Telesford, Wittleder & Vadlamani Win Election to South Orange-Maplewood Board of Ed

by Mary Barr Mann
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The 9-person South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education will have three new members in January.

With 100% of the vote counted, Qawi Telesford, Kaitlin Wittleder and Arun Vadlamani have won election to the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education, according to the Essex County Clerk’s website.

Terms are for three years.

According to the Essex County Clerk’s website, which is now reporting 33 or 33 districts counted, Telesford garnered 7,585 votes across South Orange and Maplewood, followed by Wittleder with 6,920, and Vadlamani with 6,735.

Shannon Cuttle, an incumbent seeking their second term on the BOE, came in fourth with 5,954, and challenger Will Rodriguez rounded out the field in fifth with 3,568.

“With all the results in, we can confirm that Qawi Telesford is the top vote getter in both Maplewood and South Orange, with totals of 4,159 and 3,066 respectively,” wrote Rhea Beck, who managed Telesford and Vadlamani’s campaign along with Rachel Fisher. “Arun Vadlamani’s totals are 3,974 in Maplewood and 2,671 for South Orange.”

Qawi Telesford, Kaitlin Wittleder, Arun Vadlamani

In a statement, Telesford thanked “the community and all the volunteers that helped make this possible. I am humbled by your support and look forward to serving. I am delighted that I am able to share this victory with Arun and I also want to congratulate Kaitlin on a well-earned win. I look forward to working alongside fellow board members to provide kids in our district the best education. I thank you all for the opportunity to serve South Orange and Maplewood.”

“I want to personally thank the residents of South Orange & Maplewood, for electing me to represent students, families, and our broader community on the Board of Education,” Wittleder said in an email to Village Green. “Meeting so many of you over the past several months has helped me foster an even deeper connection to the people I have now been elected to serve. I’m honored to receive your support and I look forward to working with my fellow school board members and the community to bring positive changes to SOMSD so that all of our children are given every opportunity to thrive today and for years to come. I would also like to congratulate Qawi Telesford and Arun Vadlamani for securing a seat on the BOE and I want to recognize Shannon Cuttle and Will Rodriguez for their hard work throughout this campaign.”

Vadlamani said he was “very humbled by the election results and look forward to serving on the SOMSD BOE. I want to thank all the residents of SOMA who voted for me, who voted for my common slate, and who just voted during this election. I am delighted to see that my running mate Dr. Qawi Telesford has been successfully elected to the Board and want to congratulate Kaitlin Wittleder for winning a seat as well. I also want to thank all my fellow candidates who have worked very hard on their campaigns. I will work collaboratively and respectfully with other board members and strive to ensure that all decisions are data and process-driven.”

Vadlamani added, “I want to thank our campaign co-chairs and volunteers who have tirelessly worked to elevate our platform – working cheerfully under sometimes harsh diatribe from detractors on social media. Issues matter and voters of SOMA have responded positively to addressing them.”

Cuttle was gracious in defeat, congratulating Telesford, Wittleder and Vadlamani and promising to continue to work for the community in a statement:

“When I ran for the Board of Education three years ago, I said we needed to move the district forward – that we needed to build upon a foundation to address access and equity, systems, policies and data collection, crumbling outdated facilities and district leadership. Since joining the Board, I am proud to have led us on a local, county and state level to establish that foundation and move us to act during this critical time on the next steps in moving forward building the frameworks, infrastructure and the pathway with an equity lens towards 21st century learning.

“When I was elected in 2018, I became the first openly known Transgender non-binary elected official in New Jersey. It is my hope that LGBTQ+ youth, trans and non-binary youth, our next generation of leaders, trying to find their place in this world see they belong and have a voice at all levels of government, in our classrooms, across business, science, arts and industries, sports and more. Representation matters. Visibility matters. It can save lives. It can change lives.

“I welcome and now pass on the charge to our new Board Members -Elect – Qawi, Arun and Kaitlin, may they continue to light the way on the path forward to continue the hard work ahead of ensuring welcoming inclusive schools for all our students and families. To our beloved SOMA community, this is my heart and passion, this work of building welcoming inclusive schools and communities and I will continue to serve our communities helping move us forward together.”

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