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.
I have spent much of the past fifteen years volunteering and working in the South Orange Maplewood School District. I have served on PTAs and HSAs and spent years as a member of President’s Council, eventually becoming its Co President. In addition, I worked dedicatedly at the Achieve Foundation as its Program Coordinator for nine years, until June of 2021. My work focused on executing the foundation’s vision for enhancing student experiences through programs that advance best educational practices, addressing the opportunity gap for vulnerable students in the district and bringing students and families together with volunteers to strengthen their educational experiences. I was in schools, with students, every day and had the benefit of seeing the real world impact of the BOE’s policy decisions.
It is because I had that front row seat that I so heartily endorse Arun and Qawi’s candidacy for the BOE. Though each candidate is quite different, their shared platform of Excellence, Action and Accountability speaks directly to what I believe is most needed in our district leadership. Qawi exemplifies what is possible for our kids, and his lived experience as a former SOMSD student has informed his ideas for how we can ensure that the district’s staff and administrators nurture students to achieve their potential while paying close attention to both their physical and emotional safety. I deeply admire his often stated commitment to working as part of the whole to ensure that the nascent but very real progress the Board has made remains intact.
Arun is a parent in our district. As an immigrant looking for a place to raise his family he chose this community, in part for our schools. He has been instrumental in bringing the American Math Challenge 8 to all students of South Orange Middle School. He has also volunteered by celebrating math on Pi Day , astrophysics on Star Wars Day and computer coding during the Hour of Code events. His ideas for creating and implementing policies that allow for more of these school based programs are long overdue.
Neither candidate claims to have all the answers to the struggles that our district has faced. In our conversations I have been impressed by their nuanced understanding of the work and the challenges facing our Board of Education.Both candidates have dedicated themselves to learning about our strengths and the struggles ahead.
That they believe in the power of a deliberative and collaborative body of BOE members to achieve the vision that we as a community have for our schools is exactly why we should elect them to serve. Having worked with educators, parents and volunteers for so many years I have no doubt that our way forward is through– together.
Please join me in electing Arun Vadlamani and Dr Qawi Telesford to our Board of Education on November 2nd.
South Orange, NJ