South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education Candidate Profiles: Susan Bergin & Courtney Winkfield

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Six candidates will run for election to the 9-member South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education on November 3, 2020. Five people are vying for three full-term (3-year) open seats, while one incumbent is running unopposed to complete the remainder of a term. Village Green is posting candidate profiles for each candidate who submits. Below is Susan Bergin’s and Courtney Winkfield’s candidate statements; they are running together on the “Collaborate, Belong, Thrive” platform. Read Village Green’s Election Guidelines here.

Courtney Winkfield and Susan Bergin

Susan Bergin:

I’ve lived in SOMA for over ten years with my husband, Jim, and our three children. Our children have attended Marshall/Jefferson, Maplewood Middle School and Columbia High School. Our youngest is still in pre-school and will enter Kindergarten in 2021. With three children in our schools, I have experienced first hand the areas in which our District excels and those in which it falls short. For many years, I have worked as a PTA and community volunteer to help make our District a place where all children belong and thrive. In the process, I have learned a great deal about how to make change in our system. The sum of all of these experiences means I can hit the ground running to help lead the change our community is working towards in this time of unprecedented challenge and opportunity.

My central purpose over the last several years has been in volunteering within our two towns. In that work I have collaborated with the District on a number of initiatives. I organized fellow volunteers and the school district to pay off student lunch debt, and we created a system to ensure every SOMSD student gets a school lunch, regardless of ability to pay. I also drafted the District’s allergy management regulations, bringing them into compliance with the law and best practices. As a result, children with food allergies are much safer in our schools. I launched the CHS Senior Fund, which ended the practice of excluding students from rites of passage like prom due to inability to pay fines.

In all of these initiatives I worked closely with the District and with parents in our two towns to make sure we do right by each and every student. I want every student to feel like they belong in our school community, because only from a place of belonging can they truly thrive.

Professionally, I am a regulatory lawyer with a graduate degree in public administration. I have the skills to read budgets, analyze data, and craft policies to drive change. My perspective as a health care lawyer will be particularly useful as the Board navigates a full time return to the classroom and the health, employment and privacy issues it raises.

There has never been a year like this one. It’s a time of great uncertainty and opportunity. We hope to transition back to in-person learning this year, and we have a chance to reimagine how that will work. We also have a responsibility to develop a concrete plan to address the learning challenges resulting from the emergency school closure for all children, but especially for those who were struggling even before schools closed. This year our first kindergarten class (my youngest son among them) will register under the intentional integration plan. If we implement our plan with intention, care and unity of purpose, we can be a model for other communities and show that our children’s success is interdependent.

I understand parents’ simultaneous desire to want to support our schools during these complicated times and also to demand they do better at meeting our children’s educational and social-emotional needs. I have been successful as both a partner of and an advocate before the District; an effective Board member needs to be both.

I am here with the community, the Board and Dr. Taylor to do the hard work of making our shared vision real. I believe that, together, we can make this District a place where all students belong and thrive.

Courtney Winkfield:

I moved to South Orange in early 2019 with my husband, David, and our two children, who will both be at Jefferson this year. As a parent and educator, I have followed the work of this District closely, both in my research before we moved here, and since I arrived as a resident. I am struck by the passion, engagement and innovation coming from students, families and staff. And I am inspired by the community’s potential to create a more fair and just school system that lives out our values.

I was born in Atlanta, GA, but moved every three to four years as my father’s career evolved. We moved from Texas to Utah, from Ohio to Washington, and along the way as I experienced new school after new school, I began to understand that when I felt connected to adults in school, I was more motivated to achieve. Teachers who made me feel seen, known, and cared for ultimately led me to pursue education and find my own classroom of students in the Bronx.

Over the past sixteen years, my journey in education has led me to some incredible places. I had the privilege to start and grow a small, successful 6-12 public school in Brooklyn as a founding teacher and ultimately lead that school as its Principal for six years. Those ten years growing and leading the Academy for Young Writers shaped my vision for education – one that centers students and equips adults to support the whole child towards academic advancement.

In the next step in my professional journey, I coached new principals across the city, which expanded my understanding of complex policy, curriculum and instruction across the Pre-K through 12 spectrum. In addition to coaching, I trained teachers, school and district leaders in implicit bias awareness and racial equity literacy and consciousness.

Working closely with Courageous Conversation’s Glen Singleton and Dr. Edward Fergus, I helped to establish equity teams and support schools in disrupting long-standing inequities for Black & Brown students, English Language Learners and students with IEPs. I have continued this work in my current role with the Office of Equity & Access, expanding our efforts across districts and through innovative initiatives like the AP for ALL program, where we have seen a nearly 30% increase in student access and participation in a range of AP courses as well as double-digit increases in students receiving qualifying scores.

While NYC and South Orange/Maplewood differ in many ways, the opportunities before us are profoundly similar. We are striving to keep our children and neighbors safe and healthy. We are devoted to the academic and social-emotional needs of our students. We are exploring how to pair our innovative intentional integration plan with the necessary professional development to ensure all students feel a sense of belonging in their school communities. We are looking for ways for adults — families, teachers and administration — to be invested in one another’s success in helping our children thrive.

I believe education can play a powerful role in creating a just and equitable society. We can work together to dismantle the constraints of discrimination and social and economic inequity, and to create school experiences where all students belong and thrive. It’s those experiences that I want for my own kids, and for all of our kids. As a parent and community member here in SOMA, I am excited to be part of the collaborative work to bring our shared vision to reality.

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