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My Swan Song - A Retired Holmdel School Board Member's Parting Words

A newly retired Holmdel School Board member thanks the community for their support and reflects upon his services and the current issues of the Board.

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year!

After 9 years and 8 months, I have finally retired from the Holmdel School Board.

First of all, thank YOU very much for your support over the last 10 years. It has been a great journey for me, and I hope it has also been good for our community. Without your support, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

I had a few words that I would like to say to my board colleagues and the public at my “graduation meeting” on 12/19/2012, but we were busy discussing several hot issues, and it might be a distraction to do so (a board member wrote a poem for me, which he read to me alone on the side when we had a break). So let me share some of my thoughts here instead.

It has been an amazing run (3 terms, 9 years and 8 months, 4 or 5 superintendents – one interim served twice so not sure if I should count her as one or two), I’ve been through lows and highs, and the last many years were just fantastic. A lot of great things have happened during my tenure, but I really can’t go out to tell people any of those happened just because of me. It all came from the team, we worked together to make them happen, and I’m very proud to be part of it. For that, I have to thank my intelligent and hard-working board colleagues, the Superintendent and her very strong administration team, the dedicated teachers and staff, the involved parents, the supportive community, and the energetic student body!

During my tenure, I attended the graduations for my two kids. I’m very proud of them, and I’m very proud of the great job that our schools have done on them (and many other Holmdel kids)! When I started serving on the board, the district was in disarray, and it was chaotic in my early years. Finally, we hired the right superintendent, Mrs. Duncan, and through her effort and many others’ great contributions, we put the district back on track. We started to see people focusing on student performance again, and we have really been moving forward and upward in the past several years. That’s all good, but why am I thanking the students too? Because they are good, and when we adults get lost in the complicated argument about a matter, they provided candid and fresh view that worth us to step back and think about it from a different perspective. I can easily cite many instances that I was truly impressed by the student representatives on the Board, and here are my two favorites:

  • The Board has been split whether we should take any action on student’s off-campus driving violations. One camp believes that it is an intrusion to Student’s right; the other focuses on educational opportunities. The conventional wisdom would be that the students would like to have less control over them, but our student reps clearly indicated that they were concerned about parking lot safety, and they wanted us to do more to enhance it!
  • And when we were discussing issues about academic workload, we heard many parents saying their kids were stressed out. But when we asked our student reps’ opinion, they indicated that might not be the case, and their assessment is – people may keep complaining about heavy workload, but they don’t see their peers really being stressed out at all. (We certainly can talk more about this – in my opinion, it’s the parents, not the students, got stressed out; and I’m worried if this become a belief of the board and the school community, we’ll start to lower our expectations, and we will soon hurt our students.)

 

There are a few unfinished businesses that I would like my colleagues to continue paying attention to (in some of them, my view may not be popular yet, but it provides a good balance to other views):

  • Keep challenging our students to explore their full potential. No, they are not stressed out for two apparent reasons – most of them still spending much time in many other activities such as sports, arts, computer games, and social networking; and we don’t see any evidence from the Guidance Office or the Nurses Office that we have noticeable number of students seeking stress related help. It’s true, many of our HS students are deprived of sleep, but I’m also deprived of sleep, too. In reality, it’s a matter of choice, and we all take consequences from the choices that we make.
  • Make AP courses more accessible to all students. We’ve been preparing our kids very well for college – this is the feedback that I got from many parents (and very rarely I’ve heard our kids struggling in college). But we can do even better by exposing more of them to college level courses in their HS Junior and Senior years (or even earlier). This will train them to handle huge amount of information with certain extent of self study, which is common in college. The teachers, the students, and the parents have to accept that getting a B or a C in AP courses is OK since the training will worth it in the long run. I don’t think that we are there yet, especially we worry so much about college applications, but I hope that one day we will.
  • Keep our kids in our HS? Every year, we lost many of our kids to Private, Parochial, or Vo-Tech schools, and I had been trying to find ways to keep them in our HS through my work in Curriculum and Instruction Committee, which I have devoted most of my energy in the past 10 years except for the two years that I served as Board President. The Administration Team did put in some good effort and made some changes trying to achieve it, but during my last year, I started to realize that no matter how hard we try, some parents would still choose to send their kids to somewhere else. It’s their choice and may be for good reasons, so we really don’t need to be bitter about it. We surely would love to keep the kids in the district, and we should still try “with reasonable effort”, but our focus should really be on educating what we have in hand, which we have been doing and we should continue doing. Some kids will still go somewhere else (and some did come back in the past); we should be proud of ourselves for preparing our Satz graduates not only for our own HS, but also for anywhere. And as a side note, in addition to top students, we are also producing top administrators for other school districts – in the recent years, many of our Assistant Principals have become Principals in other district – This is a great thing and we should be very proud of it.

 

In the past few weeks, I had people sent me emails with nice words. Many used the words of “voice of reason”; I’m flattered, but it’s also comforting to know that I have learned from the many mistakes that I have made (and I’m still learning since I never stop making mistakes). In my first year, I served in the Budget and Finance Committee, and we were discussing alternatives for fixing our run-down tennis courts. I was volunteered to look into “artificial tennis court”, so I contacted the tennis coach and went to see such a court in northern Jersey. I came back and wrote a comprehensive report thinking I’ve done a great job as a very diligent board member. On the contrary, it was used as a typical example of micro-management, which would create chaos in a school district – that’s my lesson one, and I benefit from it a lot. It has taught me how to become an effective board member by focusing on the board function and not interfering with the district’s daily operations so that the district employees can also be effective on their jobs.

The 2nd year, with our budget being defeated twice in a row, I voted for a revised budget which would eliminate our HS Girls Gymnastic Team. I was not happy about it, but I thought that I needed to see the big picture and made the hard decision. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I turned some of my best supporters away and I had my daughter coming back from college to speak at the board meeting against me. How could a decision that will hurt our students be a good one? The team was eventually reinstated, but the mistake has been made which I still regret till today. But I did learn my lesson – we need to have a good balance between the big picture and individual need, and we need to think hard to find better alternatives. Not sure how successful I have been, but I’ve been trying hard to find better solutions on all critical issues over the next 8 years till today.

I know we have some tough issues here today, which you have read on the media, and we need to find ways to resolve them. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to say too much on some of them though I believe some of the claims as reported are not true. My take is that if all alternatives are exhausted, we must be willing to make swift and hard decisions, get over with it and move forward together again. Just keep in mind, no matter how old we are, we are still capable of making mistakes. It is a blessing if we can use it in a positive way.

Finally, I thought that I would have more time to do things that I didn’t have time for when I was on the Board, but it took me more than a month to get to this email since my last Board meeting. Guess life won’t be dull for me no matter what! Have a happy and healthy 2013 and please stay in touch!

Best Regards,

Ray Tai

ray.m.tai@gmail.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Ivy January 23, 2013 at 04:54 PM
Go Jennifer! Ray I am sure realizes there is always a rotten apple in the bunch. Thanks for your service Ray.
Eve January 24, 2013 at 01:03 PM
Well, it looks like this comment thread has deteriorated into silly jokes... Thank you for your many years of service, Mr. Tai. I did not always agree with your position, but you did a lot of good for the children of our town over the years. You often were a voice of reason on that board.
Jack N. Coke January 24, 2013 at 03:37 PM
The patch must be run from communist china, russia or iran. They continually delete comments that follow the TOS. This is an opinion piece why arent people permitted to give thier opinion - oh they are as long as it is the same opinion as the patch "editor"
Kaitlyn Anness January 24, 2013 at 03:40 PM
Comments that were derogatory toward Mr. Tai and his family were deleted. Personal insults violate our Terms of Use.
Jennifer January 25, 2013 at 08:21 PM
A racist crack is not an opinion.

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