Letter: Engel Sparks Innovation and Open, Honest Communication

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Six candidates have filed to 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, Kamal Zubieta, is running to complete the remainder of a term. 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.

Deborah Engel (courtesy of Deborah Engel)

Dear Editor:

As a former employee and now business partner of Deborah Engel’s, I can speak with direct experience about her stellar management skills, straight-forward communication, and ability to foster collaboration. When selecting school board members, these skills are paramount because the job of a school board member is to manage our superintendent and, ultimately, the district, while working collaboratively with other board members.

I met Deborah five years ago, when I was looking to re-enter the workforce after staying home with my kids for several years (both are currently elementary school students in the district).  Deborah saw my time as a stay-at-home parent as an asset and hired me to run events at her business, Work and Play, one of the first co-working facilities with onsite childcare in the world.

Her mission as an entrepreneur and as a parent has been to find innovative ways to support local families and businesses in a time when our lives are overscheduled and sometimes hectic.  It is also important to her that systems of support reach every family, regardless of means.  During my years working for her, she shared her mission often and clearly, and regularly asked for input and ideas from employees and members of the community about innovative ways to achieve these goals.

She created a working environment where I felt safe sharing new ideas, no matter how “out of the box” they seemed.  I would share an idea, we would talk it through, and she would connect me with individuals in the community with relevant expertise.  This last piece is key. Deborah has always welcomed outside expertise and feedback to fully flesh out ideas and make sure decisions are well informed and vetted.

This process led to Deborah and me going into business together to open General Store Cooperative, a co-retail collection of mission based local businesses and makers.  Working together as a team, we created a shared space where local businesses, most of them owned by local parents, could learn from each other and share the load of entrepreneurship while preserving time for family responsibilities.

Deborah is not afraid to disagree with people. She possesses the rare skill of disagreement with grace.   She knows when to push to achieve her goal, when to change her position based on new information, and when to find a middle ground. Over the course of our partnership we’ve had numerous disagreements.  Following Deborah’s lead, we’ve always moved past them to a higher point of communication and problem solving.

Now more than ever we need someone like Deborah who can inspire district leadership to come up with creative solutions to challenges such as remote learning, getting kids safely back to school, and removing barriers to equity in our educational system.  Deborah is a kind, passionate, non-judgmental human who will move our district forward with creativity and intelligence, just as she’s done in the business community.  I enthusiastically support Deborah Engel for school board. I hope you’ll join me in supporting her.

Amy Howlett

Maplewood, NJ

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