A’Dorian Murray-Thomas is the Founder and CEO of SHE Wins Inc., a leadership and social action organization for middle and high school girls in Newark, New Jersey. Born and raised in the city of Newark, A’Dorian founded SHE Wins to create a pipeline of Newark college and career-ready young women leaders.
By the age of 23, A’Dorian was recognized as one of President Obama’s White House Champion of Change for College Opportunity, one of Glamour Magazine’s “College Women of the Year”, a Youth Service America’s “Everyday Young Hero”, named a New Jersey Hero by New Jersey Former First Lady Pat Christie, and one of “The Root” Magazine’s 25 Young Futurists for her work in education and youth development. A'Dorian and her SHE Wins scholars have been featured in ESSENCE Magazine’s 'Black Girl Magic’ docuseries, ABC’s “Here and Now” talk show, The New Jersey Star Ledger, USA Today, Positive Community Magazine, and Fox Nightly News. ADorian chaired the Education Committee as a Board Member on the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, where she helped allocate funds for more than $5 million dollars worth of service-learning grants across the U.S. and Canada until 2016.
A'Dorian previously served at the Newark Opportunity Youth Network, where she empowered over-aged and under-credited high school youth from Newark Public Schools to reconnect to educational options, as well as helped implement the district’s restorative-based intervention for students on long-term suspension. A’Dorian is a 2016 graduate of Swarthmore College and holds a B.A. in Political Science and Educational Studies. You can learn more about A'Dorian Murray-Thomas by visiting www.adorian.org and www.movingnewarkschoolsforward.com/adorian_murray-thomas.
2022 Candidate Q&A
Q1: Members of the Newark Board of Education make decisions that guide the public school system. Please describe your process for decision-making, especially when working on a team of individuals with multiple points of view.
Students, parents, and members of the community must always have a seat at the table. As an educator and School Board Member in New Jersey's largest public school district, I know firsthand that diverse views and perspectives are key to finding solutions to issues most affecting our children. Complex problems require complex solutions. As a leader, I understand that achieving complexity and nuance in problem-solving is nearly impossible when considering only one lens or approach, so I strive to center student, parent, and community voices in all aspects of the work in education.
As Chair of the Program and Instruction Committee, I implemented community roundtables and newsletters to create more space for dialogue and exchange between parents, educators, and district leadership on topics related to curriculum and instruction. When working on the implementation of the Amistad Act in Newark Public Schools, I advocated for there to be a community Advisory Committee to help oversee and offer guidance on the work’s curriculum development. As a School Board Member, I approach governance from an equity and community-based lens, and if re-elected, I would continue to lead in a way that seeks to build and create understanding amongst diverse groups of people to generate student-centered solutions.
Q2: If elected, what is the top policy issue that you would address during your term?
While there is a comprehensive equity strand weaved throughout the Newark Board of Education Strategic Plan, accountability at the Board level is critical to achieving educational equity and excellence in our schools. If re-elected, my top priority would be continuing my efforts to create and implement a Newark Board of Education Equity Policy.
As Chair of Program and Instruction, I have worked diligently with district staff to streamline reporting measures that track issues of equity and achievement. As the author of the Equity AdHoc Committee and Equity Study policy, I designed a board-level mechanism to monitor, research, and respond to issues of equity within the district, with the goal of ultimately using this committee to develop an equity policy. If re-elected, I would continue to advocate for policies, programs, and practices that tackle educational equity in Newark Public Schools, and prioritize working with my Board colleagues, district staff, students, parents and community to design and implement a Newark Board of Education Equity Policy that supports implementation of the equity levers within the Strategic Plan. In doing so, Newark Public Schools will become even more accountable to achieving educational excellence and equity for the students it is intended to serve.
Q3: Given the influx of emergency funds and the demands of post-Covid recovery efforts, the Newark Board of Education will be required to make critical budget decisions over the next three years. How are you preparing for this task? What are your current ideas for district spending priorities?
My top budget priorities are deepening the district’s investment in creating trauma-informed schools and increasing students’ access to early and high quality college and career pathways. Continuing my advocacy for school budgets, policies, and programs that increase student and staff access to mental health services, wrap-around services, and prioritize restorative-based disciplinary responses will remain a key area of focus. I will continue to be a champion for work that is responsive to the social, emotional, and mental health needs of our students so the district can fully realize its mission of being a district that “delivers an academically rigorous and culturally responsive instructional program that prepares every student for success” both within and beyond the classroom. As a Board Member, I closely monitor the policies, protocols, and current plans related to spending pandemic recovery funds, while also working to educate members of the community on allocation processes, priorities, and opportunities for collaboration and partnership in the district.
In order for Newark students to thrive, they must have clear, consistent, and curricular pathways to college and career. While the district’s monumental decision to institute Career & Technical Education (CTE) Academies in each comprehensive high school is key to achieving the goals of the Strategic Plan, there remains much work to do to ensure that every student in Newark Public Schools leaves our schools prepared for college and career opportunities. As a Board Member, I would continue to uphold rigorous reporting measures that monitor the district’s current work in this area. Further, I would continue to be a champion for allocating funding towards and securing community partnerships that increase student access to internships, apprenticeships, workforce readiness, and college readiness. Equally important would be my continued advocacy for investing in a comprehensive and early-intervention strategy for at-potential youth so all students have the resources they need to thrive.
Q4: The Newark Board of Education is responsible for evaluating the superintendent's performance. What are the top three performance indicators you would consider in evaluating the superintendent's performance?
Out of the six standards outlined in the New Jersey Superintendent Evaluation form, the top three performance indicators I consider in evaluating the Superintendent are Standards 2 (Governance, Ethics, and Professional Norms), Standard 5 (Community of Care, Equity, and Family Engagement), and Standard 6 (Professional Capacity,/Community of School District Personnel).
Standard 2 centers on holding the Superintendent accountable to leading from a place of care, intentionality, productivity, and understanding. Such values--and living them out in interactions with district staff, Board Members, families, and community--are central to governance that will move Newark schools forward. Clear and consistent decision-making processes that are community-based, equity-focused, and parent and student involved are equally important. The core tenets of Standard 5 reflect these values, and as I evaluate the Superintendent, considering his level of partnership and collaboration as the Board seeks to develop its equity policy rooted in similar ideals will be a key point for consideration. Standard 6 centers on the need for investing in professional development across all levels of the district, work that is especially important as we enter a critical phase of the Strategic Plan and continue to tackle ambitious goals as a district.
The capacity for success in all other indicators are rooted in success within standards 2, 4, and 6. By evaluating the Superintendent on leading the district from an ethical, community-focused, highly-trained, equity-based, and results-driven lens, we help build the guardrails necessary to achieve educational equity and excellence in Newark Public Schools.