Letter: Engel Will Prioritize Communication, Strategic Thinking, and Community Advocacy

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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 (Live Love Lens Photography)

Dear Editor:

A lack of communication regarding the school district’s COVID plans have left families in South Orange & Maplewood frustrated and angry. Watching my sister stress about my niece’s schooling largely because of communication issues is infuriating. Even without children the school district COVID plans have directly impacted how I have structured my own reopening plans for my businesses. I am endorsing Deborah Engel for election to the South Orange Maplewood Board of Education. As an active member of our community Deborah has time and again demonstrated strong communication skills, strategic vision and a willingness to roll up her sleeves to get work done when needed.

When businesses were mandated to shut down in March of this year, many owners were left feeling adrift and confused by conflicting messages coming from the statehouse and the White House, and overwhelmed by the bureaucratic processes involved in applying for relief aid. Fortunately the Vice Chair of South Orange’s business improvement district has been Deborah Engel. Within a day of the state shutdown she created a Facebook group to support small businesses, entrepreneurs, and freelance workers understand all the changes happening and where they could apply for grants and other forms of assistance. This group quickly became a national success of networking and shoulders to cry on, and arms to (virtually) give you a lift up and a hug.  She has worked hard to ensure consistent communication about laws being passed both on a national and local level, as well as taking the time to explain how they would directly impact small businesses.

When South Orange businesses were told there would be a ban on plastic bags, Deborah joined forces with the business community and worked as a liaison to ensure the goals of the Environmental Committee and the business community were in harmony, negotiating the amount of time businesses had to use up their already-purchased supplies and ensuring that the bag fee matched that of surrounding towns. Deborah listened to the feedback of both the business community and the Environmental Committee to strategically plan a roll out process that worked for both sides.

Deborah also ran the South Orange holiday pop-up with her business partner Amy Howlett, creating a beautiful space where local artisans and makers could sell their goods during the holiday season. Through collaboration with other local retailers and real estate agents, an empty store front was transformed into a shopping and event space everyone in the community could enjoy.

I may not have children in the district but I am still passionate about what goes on in our community as a whole.  I have worked closely with Deborah on many projects and can speak to her dedication to our community.  Her desire to see her children, and all children in our district succeed, and sensing the need for improved communication in our district is what has motivated her to run for the SOMA Board of Education.

Communication, strategic thinking and community advocacy are why you should vote for Deborah Engel for BOE in November.

Catherine Fisher
South Orange, NJ

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