Five community members are vying for three seats on the 9-member South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education: Regina Eckert, Nubia Wilson, Bill Gifford, Will Meyer and Ritu Pancholy. Terms are for three years. Election day is November 8, 2022; read more here. Village Green invites all candidates to submit statements for posting.
The following candidate statement is from Eckert, Wilson, and Gifford, who are running on a ticket together “Students Come First.” Pancholy and Meyer are also running together; Village Green will publish their statement as soon as we receive it.
We, Regina Eckert, Nubia Wilson, and Bill Gifford, are pleased to announce we are running jointly for the 2022 South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education election. We are deeply concerned with how the board functions and works as a body, lacking respect, collaboration and operating in factions; the persistent reality of the achievement gap for Black and Hispanic Columbia High school students and the failure to focus on fixing the gap during the elementary years; the high turnover of district staff; the out-of-touch decision to pull transportation for more than 100 students at the elementary school level; and the overall lack of accountability from leadership. Covid has opened the eyes of many families in this district on the foundational issues of governance and leadership that exist within our Board, but the reality is that many of the issues we see today have been around for a number of years. Until our governing body is transparent and trustworthy, we can’t expect to see much improvement. It won’t be easy, but we are here to do the work.
We are independent voices, as well as concerned parents with children in the school system, who are committed to sharing our perspectives while working for change with other committed board members. Together we bring to the board decades of experience in public administration, civic engagement, education, communications, data analytics, building constructive relationships, and managing big budgets responsibly. We are change makers for the community who believe that Students Come First. To learn more about our campaign or contact the candidates directly, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eckert said, “As a member of the SOMA community for over 5 years and now a parent in the district, I am very concerned about the current – and future – state of our district. The present Board is undemocratic and dysfunctional. They have failed to support the needs of all our district’s children and families, as well as the teachers and other district staff. In doing so, they have lost the trust of our community. As an elected Board member, I will commit to working tirelessly for our students, our community. I will listen. I will ask questions. I will be open to discussions. I will openly express my ideas and perspectives to shape critical votes and policy decisions. I know Nubia and Bill will do the same; we are ready to be the positive change for the Board that this community desperately needs.”
Gifford said, “In 2004 I ran for the school board as a Columbia High School senior. I challenged the district to take on the achievement gap, stop outsourcing services and support teachers. Today I am running as a parent who wants to make sure the schools our kids attend are the very best they can be. The dysfunction and lack of transparency that defines the current board threatens the quality of our children’s education as well as their safety. Our schools were once the greatest in the state, but today we are being told to be satisfied with schools that fall short of that. I know we can do better for our students. The question is where do we go from here? My years of experience in the renewable energy industry have shown me that collaboration and innovation are the parents of new possibilities. As MLK Jr. said, we have a choice between chaos or community. On November 8, choose community and vote for the Students Come First slate Eckert, Wilson, and Gifford for the South Orange Maplewood Board of Education.”
Wilson said, “As a Black mother raising her son in this district, I am fearful of what his–and all Black boys’–academic experience will lack at Columbia High School. We have been failing our students for years. We need student-focused, conscious leaders on the board who are on the pulse of what the community needs and who will not sugar coat the crisis that our school district is facing. If we do not have a collaborative, functional BOE that will speak candidly about the district’s failures, while also holding our Superintendent and his team accountable at all times, our schools will not thrive and our students will suffer. If I am elected, I will listen to all members’ perspectives because no policy or decision should be made without hearing diverse voices. Too often members of the BOE are silenced or isolated and the parent community is ignored; it sets a precedent that all sides of an issue are not valued, which is dangerous territory. Please consider our slate as part of the solution to end the dysfunction and chaos.”
Finally, we want to recognize Board member Johanna Wright for her years of public service not just on the BOE but as an educator, a coach, a union leader and a mentor to so many children. Many of her students are now successful adults, and the list of their accomplishments is too long to recount here. Johanna will always be revered for her steadfast dedication to the students of this community. We know that her advocacy won’t stop here, and look forward to collaborating with her to ensure we’re giving all our children the best opportunity to succeed.