BOEHighScorersThe Board of Education for the South Orange Maplewood School District has 8 candidates vying for 3 positions. We recently consulted on a process to evaluate participants commitment to equity and racial inequality. Here are the details:

SOMA Justice: Addressing Race and Inequality provided 9 questions to each candidate on addressing the issues of inequity in our district (particularly in regards to vulnerable populations, i.e., POC, queer, special needs, immigrant, second-language learners, etc)

Representatives of  P.A.R.E.S.  and SOMA Justice were asked to ‘grade’ the answers

based on the group’s values and expectations for BOE representatives.



Over the summer when the BOE candidates were announcing their intention to run, the group SOMA JUSTICE: Addressing Race and Inequality began discussing how they could learn more about the candidates’ focus on equity issues and decide which candidates had the most equitable forum.The group was looking for new and innovative ways to engage the process.

An idea that was shared was to have a report card style evaluation similar to one seen in political elections. The group leaders engaged membership on ways to gather data and move forward.

The group was looking for new and innovative ways to engage the process -Knowing that many organisations host panels, locals offer coffee houses, park picnics and even cocktail parties to give their candidates of choice a forum to meet the community-  SOMA JUSTICE wanted a further reach – to really focus on the topics concerning to their membership.The idea for the report card was suggested using focused questions. Group member and educational researcher and consultant Jane Bleasdale volunteered to facilitate the process in collaboration with the group leadership.

Members of SOMA JUSTICE who also work with SEPAC ( Special Education Parents Advisory Committee) knew the execs of SEPAC had been successful in recent years in soliciting and sharing written responses from the candidates and decided to use a similar model. Unlike SEPAC however, this group went a step further – they gathered  participants answers and shared them with group representatives who then graded candidate responses using the groups priorities as a guideline.

Several local groups were invited  by the leadership of SOMA JUSTICE to participate in the process :

  • Parents in Partnership for Respect and Equality (PARES),
  • Community Coalition on Race,
  • Black Parents’ Workshop,
  • SOMA Action,
  • MAPSO Freedom School.

Once the questions were formulated ( with input from many invited voices) and the process was decided two groups withdrew. ( BPW and Mapso Freedom School).

The candidates were then invited to participate and given 10 days to respond.

Once we received the answers we removed ALL identifiers. The objective questions were shared via a document where candidates were simply identified by letter.

The narratives were also stripped of identifiers . This was done by two qualified educational researchers with experience in the field. ( Not Dr. White or Dr.Bleasdale but other researchers volunteering their time – people not connected to the district).

The answers were shared ‘blindly’ with  representatives from the remaining groups

  • Parents in Partnership for Respect and Equality (PARES),
  • Community Coalition on Race,
  • SOMA Action,
  • SOMA Justice

Ultimately the answers were evaluated from representatives of TWO of the original SIX groups. – P.A.R.E.S and SOMA JUSTICE

The scores were collated and tallied using a simple mean average  according to best practices in educational research.. No one person is responsible for the final numbers

This is the original invitation shared with BOE candidates:

September 27, 2017

Dear Candidate,

I am writing on behalf of the local grassroots group “SOMA JUSTICE”, in collaboration with Parents in Partnership for Respect and Equality (PARES), Community Coalition on Race, Black Parents’ Workshop, SOMA Action, and MAPSO Freedom School. We invite you to share your thoughts, experiences and ideas as a candidate in the specific area of justice and inequality.

We appreciate the numerous panels and public events being offered for the public to glean an understanding of your platform; however not all of our members are able to attend such events. Ultimately we are aiming to evaluate how candidates plan to address race and inequality most effectively in our district.

We are asking for your written response to questions shared in the attached document. In addition to a yes or no answer, we are giving you the opportunity to share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Once we have collected responses, they will be anonymously submitted to a representative member group to be read and rated; any identifiers will be removed to ensure fairness. We will share results in an easily accessible guide. SOMA Justice (and possibly other allied groups) will be making our BOE endorsement based on this survey.

I, Dr. Jane Bleasdale, am acting as the liaison to the groups engaged in this process. As an engaged scholar, academic researcher and practitioner, I am professionally immersed in the work of equity and inclusion and am acting as an independent (volunteer) consultant to the group. I am also a community member and parent of two students in the district. I see your work as fundamental to the success of all of our kids and thank you for being willing to serve.

In order to be included, please submit your answers to me via email no later than October 8, 2017 to

If you have any questions about the process, or the work we are engaged in, please do not hesitate to contact me directly. Thank you for being willing to participate in the important process as a candidate of the Board of Education of South Orange Maplewood School District (SOMA).

I look forward to hearing from you.


Jane E. Bleasdale, Ph.D.

Bleasdale Educational Research and Consulting gathered the responses and collated the data independently.The questions and candidates answers, in full, can be read here. Candidates answers

The process for gathering and analyzing the data can be read here SOMSD BOE PROCESS


Questions for BOE candidates from the social justice group: Addressing Race and Inequality in SOMA

  1.     Do you believe the district’s access and equity policy introduced in 2016 goes far enough in addressing the issues of inequity in our district (particularly in regards to vulnerable populations, i.e., POC, queer, special needs, immigrant, second-language learners, etc)? Yes or No

Please clarify your answer.

  1.              Do you have a specific plan to move the SOMSD forward in dismantling the segregation and racial achievement gap that exist in our schools ? Yes or No

Please clarify your answer (in addressing both segregation and the racial achievement gap)

  1.              Do you support a vision for a new approach to professional development including a holistic, culturally-informed, comprehensive, systematic and sustained equitable practices?  Yes or No

Please clarify your answer.

  1.              Do you think that SOMSD should take steps to address the racially disproportionate discipline of students in regards to suspensions and expulsions, and the disproportionate number of students of color placed in special education? Yes or No

Please clarify your answer.

  1.              Have you had any training or professional development on addressing racism and inequality in education ? Yes or No

Please clarify your answer.

  1.              Do you support the placement of School Resource Officers in SOMSD schools.Yes or No

Please clarify your answer.

  1.              Are you open to the creation of a small, special/private fund that will ensure that all students get access to the same lunch and forgiveness for small fees that hamper the receipt of a high school diploma?Yes or No

Please clarify your answer.

  1.              Given the aging infrastructure of buildings across the school district plus the requirement for dedicated capital expense funds which may be limited for repair and renovation; do you believe the district should seek funding with corporations and other private organizations ? Yes or No.

Please clarify your answer.

  1.              What are your two top priorities if elected ?
  2.           If you are an incumbent please explain how you have worked to address race and inequality in SOMSD during your previous tenure.

Scores  – (received from three independent evaluators representatives of SOMA JUSTICE & P.A.R.E.S)

  • Incumbent candidates were asked two additional questions and grades aveaged in their final score
Evaluator 1
118 (+5)
Evaluator 2
Evaluator 3
Mean % 59 67 87 76 75 65

Published by Jane Bleasdale PhD

Jane.Bleasdale, PhD is Assistant Professor and Department Chair of Leadership Studies in the School of Education at the University of San Francisco (USF). Dr.Bleasdale has lived and taught in the United Kingdom, The Bahamas and the United States, Her career as an educator now spans three decades. Dr. Bleasdale previously served as a high school administrator focusing on equity and inclusion through personnel and student development Her doctoral research focused on equity and inclusion in high schools and specifically the experience of Black, Latino and LGBTQ students. She has recently conducted research on social and emotional wellness of students, the impact of school leaders on creating inclusive communities and critical feminist perspectives on leadership.Current research focuses on the experience and impact of women leaders with intersectional identities. Dr.Bleasdale is the principal investigator on a participatory action research project at USF collaborating with 10 doctoral students on a new paradigm for equitable leadership focused on critical feminst perspectives.

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