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. Village Green is posting letters in support of local candidates campaigning for election. If you wish to submit a letter, read Village Green’s Election Guidelines here.
Our community is blessed with a choice — five candidates for three seats—in the November 2nd Board of Education election. All five candidates are to be commended for their willingness to take on the unpaid, often unappreciated job of service to our schoolchildren and community. After comparing the candidates, I will be voting for Shannon Cuttle, Qawi Telesford, and Arun Vadlamani to serve — they all have commendable, useful expertise and experience that make them the three best choices.
Of the four newcomers running, Qawi Telesford and Arun Valdamani have the most to offer South Orange and Maplewood by their service. Qawi is a lifelong resident of South Orange and successful product of our schools, going on to earn a PhD in neuroscience. Arun is a software engineer and parent of two children in the school district. They bring an intelligence, direct experience with the schools, and understanding of the importance of collaboration with the other members of the Board that stand out among the choices. Their campaign has been steadfastly positive.
As the only incumbent running, Shannon Cuttle has a significant record of accomplishment over the last three years. Thanks to Shannon’s advocacy and follow through, our district has improved its services for student wellbeing, both physically (through summer student lunch programs) and emotionally (through updated policies and training on Suicide Prevention and Crisis Intervention.) Shannon has been a leader in getting the long overdue facilities upgrade program off the ground. Keeping Shannon on the Board will ensure that the $160 million we have committed to spend is spent wisely.
Shannon has worked hard at getting better at the job—going beyond mandatory training and becoming a NJSBA State Certified Board Member—the only member of the current Board of Education to have achieved that. Peers from Essex County have recognized Shannon’s dedication and leadership by electing them Vice President of the County School Board Association and as the County Representative to the New Jersey School Board Association Board of Directors.
Re-electing Shannon would also be a victory for the best values of our community. Shannon’s election in 2018 made them the first known openly transgender non-binary elected official in New Jersey. Some strident voices in our community are uncomfortable with that. The negative, exclusionary nature of their attacks on Shannon reveal a lack of compassion, a blindness to the reluctance marginalized people feel to revisit every detail of their past, and an unwillingness to campaign based on the here and now, on issues and substance. Shannon’s service and record since moving here in 2013 is out there for all of us to evaluate. When you do, I hope you will join me in affirming the value of quality public education and for positive, issues based campaigning by voting for Shannon Cuttle, Qawi Telesford, and Arun Vadlamani for the three open seats on the Board of Education.
Member, Maplewood Twp Committee, South Orange-Maplewood Board of School Estimate, 2002-2007