Election Maplewood Opinion Schools / Kids South Orange

Letter: Engel Will Bring Innovation, Communication, Problem-Solving to BOE

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

Dear Editor:

I write in strong support of Deborah Engel’s candidacy for the South-Orange Maplewood Board of Education. 

I’ve known Deborah for nearly ten years, since we were brand-new moms joining our local chapter of Mothers and More. From infants to elementary school children, our girls have grown up together, and we’ve shared everything from parenting advice to more general talks about our hopes for our community.

But that’s not why I’m endorsing Deborah for the Board. 

Over the past couple of months, I’ve contacted everyone I know to encourage them to vote for Deborah for three reasons: (1) her proven track record of innovation; (2) her communications expertise; and (3) her approach to problem-solving. 

Deborah is a Maplewood mother of three children (all in SOMA grade schools), a South Orange business owner, a community volunteer and a professional communicator. Before the pandemic hit, Deborah spent the past eight years building Work and Play, a ground-breaking business model that combined co-working with a state-licensed childcare center. Deborah’s model was so innovative that our towns received local and national news coverage, sparking similar co-working spaces across the country.  

Deborah is also a communications expert, with decades of experience marketing to parents, both as a local small business owner and as a public relations executive working with brands such as Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Deborah knows as well as anyone that good communications isn’t just window-dressing: communication breakdowns can lead – and in our district they have – to tremendous economic and social costs. We have never needed Deborah’s communications expertise more than now. 

But most impressive to me about Deborah is her approach to problem-solving. As a conflict resolution professor, I’ve seen firsthand how building consensus helps not just in avoiding conflict but in saving time, money and energy for innovation. In her role as Vice-Chair of the South Orange Village Center Alliance (SOVCA), Deborah brought business owners together to pass important initiatives that helped everyone thrive. And in the wake of COVID-19, which ravaged her business along with many others, Deborah advocated for and assisted dozens of other local business owners as they navigated ways to keep their businesses afloat amid shutdowns from the pandemic. Simply put, when times get tough, Deborah has shown she can work with lots of stakeholders to make things better for everyone. We need Deborah’s systemic thinking, commitment to equity and proven consensus-building approach on our Board. 

This might be the most challenging time in history to serve in local public office, and I commend all the candidates for their commitment to our towns. No one runs for the Board of Education in a global pandemic because they’re looking for a relaxing hobby. Among this group, it’s my pleasure to lend my strong support to Deborah Engel, who will work her hardest to make the lives of our district’s families better. I hope you will join me in voting for her on November 3rd.

Alexandra Carter

Maplewood, NJ

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