Five candidates are vying for three seats on the 9-member South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education on November 2, 2021: Shannon Cuttle (incumbent), William Rodriguez, Qawi Telesford, Arun Vadlamani and Kaitlin Wittleder. Terms are for three years.
I’ve been a resident of SOMA for 16 years, and I’ve had two children go through our school district. I’m an active community volunteer – working with the PTAs and HSA’s of our schools, South Orange Environmental Commission and the Community Coalition on Race, for our children, our climate, and our future.
I’ve observed our Board of Education go through many permutations over my long residence in our community. The last eight years have been somewhat tumultuous due to the short stays of several Superintendents and, of course, the disruption of the pandemic. Nevertheless, many teachers and administrators have done great work, and many children have thrived, including my own.
But inequities, de facto segregation and a lack of inclusion have meant that not all have thrived. After several election cycles, we now have a Board that represents the commitment of our community to integration, equity, inclusion and educational justice. And we have seen progress: improved policies of social emotional well-being and suicide prevention; the full implementation of the Amistad curriculum and continued curriculum review for diversity and inclusion; work with consultant Dr. Eddie Fergus to identify ways to remove barriers to access for underserved students; and policies and procedures to promote restorative justice and reduce disparities in discipline. And we now have a Superintendent with a commitment to staying and seeing through the projects he has started — the Intentional Integration Initiative and the Long-Range Facilities Plan.
I’m excited to endorse the candidacies of Qawi Telesford and Arun Vadlamani, so that they can bring their collegial voices to the Board to help continue this work. Both Qawi and Arun are excited to join the Board. They both bring humility, a strong work ethic, and a spirit of collegiality to their volunteering.
Qawi is a graduate of our school system who has returned to SOMA with his wife and will raise a family here. We cannot help but be proud of him. He has a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and works on research in neuroscience. He is an active community member, and a renaissance person who has run ultra-marathons and teaches Cuban salsa. His only agenda is to “pay it forward” by working to remove barriers to all of the academic, athletic and artistic experiences that our district has to offer.
Arun is an engineer who works at a bank creating algorithms and large-scale trading systems. But many in town know him as the Girl Scout Dad who has taken on the daunting task of cookie distribution for over 60 Girl Scout Troops. He has volunteered extensively in the schools as well, bringing such activities as the Hour of Code to our schools. Arun plans to bring his practical approach to solving problems to the Board. As an immigrant like myself, Arun is committed to making sure that all families feel welcome and know how to advocate for their children in our system. It was his idea to translate the candidate pages of the campaign website into both Spanish and Haitian Creole.
I proudly and strongly endorse Arun Vadlamani and Qawi Telesford for Board of Education. Please join me in voting for them on or before November 2nd.
South Orange, NJ