LETTER: Mazzocchi and Bennett Show Seasoned Judgment, Experience BOE Needs


3 of 9 seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Ed are up for a vote. Election Day is November 7.

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The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education election takes place on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. Three of nine seats are up for election. Three candidates filed to run by the July deadline and appear on the ballot: Shayna Sackett-Gable, Liz Callahan and Will Meyer. Two candidates, Jeff Bennett and Anthony Mazzocchi, announced a write-in campaign on October 7. Village Green is posting letters of support for all candidates: Deadline for submission is October 31 at 5 p.m. Read our guidelines here. Read all our election coverage here

I am very happy to endorse Jeff Bennett and Tony Mazzocchi for the BOE.  I know Jeff extremely well from campaigning with him in 2012, serving on the board with him from 2012 to 2015, and closely following his successful blog-based push for greater equity in the state aid formula after he left the board.  His skills in relating data to constructive policy advocacy are truly exceptional.  His contributions in that regard over the twelve years I have known him, culminating in his brilliantly well-informed analyses of how the state aid formula failed and needed to be changed, place him well above myself and any of the many other SOMA board members, administrators, teachers, parents, and students I have known—and some of us were no slouches at data analysis and advocacy ourselves.   Jeff is also a genuinely kind and thoughtful friend and neighbor.

Jeff’s skills and experience can play a major role in turning SOMA toward a constructive focus on student achievement.   SOMA schools need to do better.  When the last available year to year student growth report cards from the state show my new town of Orange outperforming SOMA and when absolute levels of achievement in SOMA are substantially lower than in many other NJ suburban communities with lower educational and income levels, something is very wrong.   Jeff is exactly the right person to elect to start a turnaround.  No one is better equipped than Jeff to kick the tires and to collaboratively work with other board members to improve student learning, institute curricular approaches that work (and retire approaches that fail, such as the Lucy Calkins approach to reading and writing) and hold leadership accountable to results.

Tony Mazzocchi also brings a great deal to the table as a candidate.  He is passionate about the arts and keeping them vigorous in this district, but he was no niche board member.  He was chair of the Finance, Facilities, and Technology committee when it developed the landmark Long Range Facilities Plan, he woke up early to the problems of the Lucy Calkins approach, and he feels just as strongly as Jeff about making reforms to our integration plan to get the busses working reliably and reduce family hardship.

As a three-term board of education veteran, I believe this Board of Education needs experience. In my years on the board (2006-2015) there were never more than 3-4 first-termers at a time, but the 2024 board without Jeff and Tony would be all first-termers.  Although veteran board members aren’t guaranteed to be right about everything, they have a seasoned perspective, institutional knowledge, and budget know-how that new board members haven’t gained.  Tony and Jeff have served with five different superintendents–they know what good district leadership looks like.

The combination of Jeff with Tony is an ideal one for the BOE.   To be all it can be as a district, SOMA needs both the profound analytical strength and the experience of Jeff and the deep strength in arts education and the experience that Tony brings.   Both have deep-rooted value commitments as well as highly impressive skills that complement each other’s extremely well.  SOMA schools badly need data-driven improvement AND creativity—and Jeff and Tony are the perfect pair to advance both in tandem.   Elect them both, please!

Wayne Eastman, BOE 2006-2015, president 2015
Orange, NJ


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