Letter to the Editor: Wolff to Step Down as HVRSD BOE President

Photo: Lisa Wolff

It is my intention to step down as HVRSD Board of Education President at the end of this year.  I do, however, plan to continue serving on the BOE until my term expires at the end of 2018, at which time I do not expect to run for re-election.  Philosophically, I believe it is important to rotate leadership and personally, I am spending more time in my role as Executive Director for Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space.

As the longest serving Board President, my dream for a legacy is simply to leave the district and Board of Education in better condition than when I began 8 years ago. I believe we are achieving that goal through the hard work of district staff, administration, volunteers – including our Board members, and community support comprised of residents, businesses, municipalities, and non-profit organizations.

The majority of our progress often appears as a sudden improvement, but virtually everything took many years of planning and refinement. Some examples include the turf field & stadium, stem and performing arts academies, the homework policy, new student information systems, expanded access to high-level coursework, 1-1 initiative, and current referendum work in progress.

Additional significant initiatives are not yet visible to the general public but already years into the cycle.

Less visible, careful planning is key to making a transformation appear quick, simple, and seamless.  This concept also holds true for succession planning. During my earlier years, the Board noted that we hired many administrators from outside the district so we requested that district priorities include development and promotion from within. Our administration has done an excellent job of meeting that request.

In an effort to walk the succession planning talk, at my last re-election I shared that I did not expect to continue as president indefinitely so new leaders could emerge.

One board member stepped up to take a strong leadership role – Alyce Murray. In her second year on the Board, Alyce became Chair of the most impactful committee – The Education Committee that determines everything students are exposed to both within and outside of the classroom. She was also among the first board members in Hopewell to receive Boardsmanship recognition from the New Jersey School Board Association within her first two years on the Board. This year Alyce serves as the Board of Education Vice President.

The HVRSD board is a perfect mix of strengths, skillsets and respect that deliver spirited collaboration for thorough policy-making.  While we each have our roles, Alyce Murray is the only board member with the combination of experience, leadership, and desire to make the major commitment that the Presidency entails.

Adam Sawicki is among the smartest people with whom I have had the pleasure to work. Between his brilliant mind, laid back disposition, and ability to get to the heart of a matter, there is no one better to have in the room during conflict.

I have only met Darius Matthews a few times but I am impressed with his drive, commitment and ingenuity.  He has been coming to our Board meetings and retreats and does his homework. His performance at the LWV forum was commendable. Teaming up with incumbents to run as a slate indicates that he would like to create change from within the system.

I do not know Sarah Tracy but I have heard she is nice. She has children in our schools and is married to a former district Athletic Director so she has strong ties to our district. I look forward to meeting her and will welcome and respect anyone that wants to make a positive change for our students.

This is an important election and I encourage everyone to vote. I sincerely believe that all candidates running can make great Board members. I am unapologetically biased toward the impressive work of our Board incumbents and therefore I must point out that these are my opinions. My words speak only for myself and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone else on the HVRSD Board of Education.

It has truly been my honor to serve the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education.

Lisa Wolff

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  1. WOW! What a radical departure from protocol in endorsing candidates in your capacity as the Board of Education President. Although you claim that you are speaking only for yourself, in this public capacity, you are speaking as the president of the HVRSD BOE, and you have entered into an area with the intent of swaying the electorate. Why else would you announce *right now* that you are stepping down as president at the end of this calendar year and not running for re-election over a year from now? Seems like you are trying to get free political advertising for your hand-picked candidates. Yes – please encourage people to come out to vote. This is a sacred responsibility in a democracy. But Mrs.Wolff, Board of Ed elections in NJ are non-partisan, so it is not like you are trying to further your political party’s platform by endorsing three of the four candidates up for election. It is highly calculated that you are publically making this announcement on an online website. If, on your personal FaceBook page you wish to endorse a candidate, or a set of candidates, that’s wonderful. But speaking as the President of the Board (weren’t you elected because you ran unopposed?), this has crossed the line. One wonders if this is the first time you have used your position to further a personal agenda. Is it possible that you have intervened in the school district on behalf of your children in the past? This exploitation of power and position seems to lend itself toward that conclusion

    Furthermore, your claim that Mr. Matthews “[T]eaming up with incumbents to run as a slate indicates that he would like to create change from within the system,” is counterintuitive. If these incumbents want “change,” then they are arguing that what you, Mrs. Wolff, have done these past eight years is a failure, or is at least faulty enough to warrant a course change. If you are endorsing them to continue your legacy, then they are the opposite of “change” candidates. It seems moreso that under the guise of promoting democracy you have advocated for a slate that will serve only as your pawns.

  2. I have announced publicly *now* because the news has been well known among my friends and the Board and some suggested to me that I be more transparent with the public since my stepping down as President may change the complexion of our Board. In answer to your other questions:

    I have run several times both opposed and unopposed.

    My personal agenda is to get the best outcomes for all students in our district, lead the board and staff to be the best they can be, engage the community and be responsible with our resources. Yes, I have used my position to achieve these goals.

    My children’s experiences have indeed shaped my views on policy-making, but unfortunately for them, generally has helped those that follow more. For example, when my rising 7th grade son was forced to drop music in favor of art because 7th grade students could only have one elective, I suggested to the Education Committee that we work to make schedules more flexible. The following year, when TMS rolled out PLTW (Engineering), they included more flexibility for elective choice and 7th graders got two choices. I can provide many other times that my children’s experience helped me understand shortcomings in our processes/offerings and I worked to improve for future generations.

    I stand by my claim about Mr. Matthews and do not believe it is counterintuitive. Anyone that knows me is aware that I have always fought for change. While our district has changed in the past 8 years, it needs significantly more change to provide students with 21st century skills. This does not mean our past is “a failure” but rather that we still need improvement to achieve a truly student centered approach. Our teachers, staff and administration do an amazing job and I would anticipate that they would agree that as the world changes, student needs to be successful outside our walls change with it.

    A word about your final sentence. Anyone that has the wherewithal to get on the school board has their own initiative and skills and is nobody’s “pawn.” It is sadly jaded to suggest otherwise. Further, if you knew the strong personalities on the board, you’d realize the suggestion is impossible. Our board acts in lock-step when we base our decisions on similar values. We sometimes disagree on the best process to get there but our endpoint is usually similar.

    Finally, I will state again that when I discuss these issues, I can only speak for myself and not for the Board. I cannot make an educated statement as to overall Board beliefs on these matters. This is clearly personal and when I do make statements for the Board, it is only after we have vetted the position.

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