Letter: Malespina Will be Powerful Connection Between Parents and the School District

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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.

Elissa Malespina

Dear Editor:

I am writing to you on behalf of BOE candidate, Elissa Malespina.  As a School Psychologist of the New York City public school system, and as a parent of a Columbia High School senior, I care about the state of our district’s academics and accountability, even after my son graduates. To borrow from a proverb: “a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” I am not a “great old man,” but I too wish to do my part in helping to cultivate a wonderful school district for the present youngsters and parents as well as for those to come.

Since elementary school until just last year, our family has had to wrestle with SOMSD to provide for our child, not just a free and appropriate education, but also the emotional support needed for a high functioning, talented yet sensitive learner. During our child’s elementary and middle school years, we went through situations including: bullying (our child being the victim), advocating for placement in the elementary school advanced math program (he was off by two points on the state test, which was due to depression from the ongoing bullying), and grade discrepancies committed by one of my child’s insensitive and intimidating middle school teachers. Unfortunately, many high-functioning, sensitive youngsters often find themselves in these aforementioned traumatic and hurtful experiences. Yet, the struggles we faced in high school reached a level that required a high degree of supportive expertise.

I met Elissa when a parent recommended that I reach out to her, for advocacy of our son. Even though I had never met Elissa, prior to our conversation regarding our child, she immediately wanted to help us with a situation involving a teacher and a major violation of our son’s 504 (not granting the extra time he needed to complete a test and then failing him for submitting it 20 minutes after the due time). This occurred during his junior year. Understand that for a parent having to deal with teachers and departmental supervisors in fractious situations nascent of violations of 504s, IEPs, failure to provide FAPE and so on, can be extremely stressful, even frightening. I am well aware of my due process rights, and can afford legal representation if necessary. Still, imagine such a situation for a parent who does not have access to much needed support when having to advocate for his or her child. Elissa is there for all parents. Just recently, she generously provided for parents of SOMSD easy to understand, informative, and professional webinars on how to use Canvas. Elissa’s presence on the school board is what our school district needs. I believe she will be a powerful connection between parents and the school district, creating a unified force that all youngsters need in order to achieve and thrive. 

Regarding expectations of uniformity in education, Elissa is a strong proponent for consistency in each field of study pertaining to SOMSD’s curriculum.  I have seen, with my own eyes as well as through the eyes of my son, extreme lack of consistency in expectations from teacher to teacher, and extreme lack of communication.  The level of education our children receive here in Maplewood and South Orange should not be vastly different from that of Livingston, Millburn, or Short Hills, and yet it is. Every educator (and each departmental supervisor) of SOMSD needs to be held to the same standard of competency, accountability, and excellence, while treating all students equitably. As a Latina parent, I cannot stress enough how much fairness and equality are crucial toward real improvement of the SOMSD. This community purports to be diverse and comfortable with such diversity, but the district needs to “walk the talk”.   

If the SOMSD is truly serious about providing a fulfilling education to all students, eliminating racial injustice that negatively impacts upon the achievement of students of color (and as a Latina parent this is an issue close to my heart), then consider Elissa Malespina’s candidacy. She is dedicated to work as a BOE member to ensure real change for the better for all the students of our community.

Thank you for your time and your consideration of my letter of endorsement.

Best Regards,

Elena SotoRaspa
Maplewood, NJ

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