach them manners,” but the BOE can at least start the conversation.
Morris School District has been more progressive than many other school districts in the area, which gives Oliver Starnes and his campaign confidence for the future. He hopes to build strong relationships with the people in local politics, and to build a stronger district together. “What good is a public body that can’t agree with each other? We have to be able to exchange our viewpoints and come to a resolution,” he said, optimistic about the future of the Board.
Where to Learn more about the BOE and Oliver Starnes
To watch the full interview with Oliver Starnes, click here.
The Morris School District’s website (here) contains information about the Board’s members, meetings, policies, etc., and is available to the public.
Oliver Starnes’ campaign can be found under the username @OnwardMSD on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
This November, get educated on all of your local politicians before heading to the polls. Facts matter.
*This article is NOT an official endorsement. *