Hudson school board head offers her valedictory

HUDSON–“I really love living in Hudson. It has been a pleasure devoting time to the District,” said Maria McLaughlin, who is departing from the Hudson City School District (HCSD) Board of Education after serving on it for five years—including one as board president and time as vice president. She spoke by telephone on June 24.

In 2014, after living in Hudson for about a year, Ms. McLaughlin decided to run for the board, because “I feel that good schools are important for a free society.” She added, “You can’t complain about something unless you’re willing to help to make it better.”

She had previous experience working with children, youth, and in a situation with “consensus-based decisions.”

By 2014, the state Education Department had designated the district as “in focus,” meaning “substandard” and performing “below normal.” In 2014, only 75% of the cohort who had entered high school in the district four years earlier had graduated. Meanwhile, the district operated four schools on three campuses: Junior/Senior High School, Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School (MCS), and John L. Edwards Primary School (JLE).

Ms. McLaughlin went onto the board expecting her service to be “difficult.” But she “met many more supportive people over the years” and, she said, “I appreciate their different areas of expertise.”

“I didn’t expect to learn so much about how education works in the city, the state, and the entire country,” Ms. McLaughlin said.

The hardest thing about board service was conveying to people what makes the district tick. Everybody had a different vision for it, so we couldn’t please everybody.” In addition, “It’s easy to say what you want but hard to find what actions can get it to reality,” she said.

Ms. McLaughlin recalled her “pleasant surprise” when the district was determined no longer to be in focus in early 2016. It was an “uphill battle,” she said. “I expected it to happen in the future but not in my tenure.”

Ms. McLaughlin said her best experience on the board was watching graduations. “The thing that always struck me when I look at the make-up of our students was seeing all these people walking across the stage together. They come from all walks of life, but they’ve been educated together. They’re a close-knit group. This is how we can have world peace.”

Four different “racial/ethnic” groups as defined by the census make up over 10% of the HCSD student body; no one group makes up over 50%.

As Ms. McLaughlin leaves the board, the district has changed since she started. Along with shedding the in-focus status, the 2018 high school cohort graduation rate was reported as 80%. Administrators have reported hearing people saying they have moved to Hudson in order for their children to attend district schools. And, Ms. McLaughlin said, the board itself “has gotten better over the past five years. The people are insightful.”

The district has closed JLE and is down to three schools on two campuses.

When asked if she would give advice for her successor, Ms. McLaughlin said, “As a board member, you give the most and learn the most the more time you put into it.” In addition, she advised going to learning opportunities and workshops for board members and school officials.

Ms. McLaughlin said she decided not to run to extend her board term because she has taken on a new job as a direct care provider for Camphill, a community that integrates people with and without disabilities. With this job, she feels she will not be able to devote to the School Board as much time as she feels a member should give.

Before taking the Camphill job, she was a stay-at-home mother for her two sons, now ages 7 and 11. In that capacity, she indicated, she felt she had more time for the school board. And she has not ruled out perhaps running for a seat on the board again sometime in the future.

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